I'm not sure why, but Chinese green tea seems to get very short shrift in the burgeoning online tea blogging community. I suppose it could be because it's not quite as connoisseur-oriented as pu-erh or oolong, but I feel like it's a bit unjustly neglected.
A Chinese green tea called Bi Luo Chun was the first tea that truly amazed me, after drinking tons of tea bags and a whole lot of loose Moroccan Mint, Gunpowder and Strawberry Sencha (yeah, I know). After discovering the potential quality of Chinese greens, I went wild and pursued them to the fullest extent I could, moving from one online retailer to another until coming to understand which ones were really offering top-quality tea and which were selling two-years-ago's leftovers. My interest peaked in 2007 in a rather interesting way, right after I had just discovered Teaspring, the first really great green tea source I had found. My plan was to stock up on green tea in May, right when it was all fresh, and not have to buy any for the rest of the year! What I didn't predict was that my interests might shift and I might not be interested in, say, 300g of different Long Jings by the time several months had passed. By mid-winter I was getting much more interested in oolongs and pu-erhs, and drinking my massive supply of Chinese greens was becoming a duty rather than a pleasure. Spring 2008 was an improvement, but I still bought too much--you can really only drink so much tea in a day, and most of the time I find myself drinking oolong or pu-erh if I'm only going to have one tea session.
So, this spring I'm implementing a new plan that will help me enjoy Chinese greens without over-stocking and feeling obligated to drink them. The most I'm getting is 25g of each tea, I drink green tea about once a day, often in a small 90ml gaiwan, and I drink one type of tea until it's gone. This way I don't have too much tea to get through, and I can enjoy the tea when it's freshest--even if it stays sealed, Chinese green tea seems to have that fresh, springy edge that only lasts for a couple months and disappears later. By making Chinese green tea a seasonal delicacy (as maybe it should be due to its nature), I'll be able to look forward to it every spring while drinking other teas that last the year round a bit better.
So far, so good! I started last week with this Zhu Ye Qing, or Green Bamboo Shoot, from Teaspring. Though I've outgrown some tea vendors after learning a bit more about tea, Teaspring is still one of my solid go-to vendors, especially for green tea. When it comes to oolong and pu-erh, they're a little so-so, though you can sometimes get a good deal on a decent tea. Not all of their green tea is amazing, but prices are reasonable, they've got a couple of simply awesome teas that nobody else has, and they offer plenty of info, clearly marked harvest dates, and they ship fairly quickly and very cheaply directly from China. Usually I hyperlink to the product page, but I can't seem to find Zhu Ye Qing on their page--they might be out of stock, hmm. This tea was really tasty--it definitely fit on the vegetal, legume side of the green tea spectrum (as opposed to nutty like Liu An Gua Pian or rich like Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun). Vibrant green spears plump up to fat pointy buds as they absorb water, and the liquor yields an edgy, sweet, and snap pea-like flavor that peaks around 2 or 3 infusions, then remains pleasant if more astringent for several more. Green tea may not evolve as much as oolong or pu-erh, but I'll be damned if it isn't really fun to drink. Lately I've managed to hit the sweet spot between not enough flavor and just a tad overbrewed--a wee bitterness that disappears after swallowing brings out a really pointed flavor that I like the best. Since I'm used to brewing Yen Cha and other oolongs, it's hard not to use too many leaves, though. It's tough to tell from the photo, but the infused leaves are an even brighter green than the dry ones--one of the delights of really fresh green tea.
This week's tea was Meng Ding Gan Lu. This was (I think) the first tea harvested in 2008, and one of the first this year. This one resembles Bi Luo Chun more, with twisted, downy buds, which are incredibly tiny--even when they unfurl. The flavor is still very fresh and vegetal, with a darker, nuttier aspect, but not quite as vibrant or interesting as the Zhu Ye Qing from last week. Luckily I only have a bit left and it's on to a couple of my real favorites. Hopefully I'll have enough time to blog about them soon!
For Westerners without the means to travel to Asia, our knowledge and experience of tea comes second-hand, with a healthy dose of mystery. Therefore, it's tough to really know anything for sure, let alone make claims about being any sort of expert. Instead, we can only enjoy and learn from small tastes of something ... smuggled in ... hopefully building a reliable knowledge base and maybe even scratching the surface of truly great tea.