May 17, 2010

Two Great Teas of Jiang Xi Province (1) - Orchid Fairy Twig 蘭香仙枝

This spring my biggest nice surprise is from Jiang Xi.

Jiang Xi Province is home of Lu Shan Cloud, one of the most famous Chinese green teas. Jiang Xi has long history of being a center of tea production and tea trade. It also provided tribute tea to royal family of every dynasty in Chinese history, since the earliest record if Tang dynasty. The historically famous Jiang Xi green tea is not frequently seen in western market. Even in Chinese domestic market, Jiang Xi tea is often overshadowed by teas from its surrounding provinces, An Hui, Zhe Jiang, Fu Jian and Guang Dong. However, as one of the oldest tea centers of China, Jiang Xi is full of tea treasure.

This is the tea that gave me the biggest surprise - Lan Xiang Xian Zhi (Orchid Fairy Twig, 蘭香仙枝). It's from the remote 800m (2400ft.) mountain range of the beautiful Wuyuan, Jiang Xi. The tea grows in the wild, without using any pesticide or artificial fertilizer. It's not certified organic, but it's organic in the real sense. This is my first time to have this tea. My heart was full of curiosity about it.

The tea is completely hand-processed. The dry tea strips are not as pretty as machine-processed tea, but the dry tea leaves look tight and heavy. The dry tea aroma is one that I had never experienced from any other green tea. I think, the dry leaves smell of honey and flowers.

The tea leaves are tight and heavy. Therefore they sink in water fairly easy. When brewing this tea, instead of pouring water on tea leaves, you can throw tea leaves in water, and they will soon sink to the bottom. If you prefer to use a gaiwan, then make sure to allow more time for the first infusion, because the tightly curled tea leaves will need some time to open themselves. This tea was harvested in mid-April, which is the earliest time of harvest for this elevation. Therefore I used lower than boiling water temperature (about 90 C or 195 F).

At the bottom of the water, the tea leaves opened little by little, like blooming flowers. The flavor has something very honey-like, something I had never experienced. I think, this is the most wonderful green tea experience for me this spring! Long Jing, Huang Shan Mao Feng, Snowflake on Green Lake... they are all fabulous. But nothing compares to experiencing a new variety with a whole new flavor profile. From the first sip, I knew I was committed to this tea and I would have to look for it every spring in the years to come!

Although I reminded myself the leaves were tight and seemingly small amount may end up being a lot, alas, I still used too many leaves. The photo above and the photo below was the same cup of tea! What's great, though, is that even with so many leaves in a cup, the tea didn't yield any bitterness or astringency, but only rich flavor. I think that's a great demonstration of high mountain, slow growing leaves.

When giving me this tea, the manufacturer told me apologetically that this year, due to the impact of the cold current in March, there is no Superior Grade, and their highest grade this year is only Grade I. After tasting this tea, thinking of what he said about this excellent tea being "only Grade I", I feel I like this manufacturer even more. 

A few decades ago, when the entire Chinese tea industry was state-owned, in spite of problems here and there, the grading system for tea was very much standardized and strict. My dad told me this story again and again. Thirty years ago, when he went to Hangzhou, he got some Grade Four Long Jing, which was the best in domestic market. And the tea was fabulous, although it was only Grade Four. Today in Chinese market, we see more and more Superior Grade products. Sometimes, Superior isn't even enough. There are grades above it, with various names, Royal, Imperial, Taoism... you can forge endless grand titles with Chinese characters :-p Yet there are many small manufacturers who are very loyal to their own standards. Their pride is not built on calling all their tea Superior Grade and above. Instead, they are proud of it if their Grade II tea is better than Grade I tea of other companies. 

1 comment:

notesontea said...

I got to this review via your 2010 review. This Orchid Fairy Twig sounds divine! Wondering if I can purchase it locally (in NYC)...