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Short, Medium, and Long Jing

Recently I had the pleasure to receive a sample set of three 2014 Long Jing (Dragon Well) teas from Teavivre, so naturally I had to taste them all together.

My first impression is that the dry leaves look mostly the same. All have the typical Long Jing blade shape. A few white haired leaves appear in each pile, making all three look like very nice full leaf teas. Their dry aromas also were all very similar: toasty and green — exactly what I expected. I think I wouldn’t be able to tell these apart by dry leaf, which is another good reason to always taste a tea before buying if you can; appearances only go so far.

The first tea I tried was the Premium Grade Dragon Well. I used 80°C water for about 1 minute with my green gaiwan and cups (I used matching gaiwans and cups for each tea so you’ll be able to tell them apart in the photos). I tasted fresh Chinese greens and watercress. The liquor was vegetal, but not overwhelmingly so. There was a roasted taste, almost like popcorn kernels, but I detected no buttery qualities (which you’ll see appear in the next tea). It had a nice full mouthfeel which remained into the second infusion, but the roasted flavor basically vanished at that point; not unexpected for this style of tea. The wet leaves showed about half full leaf sets, half broken and are definitely a darker green than the pair of organic teas that come next.

The second tea of the set was the Organic Nonpareil Ming Qian Dragon Well brewed in my brown gaiwan and cups. The flavor was immediately buttery with less watercress than the previous Dragon Well but with a thicker mouthfeel. There was the same roasted quality, like popcorn, but it was also notably salty, especially in the aftertaste. The second infusion had a little roast remaining, but mostly lost the buttery quality. The wet leaves impressively showed almost entirely full leaf sets. They’re everywhere! The color is definitely a lighter green than the Premium. Perhaps that’s a quality of organic harvesting? More likely it was the amount of sun the tea plants were exposed to during the growing period.

For the third taste I had the Organic Superfine Dragon Well in my white gaiwan and cups. The liquor tasted of young green grass and fresh zucchini. Still quite a good experience, but it was notably more flat tasting with a very short aftertaste. It was not bitter, but there was not much energy to it. The wet leaves also showed very few full leaf sets compared to the other two. They were mostly broken apart, while similar in color to the Nonpareil.

Clearly the Nonpareil (as the name suggests) is the top of the line here. But it’s not fair to say that the other two teas were poor examples of Long Jing; they were actually very good, just not quite at the same level as the Nonpareil. Long Jing is a tea that’s so famous and has so much history that the variety in its production may be greater than any other single named tea out of China. Because of that it’s really nice to have a sample of three notably different — but all well-made — examples of this style.


A tale of two Bi Lo Chun

As soon as I open the package I know this is going to be a special tea. The aroma of freshly harvested leaves is like clouds and mist floating through the air after a spring rain. I’ve had several opportunities to try 2014 Bi Lo Chun (碧螺春) in the last month and I’ve been really pleased each time. Here I’d like to compare a few that I have in my home: Teavivre and Stone Leaf Tea House.bi_lo_chun_teavivre_and_stone_leafTeavivre’s sample was delicate and beautiful. The silver-green leaves are loosely curled and covered in a glow of fuzz as is traditional for a “Green Snails in Spring” (the usual translation for this tea). This small-leaf style of green tea originates from a mountainous peninsula in Jiangsu province near Suzhou, and that is where this tea was harvested not too long ago. In recent years, Bi Lo Chun made in Taiwan has also become popular and, in my experience, is also very delicious! The key differences I’ve noticed (and I’m sure that there are exceptions) are that Taiwan Bi Lo Chun tends to have slightly larger leaves and the aromas tend more toward oceanic. This makes a kind of sense to me since Taiwan is surrounded by ocean and the original is harvested on a mountain surrounded by a lake (Tai Hu).


I infused about 4g of this tea for 1 minute at around 80°C, following my instincts, although the package suggests a similar brew. The result was a transparent jade liquor with a few leaf bits and a delicate aroma that lingers both in the mouth and in the mind. The taste is slightly dry and has an energizing cha qi which doesn’t appear until the liquor reaches the back of my tongue.

My first infusion of the Stone Leaf Bi Lo Chun was made with the same details for the sake of comparison. This tea is made in Taiwan, and as I mentioned above the leaves are larger and darker in appearance with fewer of the white hairs on their surface. The taste and aroma are deep and rich, bringing to mind a Japanese gyokuro, but not quite. Immediately it seemed that while the Teavivre Bi Lo Chun had a vegetal and bright energy quality, Stone Leaf’s was more floral and mellow. What an amazing variety!

bi_lo_chun_wet_teavivire_and_stone_leafTwo more infusions were made of these delicious teas, increasing the time and temperature a bit with each one. Both teas became more cloudy and drier on the tongue, and they maintained their separate qualities: vegetal energy in one cup and floral mellow in the other. I felt as though drinking the Teavivre Bi Lo Chun was walking through a spring field and the Stone Leaf Bi Lo Chun was swimming in a summer pond.

