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Journal

These are the final tasting notes for our six new premium Chinese green teas. Although this tea is not the highest grade we’ve begun carrying, nor is it anywhere close to being the most famous or popular, it has some interesting characteristics and acts as an excellent example of some of Chinese green teas’ greatest qualities. This Zhejiang province tea is so-named
because the dry leaves resemble young bamboo shoots (although I have spoken with a customer who swore that it tastes just like bamboo–an observation I can’t really corroborate). Like our other teas, it’s brimming with juicy, fresh spring flavor and is beautiful to behold as it steeps. Why is this tea a great example of some of Chinese green teas’ greatest qualities? First off, it’s a great value–cheaper than some of the more well-known examples we’ve been featuring, but still a prime example of the quality that can be found in true spring harvest Chinese greens–something a lot of people in the West haven’t actually experienced! Second, it’s a reminder that not all great Chinese green teas are famous! Sure, Dragonwell and Bi Luo Chun and the others get a lot of publicity, but the fact is that there are countless premium green teas grown in China, all with special characteristics and all worthy of attention. This makes the world of Chinese green tea one that can be explored almost limitlessly, which is a big part of the fun!


On to the tasting notes. Gong fu brewing of this Chinese green was a real treat–the first infusion yielded a light, almost straw-like sweetness that I felt most at the top of my mouth. The second infusion revealed fuller body and a bright fulfillment of the straw/hay-like notes seen in the first. I also tasted a characteristic fresh legume flavor in the aftertaste, which lingered exceptionally well. The third infusion continued to develop, with an even fuller (almost sticky with juice) body and a darker feeling overall. The fourth came up a bit short, showing that, although it’s a great value, a higher grade would probably feature a bit more durability. This tea also fared very well in competition brewing–very little bitterness or harshness was brought out by the hotter, longer brewing parameters, although the tea’s flavor–which delicately danced between vegetal and sweetly straw-like in gong fu brewing–came off as a bit less subtle and dignified. What really surprised me about all six of these Chinese greens was their (varying) abilities to still taste good after being abused by hot water and too-long of a steep. It just goes to show that high-grade green tea not only tastes more complex, it’s generally more flexible as well.


This Bamboo Shoot green tea was an excellent reminder that the quality of spring-harvest Chinese green tea is not only limited to the 10 Famous Teas, and an intriguing incentive to keep exploring lesser-known greens. In September we’ll be featuring Indian Black Teas (we extended the Chinese green tea feature because the new teas arrived late), so look forward to a few posts regarding Indian black teas, including tasting notes for a brand new spring flush Darjeeling from the Makaibari estate.

Elliot

It’s my distinct pleasure to introduce the second-to-last of our new Chinese green teas–Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun (also transliterated Pi Lo Chun). This tea is one of my very favorite Chinese greens, and it’s the tea that incited my interest and eventual passion for the world of tea–one sip and I was hooked! Bi Luo Chun means “Green Snail Spring,” and Dong Ting is the mountain and surrounding region in Jiang Su province where it is produced. Among most “China 10 Famous Tea” lists, Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun is second in popularity only to Xi Hu Dragonwell. Like Dragonwell, Bi Luo Chun originated in a specific geographic area but became so popular that producers throughout China (and even Taiwan) now produce teas in the same style and call them Bi Luo Chun. Just like Xi Hu Dragonwell, though, the Bi Luo Chun from Dong Ting has special flavors and characteristics that simply can’t be replicated outside the traditional growing area. I’ve been on the hunt for a Bi Luo Chun that represents the true Dong Ting characteristics for a while now, and hadn’t been successful until I came upon this prime, outstanding example. I’ve had many nice Bi Luo Chuns that resemble the Dong Ting variety in appearance (tightly-curled buds covered in fluffy white down), but when it comes to flavor they usually end up tasting more generic–fresh, slightly fruity, and delicate, but lacking in the completely unique green tea flavor found in Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun. It brings me great pleasure to offer our customers this great Bi Luo Chun; though this tea is extremely famous in China, its popularity is much less in the West, and it’s uncommon to find a Bi Luo Chun in the West that actually exhibits the characteristics that have made this tea so famous in China.

Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun is best photographed up-close–enlarge the above picture to really appreciate the tiny, delicate buds that make up this tea and the fine white down that covers them. Plucking for this Ming Qian tea is an incredibly intricate process, and
after meticulous sorting, the leaf profile is a flawless selection of tiny (around half the size of the buds found in Dragonwell!) buds and leaves. During pan-firing, the leaves are hand-rolled repeatedly until they achieve their signature curled, downy appearance. One pound of finished Bi Luo Chun contains over 6,000 buds! The highest-quality Bi Luo Chun has a predominately dark appearance–grades that feature an overwhelmingly white, fluffy appearance generally aren’t as good, though they do play upon some consumers’ belief that more down equals higher quality.

Tasting this tea was a real pleasure–the flavor is almost completely unlike any other Chinese green tea, and the leaves’ transformation after contact with water is pretty dramatic as well. Once they’re wet, the leaves spring back to their original bud-leaf form and take on a vibrant green hue. Gong fu brewing is ideal for Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun, because the tender leaves are particularly delicate and can be shocked by very hot water. Some sources suggest dropping the leaves into the water, rather than vice versa. I’m not sure why this is–if forced to guess, I’d say it’s because the leaves are rather dense and they usually stay at the bottom of the brewing vessel (while most green teas have a tendency to float); dropping the leaves into the water might make for more even brewing and easier expansion. In my experience, though, it doesn’t make much of a difference in flavor.

The first infusion produced an ethereal, medium-bodied cup. The first thing you’ll likely notice about Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun is its rich, creamy, slightly fruity flavor. This flavor was elegantly present in the first infusion and tasted invigoratingly fresh. In the second infusion, this characteristic became even fuller, making for a luxuriously rich mouthfeel and hearty polish. The fruity notes became more prominent and the liquor’s appearance became very cloudy (another trademark characteristic of Bi Luo Chun) from the down on the buds. The third infusion revealed more change in flavor and the richness took on a slightly woody, soothing characteristic. By the fourth infusion, the leaves’ richness tapered and what remained was a smooth, refreshing green flavor with a lingering peach-like aftertaste. It would be reasonable to expect up to five or six good infusions from this tea.

Competition infusion was a bit surprising; hotter water and a longer steeping time didn’t make the tea nearly as bitter or astringent as I expected (considering some of my past “mis-brewing” experiences with Bi Luo Chun). Still, though, competition infusion produced a much less delicate or enjoyable liquor, and the the richness that came across in layered stages during gong fu brewing was more of an all-at-once flavor explosion.

Overall, this Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun is a must-try because its flavor profile is completely different from most Chinese greens, which often share very similar general characteristics. It’s also a must-try for anyone who has tried other, lower-grade, “High Mountain,” or other non-Dong Ting Bi Luo Chuns; it’s another experience entirely! This final close-up is a fantastic reminder of what a startling change the leaves go through as they are infused.


Elliot

In the introductory Dragonwell post, I neglected to mention anything about its processing. In reality, it’s the processing that makes it possible for a non-Xi Hu tea to call itself “Dragonwell.” Like most green teas, the best Dragonwell is plucked pre-Qing Ming, and the leaf selection is one bud and two leaves. After a very brief withering, Dragonwell leaves are transported to extremely skilled tea masters who will fire them in woks. This firing includes a brief “kill green” step that kills the leaves’ enzymes, preventing them from oxidizing. Further firing is designed to reduce the leaves’ moisture content and freeze them into their trademark, flat, needle-like shapes. This is all done by hand–the tea master presses the leaves with his hands (tea masters are usually male), and it takes a lot of experience to know by touch that the temperature of the leaves is hot enough to accomplish the needed process. The masters also practice specific hand movements, gently moving the leaves around to prevent them from overheating at any time (a few seconds’ failure to do this can result in the types of flawed Dragonwell that are often commonplace in the West).


