In this episode of Mao Feng Mondays I look a little deeper in a topic that has been bothering me recently, teas on the market too early.
Mao Feng is picked in late March at the earliest, with the best teas being picked early April. That being said, I am already seeing teas on the market in China and in America, so I went to see what was up. It turns out they are from special cultivars that are designed to pick early. The pick early and look very pretty and therefore make very good tea gifts, that being said they have no flavor.
Even when you pick some up you can feel the emptiness. They feel like paper, no weight or substance. The flavor is very light, just like sweet water, but with a bad after taste. In one friends shop she put two teas side by side, one with buds and leaves and one with just buds. The one of just buds is harder to pick and the yield is lower therefore it is more exspensive. It also goes along with the recent idea that bud only tea is the best tea. The problem is these two teas taste exactly the same. Neither have much flavor.
Besides the early picking, which prevents the leaves from getting as much nutrients as the teas that picked later, the flavorless characteristic of the teas is due to the fact that they are not exposed to a proper Sha Qing, a kill green step. They are instead merely put into a machine that send them down a channel over heat, tossing them back and forth as it does. I had already connected this machine with flavorless tea but I was surprised to learn, from both friends I talked to, that this process is not considered a proper sha qing. Each tea has a prime picking window, a week or so when the best of those teas are produced. Sometimes the harvest can fall before that window and still be good tea.
The early the harvest is though, the more you risk your teas not having full flavors. When buying teas you should be wary of teas that are picked much too early. For Mao Feng, and tea that is on the market before mid March should be avoided. Those teas are meant to fill the demands of people who really understand tea and assume the early is better.
The Cha Shan is from one of the best locations in Huang Shan, so it wont start picking till early April, as will the Hou Gu. I still have a little of last years Mao Feng for those who are interested in trying last years before the new teas come out.