The process for making Black Tea probably originated in Wuyi area of Fujian. There are different myths about it.
Allegedly, most tea was processed as green tea up until a raiding party invaded a Wuyi Mountain village during the tea harvest. The villagers fled from the raiders. When they came back they discovered that their tea had turned black. It was ruined! They dried it anyway and found that some people enjoyed it, especially, the English, (who would later go on to found entire tea industries in India and Sri Langka based on imitating this tea).
The difference between Green Tea and Black Tea IS that the leaves are allowed to oxidize before they are finally dried.
There is a type of Black Tea from Fujian that is usually called “Lapsang Souchong” in the West. Most often it is a tea that is dried over pine wood.
However, “traditional” Lapsang Souchong is not smoked, and even the more traditional smoky kinds have a lighter smoke character than you might expect.
This is not a smoked tea!
The early flavors remind me a bit of sweet potato, the middle flavors are stone fruit, and the late flavors and aftertaste are a bit menthol/tarragon.
It is a delicious and complex Black tea which rewards multiple steeps.
The term “Gunpowder” when used in description of a Green Tea isn’t very useful.
The term “Gunpowder” was used as a brand name by a British company, well, more specifically, “Pinhead Gunpowder,” for a green tea they sold.
It is basically robust green tea formed into what is called “pearl” shape (the same shape used for some types of Oolong). It can come from any of a number of regions in China.
When I first tried to get into tea, I mostly tried drinking English Breakfast and similar black teas. None of them, as they say, really floated my boat. Too harsh.
It wasn’t until I discovered a bulk bin labelled Gunpowder Green Tea at a local Grocery Coop in Madison, WI, that I really found something I liked in tea.
I drank that for years, but eventually drifted back to drinking coffee to keep me properly stimulated while working late nights and early mornings as a line cook.
After we moved to CA, and I got out of the restaurant business, I found that coffee was maybe a bit too stimulating, so I started looking around for my old favorite, “Gunpowder Green Tea”.
I found some “Organic Gunpowder Green Tea” in a bulk bin at a local store, took it home, and gave it a try. I couldn’t believe what I was tasting. It tasted literally like someone had poured an ashtray into the tea while it was being made. It was cloudy, it was harsh, it tasted like ashtray. It was, in short, one of the worst tasting beverages I had tried in my entire life! And I like Smoked Lapsang Souchong tea! I spit it out, threw out the remainder of the bag, and went back to experimenting with English Breakfast style teas.
Over the next few years, I tried a few more times to get back to Chinese Green tea in the species of Gunpowder, and every time I tried, I was confronted by that ashtray taste.
I was completely puzzled.
How had I not noticed this flavor before? Had my tastes changed? Had Gunpowder Tea changed in the intervening years?
I started to research and discovered other people had also noticed this flavor and would post puzzled questions on tea boards, like, “I’m new to Green Tea and just tried Gunpowder Green Tea. Is Green Tea supposed to taste like brewing tea from an ashtray?”
With answers like:
“No, it’s not supposed to taste that way, but many lower-grade gunpowder teas do. Some people actually prefer their gunpowder greens this way, so mainstream US distributors continue to sell shops this variety. Even some supposedly finer grades (pinhead gunpowder) is often found with this flavor profile. I think some consumers expect a smoky flavor from a tea with that name, even though historically gunpowder refers to the shape of the rolled leaf rather than the taste.”
So, I guess when I first tried Gunpowder tea, back in Madison, WI, I got lucky and found some that was of a higher grade or selected without the ashtray flavor.
So, my advice to you is to avoid anything sold as Gunpowder Tea. If you want to try Chinese Green Tea, please choose any other tea than Gunpowder.
“We have offered the “Silver Strands” 银丝 varietal green tea (a robust one leaf to one bud ratio) since 2005, but decided to also offer its first flush tippy “pure bud” counterpart. Picked in the earliest part of spring (in Late-February) before the spring rains arrive, this pure bud pluck features small hairy silver tips with no leaf.”
Darker green flavors, but with a minty aftertaste.
Expected this to be light, but those light flavors are pretty meaty/umami/mushroom in nature. Very little sweetness. Kept the water on the cool side, respecting the buds.
Aside from a bit of mint, not a lot of length, nor that strong for re-steeps.
A solid light tea, if you like them on the meaty side of green.
Huangshan Maofeng is another green tea almost always included in lists of “Big 10 Famous Chinese Teas” (十大中国名茶)”.
My notes are, “light grassy vegetal flavor evocative of green beans or asparagus with a camphor/pine aftertaste.”
This is a super elegant and light green tea, more vegetal than fruity, almost no bitterness or grip to speak of.
