There are a only a couple of people I trust who could sip a tea blindfolded, and tell me detailed facts about what they have sipped. Many people could identify a longjing, for example, but few could pinpoint its origin, what cultivar it is, and comment on specific flaws or strengths created during processing. This level of detail exhibits a Ph.D. in tea tasting, and I’m not even sure that the people I trust have such extensive skills across a great spectrum of different kinds of tea.
If you are working on your Ph.D. in tea-tasting, the International Tea Cuppers Club offers opportunities for you. They recently offered a collection of longjing teas of various grade, cultivar, and source to compare.
Here are a few observations that may help you appreciate differences in longjing teas:
8 teas were presented for comparison. Some of their key differences were in the areas of:
Source: All of the longjings were from Zhejiang province. Five of them were grown/processed within a seven mile radius of the West Lake, Hangzhou. These included very traditional areas of production, including Mei Jia Wu, Long Jing Village, Lion’s Peak (Shi Feng) and one slightly farther out at Long Wu. Two of the five were from the same producer in Mei Jia Wu. The Mei Jia Wu teas differed in grade and harvest time. One was from the greater West Lake district of Hangzhou – Li Shan in Fuyang. Two of the longjings were from much further south in Zhejiang, one from Hengxi in Xianju County, and one from Yongjia of Wenzhou.
Cultivar: Six of the eight teas were the more traditional qun ti (群体) cultivar. One was #43, and one was wu niu zao (乌牛早). For more background on these different cultivars, see this post with photos and this encyclopedia post. I have also covered longjing cultivars in this article. The picture shows wet leaves of (left to right): #43 cultivar, wu niu zao cultivar, and qun ti cultivar. Can you identify distinctive differences?
Grade: Four of the teas are classified as Grade 1, two are Grade 2, one is Grade 4, and one is Top Grade.
Harvest: Five of the longjings are ming qian, or harvested before the Qing Ming Festival.
As may be expected, it is difficult to say that a certain formula of these conditions will yield a superior tea every time. My tasting notes did reveal a few key points.
1. For these particular teas, the qun ti ming qian Grade 1 were generally less bland compared to ming qian Grade 1 of other cultivars, regardless of point of origin. Qun ti also performed better during 2nd steeps.
2. Origin did not necessarily relate to better taste. Shifeng, Longwu, and Hengxi were relatively smoother teas with less astringency, less bitterness, and smoother flavors followed by sweeter aftertastes.
3. Two of the three better tasting teas were Grade 1. However, Grade 4 had stronger flavors than some of the weaker, blander members of Grade 1 and Grade 2.
4. Post Qing Ming teas were often weaker in taste, texture and sweetness than ming qian teas.
But what about processing?
Details on processing methods were not provided, and this really hinders an understanding of how processing affects final product. In fact, the Mei Jia Wu Top Grade ming qian tea exhibited stronger fried/fired notes. Was this heavier frying/firing exhibited due to a lack of skill, an attempt to cover some flaw, or draw out some characteristic of the longjing?
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