The High Mountain Dragonwell we’ve started carrying is a great, representative example. In the above picture, you can see the leaves’ trademark flat, needle shape. You can also see just how narrow they are (look at the ones in the scoop). A whiff of the dry leaves reveals a perfume of nutty, spring-like freshness. As usual, I tried this tea gong fu style and also using longer, hotter competition brewing parameters.

Gong fu brewing yielded tasty results–the first infusion produced a cup that was very light in color, but immediately coated my mouth after sipping. This experience definitely reminded me of our new organic Yellow Mt. Mao Feng–fresh, juicy, and active development through the aftertaste. This tea has a fuller body, however, and lingering beneath that sweetness is an enticing hint of the trademark nutty Dragonwell flavor. This body and nutty aroma/flavor increased in the second and third steepings. As you can see in the picture, as soon as the water hits the leaves, they spring to life–bright emerald and jade green, like they’re straight off the bushes. This freshness is key. Astringency didn’t become apparent until the third steeping, and only in gentle, non-distracting amounts. By the fourth steeping, the sweetness began to ease out, though longer steeping times could definitely push this Dragonwell to 5 or 6 juicy infusions. More patience than I was expecting! How does this High Mt. Dragonwell differ from the usual Xi Hu variety? With a Xi Hu Dragonwell, I would expect more complexity, probably a stronger exhibition of the chestnut flavor, and more interesting development between infusions. Nonetheless, this High Mt. Dragonwell is a good all-around representation of what Dragonwell is all about, with more than enough complexity to make it an excellent value that can be enjoyed every day.

Competition brewing was an interesting experience–a moderate amount of bitterness came through, and only a little bit of astringency was present. What surprised me is that the hotter temperature and longer steep time brought out a flavor that was almost completely absent in the gong fu session. It could be that this flavor tastes different when brought out bit by bit (in gong fu), or perhaps that it can only be reached by using hotter water. Either way, this is why brewing a tea a few different ways can occasionally be a surprising and illuminating experience. Check out the wet leaves in this final picture–it’s almost hard to believe that the complete, obvious bud-and-two-leaf combination is the same from the dry leaves at the top.


Elliot

The fourth of our new Chinese greens to be written up is this lovely Dragonwell (long jing). Dragonwell is undisputed as the most famous green tea in China, and it always figures highly in China’s “10 Famous Tea” lists. With Dragonwell’s fame–which is worldwide at this point–come the usual issues that plague regional teas that gain more and more renown. At this point, many Westerners have heard and tried Dragonwell, but they may still know little of this tea’s historical origins or what separates an expensive, premium Dragonwell from a middling one.

Dragonwell gets its name from a specific well in the city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province. The original Dragonwell tea hails from the West Lake (Xi Hu) region of Hangzhou. The scenic lake is surrounded with foothills and mountains that support the most prized modern Dragonwell gardens, which produce the highest-quality and most expensive Dragonwell that can be found. Over several centuries, Xi Hu Longjing has become so famous that tea producers in Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces have begun producing teas in the same style and attempting to pass them off as Xi Hu Dragonwell. Unfortunately, that means that Dragonwell aficionados in the West and elsewhere often have no idea where the tea they’re drinking came from, and they may also have never gotten a chance to taste truly high quality Dragonwell. These days, true Xi Hu Dragonwell is often accompanied by government-issued “Anti-Fake” labels designed to prove authenticity. As always, though, there’s no substitute for experience and the measured judgment of seasoned taste buds. What does this all mean for you, the average tea drinker?