The English translation of the name is “Yellow Mountain Fur Peak”, due to the “small white hairs which cover the leaves and the shape of the processed leaves which is said to resemble the peak of a mountain”.
The recommended way to brew tippy green teas like this is to add a small amount (say 1g per 100ml water) to a tall, preferable tempered, water glass and cover with hot (185F/85C) water. Then wait and watch the dance as the liquid cools and the tea leaves drop to the bottom of the glass. Then, as your glass gets down half way, add more water until the liquid tastes more like water than tea. The only downside to this method is it is not as fast as brewing with a gaiwan, it enforces a leisurely contemplative pace to your tea drinking. Or maybe it is an upside? You also tend to end up eating a few tea leaves, which isn’t really a bad thing.
First off, the name of this tea is a little misleading, it is called “Anji Bai Cha” which means “White Tea of Anji”, but the production method is that of a Green Tea. It is called “White Tea”, because the tea buds and leaf sprouts are very light in color, pale yellow to white.
Second, because of the light color of the leaves, it is sometimes called “Golden Buds” which might lead you to think it is a “Yellow Tea”, but again, this is just referring to the color of the buds, not the production method.
Finally, the color of the tea soup, because of the light green of the leaves, is bright topaz yellow. Again, not because it is a Yellow Tea, but because of the light color of the chlorophyll in the leaves and buds. It is a green tea.
If you research Anji Bai Cha, another thing you will find quickly are health claims related to the teas’ relatively high amounts of Amino Acids.
“Bai Cha’s pale jade leaves are unique in their high amino acid content, which contributes to the sweetness and calming effect of their infusion. Some studies have estimated that the Bai Cha leaves contain approximately three to five times the amount of amino acid found in any other green tea.”
Another interesting point is that the two bushes which were found with the light buds characteristic of Anji Bai Cha, and from which all cuttings of Anji Bai Cha were taken, were only discovered in 1982! Anji Bai Cha, from Anji, is still a relatively lightly produced and thus somewhat prized and thus expensive tea.
The first time I tried the Yunnan Sourcing Anji Bai Cha, it freaked me out a bit. I may have been a bit on the high side of that temp. Brewed in a Gaiwan, I found the flavor of the Yunnan Sourcing Anji Bai Cha almost too intense. There is a creamy umami core to Anji Bai Cha that I somehow concentrated with my preparation, the flavor reminded me a bit of hard boiled egg, or Chinese 100 year old eggs. Brewed as I did, there was a bit of bitterness in the aftertaste.
The Yin Xiang Hua Xia Tea anjibaicha golden buds was a much less intense flavor. While the umami/eggy core is still there, it was less intense and the flavor more balanced. There is a lasting sweet impression and length of flavor that is more apparent with this Anji Bai Cha than the other two. You usually don’t think so much about length of flavor with Green Teas, but this anjibaicha has a haunting and very pleasant after taste.
2g in 12oz insulated Glass Cup, water just starting to come to simmer, should be around 185F.
The “Ming Qian” in the name of this importer’s Anji Bai Cha, means that the tea was picked before the “Qing Ming” festival in early April. Basically, this just means it is from the first flush of tea buds, not the secondary buds later in the spring. For what it is worth, all three of these teas are first flush.
The most common way to drink bud heavy green teas like Anji Bai Cha or Dragon Well is to steep them in a clear glass, using about 1g of tea per 100ml of water.
This is a relaxing way to drink tea, you have to wait for the leaves to drop to the bottom of the glass, or at least start to drop. While you’re waiting for them to drop, you can watch the ballet of the leaves as they float down through the water. Once you start drinking, you just add a bit more hot water as you drink down your glass. You can keep adding hot water until your tea tastes more like hot water than tea.
I made the Seven Cups tea first this way, but also went back and tried all three teas this way.
All three Anji Bai Chas were good.
The Yunnan Sourcing Anji Bai Cha is the most intense in its flavor and was a bit tricky to brew in a gaiwan. It’s flavor was good when prepared in a glass.
The Seven Cups Anji Bai Cha was in the middle of the three, not as intense as the Yunnan Sourcing, but not as elegant as the Yin Xiang Hua Xia Tea.
The Yin Xiang Hua Xia Tea was the most elegant and had the best length of flavor. I found myself thinking about the flavor most of the day after drinking it, craving it a bit. But, it is also the most expensive of the three. (They also sell lower priced types that more or less map out to exactly the same prices as Yunnan Sourcing or Seven Cups.)
If you are interested in Anji Bai Cha, I might recommend trying a less expensive version, but be aware that it may be a bit trickier to get a good cup of tea out of it than with the smoother, higher grade.