As the infusions progressed, the nuances of aroma began to fade. This isn’t a bad sign for a green tea; indeed it’s quite common for a green to give up its most potent flavors in the first two infusions. Still, the third infusion was just as pleasant, even as the fading aromas evoked a more full bodied mouthfeel. This is the life that tea shows us: dramatic and delicate, comforting and fleeting. We must be present with our cup to notice these things. Happy sipping!

Teavivre 2013 Qing Xiang Dong Ding

…or, How it’s hard to judge an Oolong before the fourth infusion.

Photo Nov 26, 11 37 51 AM

This was a sample sent to me from the lovely folks at Teavivre. Dong Ding (sometimes Tung Ting or “Frozen Summit”) is a very beautiful tea mountain in Nantou county near the west coast of Taiwan. They produce a lot of rolled oolongs in the Taiwan/Fujian style. “Qing Xiang” (清香) means “Fragrant” or “Aromatic”.

The dry leaves lived up to their name with a very pleasant sweet aroma. As expected for a Dong Ding, the leaves are rolled into balls, but somewhat unexpectedly they are many different sizes. Some are quite a lot larger than my usual Dong Ding (indicating a lot of stems, which doesn’t mean anything in itself), while some balls were more like fine gunpowder green tea in size. The variation in leaf size had me on my guard, as such inconsistency can make infusing a tea difficult. The color was a mix of bright green mixed with gunpowder gray, like an evergreen forest in the spring.

For the first infusion, I began with an experimental 1 minute at 95C. The resulting liquor was a flaxen yellow color that told me that at least I hadn’t over-steeped it. The mouthfeel immediately had a tiny bit of sharpness, making me think that there was some contingent of broken leaves in there. The taste was bright with a fairly fresh Dong Ding aroma. I’d guess this is a spring harvest, although the sample had no harvest date listed. The aroma and taste reminded me of spinach or kiwi fruit. At this point I was already judging the tea as average and wondering how many worthwhile infusions I could make.

Photo Nov 26, 11 38 54 AMFor the second infusion, I tried to mellow the taste by using less time, only 30 seconds. This time I tasted more kiwi, less spinach; it was sweeter and the sharpness was somewhat hidden as though behind clouds. The texture was still uneven, though, and remained very fresh and spring-like with only a light aroma.

For a third infusion, I upped the time slightly and the water I was using began to cool in its kettle. I tried 45 seconds at 90C. This yielded a taste that was still quite bright with a bit of roughness around the edges. However, my thoughts about the number of infusions began to change as this one had plenty of color, flavor, and the original aroma remaining.

Photo Nov 26, 11 42 33 AMFeeling very curious now, I tried a fourth infusion for 1.5 minutes with the now 85C water. Delightful! A hint of saltiness crept into the flavor, which changed everything. There was still the bright spring quality, but it became subdued and gentle. The aroma was delicate but unmistakably that of the wonderful sweetness you will find in an oolong withering room. Somehow a bit of cream entered the texture, mellowing the sharpness of the previous infusions. The effect was still there but now it manifested as a dryness on the front of the tongue in the aftertaste, not marring the mouthfeel. My mind wandered away to a green mountainside in Lugu, looking across the lake at the tea fields of Dong Ding.

Could this continue? Fifth infusion, 2 minutes, 80C. Still mellow! I think the first infusions were needed to bleed off some of the freshness of this tea. I think perhaps a first rinse would be a good idea in the future. I finally felt like this tea was giving in the way that was intended. A medium body, nothing dramatic, with a delicate green aroma and a round mouthfeel.

A sixth infusion, then. I heated the water again to see what that would yield and steeped for 2.5 minutes at about 98C. Impressively, the flavor was mellow and perhaps even more rich than the last two infusions. The color and aroma remained about the same. The taste didn’t last as long as it did before, vanishing after only a few moments in the mouth, but they were a very pleasant few moments.

Photo Nov 26, 12 29 45 PMI now suspect there could be four more infusions still within these leaves, but I’ve had enough tea for one sitting. This tea definitely surprised me. My first impressions were quite turned around by the fourth infusion. It’s really a reminder that, particularly with a rolled oolong, there can be layers of flavor that lie hidden away behind the initial taste.

A hot rinse of the leaves at the start or possibly beginning with a cooler temperature water might have made for a different beginning entirely for this tasting. Tea is a living creation, and while I love to find a Dong Ding that really wows on the first sip, I very much enjoy a tea that makes me taste and experiment to find its beauty. I’m glad to have had this chance!