The best Dragonwell in the world still comes from the 168 square kilometers of protected area in the vicinity of Xi Hu. You can find numerous vendors willing to sell tea with a “Xi Hu” or “West Lake” appellation, but far fewer of them will be willing to provide an anti-fake label or go into great detail about how they managed to provide you with such high quality Dragonwell at a reasonable price. The vendors who provide anti-fake labels and go into the furthest depths describing the origins of the tea are almost always the ones who have nothing to hide. If you are interested in tracking down the real thing, my advice is to try a number of so-called Xi Hu Dragonwells from multiple different vendors who meet the above criteria. By educating your palate, you can learn to base your decisions on sensory experience and taste–the most important criterion! Even if you shell out an arm and a leg for the highest-quality, rarest Xi Hu Dragonwell, if you don’t enjoy drinking it and if it tastes like it has flaws, its authenticity means nothing! Once you’ve tried a few different examples, you’ll probably get a good idea of the flavor profile of great Dragonwell–light, active, sweet, with a lingering subtle hint of chestnut-like roundness, and above all, it has to taste fresh! I’ve had more than a few roasty, dull Dragonwells that were passed off as “West Lake.” Today, I consider these experiences “tuition payments” for my Dragonwell education!

In attempting to discover just what Xi Hu Dragonwell really tastes like, I’ve also discovered something else–not all high-quality Dragonwell necessarily comes from Xi Hu! In reality, it’s not really surprising–just like not all high-quality sparkling white wines are produced in the Champagne region of France, there are plenty of amazing Dragonwells produced outside the protected Xi Hu region. I’ve had a few quite impressive examples, such as “Bai” Long Jing (made from a white tea varietal) and a mouth-watering “Anji” Long Jing, made from the same leaves as Anji Bai Cha, another famous green tea. Neither of these teas was as expensive as Xi Hu Long Jing, but both offered comparable drinking pleasure. Almost as importantly, the vendors selling them made it clear that they weren’t Xi Hu varieties!

It’s with this general introduction to the frustrating but ultimately delicious phenomenon of Chinese Dragonwell tea that I’d like to introduce our new High Mt. Dragonwell. At this time, we haven’t found a good enough supplier of representative, reasonably-priced Xi Hu Dragonwell, but we have managed to do the next best thing–we’ve sourced a lovely, fresh, delicious, and affordable grade of organic, mountain-grown Dragonwell from South of Hangzhou. This introduction has turned into such a rant that I’m going to call it an introductory article and post the tasting notes for our High Mt. Dragonwell separately. Fortunately, Dragonwell is so famous that you can find a great deal of in-depth info about it on the internet without searching too far, simply by using Wikipedia or searching Google. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to find yourself some tea you’ll never forget. Consider the forthcoming High Mt. Dragonwell a lengthy step in the right direction!

Elliot

I’m back after a brief absence due to computer troubles to announce that our entire batch of 2008 Chinese green teas (the ones I’ve been tasting and reviewing, and the ones we’re featuring in-store for July) has arrived! They are available for drinking by the cup and pot in-store, as well as in bulk. If you’re not in the Seattle area and are interested in these teas, please feel free to email me or phone the store. We’re currently not set up for hassle-free web orders, but we can easily work out a shipment after getting the necessary info. I still owe 3 detailed tasting notes for the remaining teas, so be on the lookout before we kick off Indian black tea month (August)!

Bamboo Shoot Green $2.75 (cup), $3.75 (pot), $7 (1oz), $25 (4oz), $40 (80z), $70 (1lb)

Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun $3.25 (cup), $4.25 (pot), $10.50 (1oz), $37 (4oz), $67 (80z), $100 (1lb)

High Mt. Dragonwell $3.25 (cup), $4.25 (pot), $7.50 (1oz), $27 (4oz), $43 (80z), $75 (1lb)

Liu An Melon Seed $3.25 (cup), $4.25 (pot), $10.50 (1oz), $37 (4oz), $67 (80z), $100 (1lb)

Tai Ping Monkey King $3.25 (cup), $4.25 (pot), $8.50 (1oz), $30 (4oz), $50 (80z), $85 (1lb)

Yellow Mt. Mao Feng $2.75 (cup), $3.75 (pot), $6.50 (1oz), $23 (4oz), $30 (80z), $55 (1lb)