“This is a classic “Robust” style Yunnan Bi Luo Chun (rolled) Green Tea, with a mix of 2 leaf to 1 bud plucking style.”
Which is to say, you won’t mistake Yunnan Bi Luo Chun for the classic ethereal Bi Luo Chun from Jiangsu known for its tiny buds. These leaves abd buds are hearty Yunnan-style, some of them are downright huge.
This is a hearty green tea with a thick soup and pleasant outgoing vegetal character. It is relatively forgiving of careless brewing, but rewards care, exposing layers of green flavor in the main tastes and mint in the aftertaste. Gongfu style brewing, this tea will stand up to several steeps and just keep on going.
It is a great, organic, reasonably priced, perfect tea for an every day green tea drinker.
“Liu An Gua Pian (六安瓜片 also known as Lu’an Gua Pian or Melon Seed) is one of the “Big 10 Famous Chinese Teas” (十大中国名茶), and is grown in Da Bie Mountain Liu An area of Anhui province. (大别山六安市安徽省). Liu An Gua Pian first became popular during the Qing Dynasty.”
Liu An Gua Pian is an unusual tea in a number of ways.
The first way that it is unusual is that it is picked later than most first flush teas, so more mature leaves are used. The second way that it is unusual is that no bud or stem is included in the tea, only a single leaf is rolled.
This makes it incredibly labor intensive to produce, (Well, actually, all tea picked and processed by hand is incredibly labor intensive!)
First the stems and buds are removed from the picked tea leaves. Then leaves are allowed to wither briefly. Then they are quickly processed in an open wok-like oven to “kill green”. Then they are passed through the wok-like oven again and each individual leaf is formed into a cylinder with a brush-like device. Finally, the formed tea is repeatedly heated briefly over open flame neutral flavored charcoal to dry it.
Since it is larger leaves, the flavor is incredibly clean and light.
It’s funny, a lot of times green tea is compared to the sweet flavor of fresh asparagus, and most of the time I don’t really agree. However, on Saturday I made the first asparagus of the year with meyer lemon, olive oil, and tarragon. With Liu An Gua Pian, I totally get the asparagus thing, and even a little bit of tarragon and mint in the finish.
Definitely the perfect tea for a beautiful spring day.
My coworker has found himself taken with the Ripe Pu-Erh Tea I have served him, so he took it upon himself to visit a local tea retailer and bring in a contribution to our growing workplace stash. Still maintaining he, “doesn’t know much about tea”!
I’m not quite sure how anyone could ask for a tea named “Maiden’s Ecstasy” with a straight face!
Anyway, lascivious name aside, this is a fine Pu-Erh tea, hay and forest floor flavors dominate the early steeps giving way to leather and wood in the later steeps. Aftertastes are menthol/camphor. It doesn’t have great length or complexity, but it is fairly reasonably priced and I don’t detect any real flaws. A very good every day ripe Pu-Erh, in other words.
Starting from the end, the tea is from “Jinngu” County in the Simao Prefecture of Yunnan Provice of China. The Simao Prefecture is also sometimes called “Pu’Er” and it is the heart of Puerh tea production in China.
This is a “White Tea”, meaning the buds and leaves are picked, briefly faded, then quickly dried.
It is made in the “Moonlight” style, which is a style of white tea made in Yunnan which is allowed to oxidize slightly more than is normal during the fading, expressing more of the fruit character of the tea.
In the more mountainous regions of Puerh, there are trees whose buds and leaves are higher in anthocyanins, it is believed in reaction to the elevation. These trees are called “Purple”. These tea trees are often used to make PuErh and Black Teas, but the anthocyanins contribute to making them rather on the bitter sides of those styles. (FYI, there are three distinct types of purple tea varietals in teas on the Yunnan Sourcing site, so it can be a bit confusing.)
Finally, it is “Wild Tree”, which means that the trees from which these buds and leaves are harvested grow outside of the commercial Puerh plantations. It is my understanding that this particular tea is only picked once a year and in a fairly small amount. It often sells out quickly on the Yunnan Sourcing site.
When you open the bag and smell the dry leaves, the aroma is amazing. Dried stonefruit and leather. Completely different from the mild floral or earthy perfume you might be used to from most white teas.
The wet tea is true to the dry aroma, as is the flavor of the steeped beverage. Dried stonefruit and earthy, leathery flavors. If you push it, and brew it hot, you will start to express a bit of the bitterness which can be present in other styles. It has a haunting length of flavor and the leaves, brewed carefully, last for many steeps.
If you like White tea, but are looking for a truly special tea with a little more zest and variety, this is a great one to try. Keep an eye out for it on the Yunnan Sourcing Instagram, Website, or Newsletter.