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China 2024 Day 2 : China Day 2 : Green tea with Liao Juli & Mr Lang

Welcome to the second in our series of blogs documenting our tea & teaware sourcing trip to China & South Korea.  At Comins we are very fortunate to have friends all over the tea world.  When we visit them on our trips we promise to share what we learn & in our recent survey you shared that our blog is one of the best ways to do that.  So we hope you enjoy the journey!

In our first blog we shared our time in Yixing.  From here we were to 
head to Hangzhou East where we would meet one of my earliest tea friends in China, Mr Shen. Mr Shen was, for 30 years, the manager of a large import export company before becoming a consultant in organic tea.  He is now retired but continues to be an avid organic tea supporter writer & educator who I hope, later this year will become one of my tea teachers.  As we started our drive Mr Shen  introduced the area  ‘Hangzhou is capital of tea. It has the Largest tea university, famous Tea institute & a vibrant tea culture. Now, in mid April the famous West lake tea is finished including the most famous tea of all from here, the 'top tea' Long Jing. Tian mu Qing Ding is also one of the most famous teas in the province'.  We go on to discuss how you can taste the difference in teas from this region from one mountain to another and one village to another.   He explains how the West Lake tea has a special aroma that other places cannot imitate - a flavour he describes as fried bean -'a very attractive and comfortable flavour'.  Where we are heading the tea is different - 'the aroma is very good and very fresh but different from Hangzhou' - 'Which is better?' I ask.  Mr Shen answers with a smile 'you simply cannot say what is lower or higher, better or worse.  They are different & it is for you as the tea drinker to decide what you prefer'

Picture : Mr Shen making Long Jing.

Our journey continued.  We were heading an hours drive out of the city to meet Liao Juli & Mr Lang two of our valued partners who produce our Tian Mu Qing Ding & Long Jing.   After a quick pit stop at the  ‘welcome to the tea home in the clouds’ sign we arrive to be greeted by Mr Lang Qis wife - Liao Juli - who carefully prepares this years early season Tian Mu Qing Ding for us.


Mr Lang explains that Tian Mu is the mountain name & Qing ding means 'green covers the mountain'. Beautiful. We watch the leaves dance in the cup. As we sip the fresh green tea Mr Lang shares how he learned tea from his father who in turn learned from his grandfather before him by traditional workmanship.  'This is a family product' he shares.   The tea tastes light & clean with a floral undertone & a smell of spring mountain and flowers.  This is in contrast to the strong bean like smell of Long Jing - 'this is lighter more like orchid' Mr Shen explains.  We delve a little deeper into this comparison.  'The workmanship between the two teas is different' shares Mr Shan 'The plucking window is different ; Long Jing. plucking time is only 20 days; Tian Mu Qing Ding has a longer window.  Tian Mu Qing Ding goes through extra shaping & Long Jing.production involves the flat tea machine'


The village producing this tea is famous for organic tea - calling themselves the first place of organic tea in China.  They started farming organically as early as 1990 & use no fertiliser only natural preparations.  The tea bushes here are small and naturally grown.  Even low grade of these teas must be picked by hand to a plucking standard of one bud one leaf [although they sometimes allow a small amount of one bud two leaves as long as they are not too long].  

It’s time to head out to the Tea field nearest the factory. We walk up to the lookout observing the natural cultivation methods here & the sounds of the nature that this approach attracts. Our reward is a beautiful panorama of the tea fields & mountains - Mr Shen explains that this province is known as 8 mountains 1 water and 2 land - we are blessed with clear weather that lets us take in the landscape. 


Heading along the top of the tea fields we sit on the mountain discussing Mr Langs motivation for organic production. ‘My Principles are no fertiliser and no pesticides’ he shares ‘Maybe within the first two or three years this means much more input and much less output and maybe less money. But now, after several years my reputation has grown and people will pay more for good tea. Year by year I know it will get better. In summary I like tea, I like my home and my country so I want to make my tea better and make more people know my tea and this area. So I take care in my approach & now I am proud that this place is famous for organic tea’.

We continue along observing the recent cut that has taken place in the tea bushes in this area to encourage new growth. Passing Mr Langs mother in law who has been plucking - Mr Shen explains how '2 kg fresh plucked tea will make 0.5 kg dry tea and how for each half kilo tea 40 to 50 thousand buds will have been plucked'. With that mind blowing figure we head back to the house for a delicious village lunch

After lunch Mr Lang drives us up into the Mountains. Following Mr Lang up the path we were greeted by one of the team who showed us their plucked leaf. Mr Shen shared how here in the mountains the leaf is still curled, not yet open and how, in his opinion this will deliver better flavour & aroma.  Mr Lang explains how the  approach depends on weather : 'Today is good weather - this leaf will be placed on a bamboo sheet for 5-6 hours after picking to wither to around 30% - once it becomes soft we will then pan fire.  If the weather changes - for example if it is a raining we need to take more time & we will wither inside our house'
We all take a moment to take in the aroma of the fresh leaves. Heaven. Further up the hill we take in the landscape - Mr Lang looks after all of the tea bushes here with his same organic natural approach & all of the tea bushes are Jiou Kang Qing Ti Zhong (the small bush local cultivar) & picked by hand by the community. Mr Lang has another garden accessible only by foot 1 hour above where we sit - 'the higher the mountains the higher the orchid aroma' he explains.

We head back through the picturesque village to the factory where Liao Juli was carefully setting the table for the formal preparation of Long Jing.  Before we were to enjoy this we headed into the factory to see the Long Jing processing with Mr Liao You Jun the tea maker.   Along with Mr Lang they show us the withering leaf that we had seen plucked earlier that morning. It's a family affair here : Liao Juli's father makes Long Jing. & Mr Lang's father makes the Tian Mu Qing Ding


Mr Lang explains 'The tea maker knows when the tea is ready from experience - through touch, sight and smell. The tea will then be pan fired - withered leaves are placed in 100g a time & then pan fired for 2 - 3 minutes at 200 C. After pan firing the tea is still not ready to drink - the next step is to dry it further to make the aroma come out - at a temperature of 100 C for one hour'


The picture above shows the finished leaf being discussed amongst the team - discussion focusses on one particular feature - a light spot on the leaf which is caused when the young bud hair is processed. Mr Langs team sort and sift the teas to get rid of any smaller particles but if, when you drink Long Jing you see small particles in the water it can be these small bud hairs.


Back in the Tea Room Mr Shen shared how gaiwan preparation allows the appreciation of tea and also how Long Jing. is brewed only 3 times - 'after which the special flavour will be gone'. The perfect way to end our time here - a place with wonderful people and good heart that you can totally taste in the teas.


We cannot wait for the NEW SEASON teas to arrive late June!

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