Elliot

One of our new Chinese green teas that I’m the most excited about is an organic Tai Ping Hou Kui–the name means Tai Ping (a county in Anhui province) “Monkey King/Chief,” and is pronounced “ty-ping ho kway.” Why am I so excited by this green tea? One look at the pictures and you’ll get about half the reason; the flavor, of course, is the other half. Tai Ping Monkey King is one of the rarest of the famous green Chinese teas, for a number of reasons. Like many others, the best varieties are sourced from very limited areas–just the small villages in the foothills of Tai Ping county–and are only picked on a specific spring day: the first day of Gu Yu season. Additionally, the process is all (by its very definition) hand-made. As you can see in the pictures below, this is an unusual tea! Similarly to Liu An Gua Pian, Tai Ping Hou Kui is made from uncharacteristically large leaves, though buds are included. During the firing stage of processing, the leaves are briefly pressed against a wok with a hemp cloth. One of the most visually appealing aspects of this tea is the criss-cross weaving pattern that is still visible in the leaves (see the close-up).

Due to its rarity and popularity in China, this tea is often unheard-of in the West, and what little of it reaches us seems to be a shadow of the tea’s legend; small, broken, brittle leaves that are temperamental to brew, while descriptions of Tai Ping Hou Kui refer to 15 cm-long leaves with red stems, traditionally bound by cotton string. The truth is, the top grades of Tai Ping Hou Kui sell for around $1000/lb.–at the tea farm! With such limited access and prohibitive prices, it can be hard to find a reliable source for a decent grade that displays the tea’s classic characteristics without breaking the bank. The secret is eliminating as many middlemen as possible between China and the local American tea drinker, which is fortunately what we’ve done with this organic Tai Ping Monkey King. The grade we’ve sourced has a good leaf appearance in terms of uniformity and intact-ness, and after drinking one cup, you’ll realize that this flavor can’t be found in any other Chinese green. Perhaps most importantly, the cost is affordable enough to drink this tea every day!

With no further ado, I’ll move on to the tasting notes. Using the same parameters as the last two teas, we brewed this Hou Kui gong fu style in a gaiwan, and using a traditional competition cupping set. Gong fu brewing a Tai Ping Hou Kui is always a fun experience–the leaves are huge and spill over the top of the cup, but as soon as the water hits them, it’s like brewing spaghetti, or playing with seaweed. The first infusion yielded a delightfully light, floral brew. The liquor is bright green and slightly cloudy. The first time I tasted this tea, I was really happy that the unmistakable flavor was there, and not difficult to perceive. Underlying the flowery notes is a bit of a vegetal sweetness and the main element that constitutes the “unique” Hou Kui flavor–I’m always tempted to describe it as a sweet, pleasant “leathery” note, and I’ve heard others describe it as reminiscent of tobacco. Perhaps I’ve not precisely put my finger on it, but combined with the floral and vegetal notes, this darker element makes for a complex and balanced cup. I’ll be interested to hear any readers’ impressions after tasting this tea. The second infusion revealed an explosion of body, depth, and a reduction of the floral lightness. Third infusion was similar, with an acceptable amount of astringency. The fourth was one of the more interesting infusions–the body lightened up slightly, recapturing some of the ethereal sweetness of the first infusion. Similarly, the fifth infusion retained a light body but the sweetness and flavor began vanishing. Much more complexity, activity and excitement than I was expecting! After infusion, the dark green leaves show their early spring origins with vivid greenness and supple feel.

Competition brewing offered nothing particularly revelatory–only that the tea will make a good cup brewed Western style (small amount of leaves, more water, fewer and longer infusions) and that it’ll get bitter if you steep too long and with too hot water (no surprise in green tea land!). In all, I’m even more impressed with this tea now than I was when I first tasted a sample in June. Although I’ve tasted higher (and much more expensive) grades, for the price, this grade offers this tea’s characteristics in a very approachable and non-finicky way. With top-grades, you get larger, more complete leaves and subtle lightness that is best enjoyed with great attention and focus. Here, you won’t have to hunt for the flavor, but you also won’t be saying to yourself “This just tastes like every other Chinese green I’ve ever had…” Tai Ping Hou Kui is one of my favorites, and I can’t wait to start sharing this tea with our customers the day it arrives!

Elliot

Although you have probably seen Qing Ming (or some variation thereof) appended to the name of one of your favorite Chinese green teas, a lot of people don’t know what the phrase actually describes. Qing Ming, pronounced “ching ming,” translates as “clear and bright,” and it is the name of a traditional Chinese festival. The Qing Ming festival occurs on the first day of the fifth period of the lunar calendar, which is usually April 5th (April 4th on leap years), and is celebrated as a day of remembrance for deceased relatives. Because of this, Qing Ming is often referred to as “Tomb Sweeping Day,” or more Christo-centrically as “All Souls’ Day.” It is a day to grieve for lost relatives by sweeping and weeding graves and tombs as well as leaving offerings. However, Qing Ming isn’t quite as depressing as it sounds–it’s also an occasion for family gatherings and excursions into nature to contemplate Springtime simultaneously with the passing of loved ones. For a nice article on the significance of Qing Ming, click here.

In Chinese green tea culture, however, Qing Ming has taken on an entirely new meaning: it’s the cutoff for the earliest and highest-quality spring green tea harvests! Teas referred to as “Pre-Qing Ming” or the Chinese “Ming Qian” (pronounced “Ming Chien”) were harvested before the festival and are the earliest green tea harvests of the year. Although the harvest start date is variable due to weather conditions (it took place as early as February in 2007!), the end of the top-choice pickings is always Qing Ming. Ming Qian teas are always more expensive (sometimes by as much as 4x!), for several different reasons. First, they are almost always superior in quality–the leaves and buds have the benefit of a winter of rest and nutrient-gathering, and they represent the choicest picks that are sweeter, more complex, and less harsh than later pickings. Second, ready tea material can be scarcer in the very early Spring. Later pickings, though they are abundant, tend to be less subtle and delicate since the plants have already given up they best they have for the year.

Ming Qian isn’t the only important quality for green tea quality, and not all Ming Qian teas are superb or even necessarily better than later harvests, but it’s a really good start–the very best green teas are almost always pre-Qing Ming, and you can’t go wrong with the characteristics inherent in early spring tea. Like most aspects of tea culture, there will always be people trying to pass off later-harvested tea as Ming Qian, so it’s best to acquaint yourself with the flavor and characteristics of the real thing–in general, there’s always a freshness to the flavor, never a roasted or toasty character (often used to improve flavor and moisture content of teas that have sat around for a while), and a visual vibrancy of color that is hard to mistake. The new teas we’ll be offering at Miro this July (the ones I’ve been posting tasting notes for) are all Ming Qian and a great place to start enjoying the quality that Chinese greens have the potential to offer.

Elliot

Here’s a preview of another of our new teas–Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) Mao Feng (Fur Peak). This one is probably even more famous than Liu An Gua Pian, and has an equally long and rich history with processing practices that date from the Qing dynasty. Yellow Mtn. Mao Feng hails from Anhui province and is famous as a tea that is presented by the Chinese government to visiting foreign ambassadors and dignitaries.


The Mao Feng we’ll be receiving shortly is another Special grade green, and it’s organic! As you can see in the above picture of the dry leaf, Mao Feng has a very large leaf appearance, with buds and leaves looking almost as if they were dried right on the tea bush! Upon closer inspection, though, you can see that in the shaping/firing process, the leaves and buds are twisted slightly, resulting in a branching needle-like appearance that is both voluminous and downy (hence the name “fur peak”). Mao Feng is something of a chimera–since it’s such a famous tea, numerous regions in China grow “Mao Fengs” that may or may not be sold under the name “Huang Shan,” and their appearances and flavors can vary widely. Like many famous teas, though, a true Yellow Mtn. Mao Feng can be identified by its flavor profile, which is certainly the case with this example. Like the previous tea, we sampled this Mao Feng gong fu style (3.5 grams of tea/120ml water, 170º, starting at 20 seconds and increasing up to about 50 on the 5th infusion) as well as competition style, using hotter water and a long steep time to stress the tea and bring out all the flavors–good and bad.

with that characteristic Huang Shan Mao Feng flavor. The first infusion was extremely light–with some teas, you have to restrict the first infusion for fear of overpowering flavor and bitterness. This Mao Feng seemed like it could have taken even more time–the leaves had just begunGong fu brewing revealed this tea to be a very good example of its namesake–exceedingly light in color, body, and mouth-feel, giving up their flavor, though the liquor was totally delicious. The flavor of any famous Chinese green tea defies categorization, but I can say that the aroma of this Mao Feng is a comfortable, even superb marriage of vegetal notes (like fresh, sweet, delicate snap peas, with a slight green-beany-ness) and a sweet, lingering, delicate floral character that prevents the tea from ever coming across as directly vegetal. Compared to the wet leaf aroma, the liquor was surprisingly similar (especially for a green tea), though somewhat less powerful. Subsequent infusions only improved and developed the trademark flavor–2nd and 3rd steepings brought a strong sweetness, fuller body, and ever-so-slight astringency. By the 4th and 5th infusions, the vegetal notes tapered a bit, leaving the liquor somewhat lighter in the mouth but sweeter than ever.

The competition brewing was especially promising. Most green teas, when stressed in a competition environment, become bitter and overpoweringly bitter. This Mao Feng offered up a somewhat darker liquor that held a low to moderate amount of astringency and a deceptively full body, with no bitterness. In some ways, it was like doing the gong fu brewing on fast forward–all the changing flavors were there, but in one punchy mouthful. For this reason, I’m happy to be able to recommend this tea as a worthwhile gong fu option as well as an excellent tea for a quick, easy mug made with a 2 or 3 minute steeping. The only thing I can’t recommend this Mao Feng for is a meal accompaniment–this type of green tea is such a delicate treat that it’s best enjoyed on its own and would likely be overwhelmed by most any flavor of food. There are higher and more expensive grades of Mao Feng out there, but this excellent example brings characteristic quality (a reasonably uniform leaf appearance included), freshness, and flavor at a very affordable price. I’m eagerly awaiting our shipment of this Huang Shan Mao Feng. Until then, please enjoy this shot of some spent leaves, which displays the selection of one bud-one leaf and the lovely color of this early spring tea.

Elliot

Liu An Melon Seed, or Liu An Gua Pian, has been a famous Chinese tea since the Tang Dynasty–Lu Yu mentioned it in his famous tea classic, the Cha Jing. Since that time, it became an imperial tribute tea during the Ming dynasty and remains one of the highest quality green teas from Anhui province, especially in the county of its origin–Liu An.

Liu An Melon Seed is an atypical premium Chinese green because only full leaves are used to make it–no buds, which are usually a must for top-notch and famous Chinese greens. Because of this, its certainly unique for its flavor, dark, striped appearance, and unique characteristics. We’ll soon be receiving a Special grade Liu An Melon Seed, and my tasting notes follow.

We cupped this tea along side a much more expensive, award winning Top grade from the same producer, and it performed remarkably well. Using two different brewing parameters–competition and gong fu–gave a good impression of this tea’s lovely, unique characteristics and overall potential. Brewed gong fu style (3.5 grams of leaf) in a gaiwan at 170º, the first (20 sec) infusion was really lovely–as the leaves started to open up, the flavor was a combination of light, ethereal floral notes and Liu An Gua Pian’s trademark nuttiness, which tends to be slightly fuller than the chestnut notes many Dragonwell drinkers are used to. There’s an excellent balance between the floral/nutty flavor that shows this as a well-made Melon Seed–not too nutty or dark, as is often the case–and an approachable, rounded sweetness that will make this a favorite green tea for drinkers who don’t like overly-vegetal Chinese greens.

In the second and third infusions, the liquor darkened a bit, became fuller-bodied, and the tea’s potent sweet aftertaste was released in delicious full force! By the third infusion, the leaves gave up a noticeable but comfortable astringent mouthfeel. Not too drying, and totally expected–a bit of astringency is part of the territory when you brew Chinese greens multiple times, as long as the tea’s flavor holds steady and there’s no bitterness, which was the case here! This Melon Seed went up to five infusions (really good for green tea which, by virtue of its processing, doesn’t last as long as oolong or pu-erh) with solid flavor, and perhaps a bit of a diminishing showing on the floral side. Once the astringency showed itself in the third infusion, it actually didn’t increase at all in later infusions, which is a big bonus. As you can see in the picture, after a round of infusions, the big leaves expand to fill the gaiwan.

Competition style–consisting of one long steeping (6 minutes) with very hot water–yielded pretty good results. This is always a dicey way to cup green tea, since hot water and extended steeping makes for bitter green tea, but the idea is that stressing the tea shows all of its characteristics (good and bad) at once. The competition brew gave a dark liquor, bitterness, and a relatively low amount of astringency. After swallowing, though, the bitterness gave way to undertones of the sweetness that runs deeply in these leaves. Most importantly, there weren’t any bad or off flavors (I’ve had a few swampy Liu An Melon Seeds before, in all honesty). Compared to the Top grade, this Special performed very well–the higher grade was slightly subtler, lighter in the mouth, and had a more uniform leaf appearance with fewer broken leaves. With the price difference, which is considerable, the Special grade is a much better value with comparable quality. As you can see in this last picture, Liu An Melon Seed leaves are big–much like oolong leaves. This tea will be available at Miro Tea for cups and bulk purchase within the next two weeks (I’ll be sure to post when they arrive!). If you’re reading the blog from outside Seattle and are interested in our teas, I apologize that we don’t have a fully up-and-running web sales website yet, but if you’re interested in the teas or anything else mentioned on this blog, please let me know via comments, email (mirotea@gmail.com) or call the Miro store (206-782-6832), and we’ll be happy to work out a shipment for you. Looking forward to sharing our next Chinese green tasting notes!


Elliot

Top to Bottom, Organic Yellow Mt. Mao Feng, Organic Taiping Monkey King, Liu An Melon Seed, 3 fresh 2008 teas featured this month at Miro.

Now that June’s over, we get to bid Rooibos month a tearful farewell at Miro Tea and welcome in July–Chinese Green Tea Month! Much like June’s rooibos events and specials, we’ll be showcasing our Chinese green tea selection all July. The freshest and tastiest spring harvest green teas are en route to our store from China, and we’re excited to start sharing them with you, our customers! We also have a few special additions to our program this month!

  • All Chinese green teas (including bulk) will be discounted 15%!
  • Informational handouts will be available in-store that fill in some important and general information about China’s illustrious green tea and its history.
  • This blog will feature more in-depth posts about Chinese green tea, including detailed tasting notes for our premium new teas.
  • Our store clearance area will feature some seriously great deals–Chinese Green and Yellow teas will be available at 50% off–2 oz for the price of 1!
  • Finally, and most excitingly, July is the first month that we’ll be conducting in-store tea workshops! I’ll post dates, times and other relevant information when it’s all confirmed, but as for now I can say that we’ll be conducting regular Tea 101 introductory classes, as well as guided tastings on our new premium Chinese greens–it’ll be a great way to explore a large number of teas in small amounts with guidance from yours truly.

Chinese green tea is one of my very favorite tea types, and I’m really excited to start sharing the outstanding quality, diverse flavors, and all-around experience that they offer. Check back soon for more updates!

Elliot

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