Spring is an exciting time for tea! This year, we had the privilege of being in the fields from before, during and after Qing Ming Festival. This gave us the chance to see how the year is shaping up for all of our parters, from the He Family in Laoshan to the Zhenyuan Dongsa Cooperative in Qianjiazhai.
First, 2016 brought an incredibly cold winter from north to south. Many plants did not survive the cold, and this meant a smaller harvest for many in 2016. This also meant slower growth for those plants that did survive.
Second, the rainy spring has been a logistical challenge in both picking and traditional sun drying. Every harvest requires farmers and master to carefully watch the weather and temperature each year to time out picking and processing, but the volatile and rainy weather this year added extra challenge to task.
All of our partners have not only overcome the year’s challenges but worked with the unique weather for stand-out harvests. We are super excited to be releasing new spring teas as they arrive.
Laoshan Village, Shandong
Qingqing and her family have been hard at work all winter and into the spring. Laoshan saw one of the coldest winters in recent memory, and sadly the frost wiped out about a third of the He Family’s crop.
Luckily their plants are now well over 30 years old, and the root stock is established enough to weather the cold. Mr. He expects the bushes to make a come-back, maybe even in time for next spring. Despite the hardship, the family is as upbeat as ever. Mr. He has reorganized the entire workshop so that he can make more Laoshan Black with greater control and precision. Their new space is absolutely beautiful.
The upside of the cold winter was the slow growth of the tea. Despite a smaller harvest, the quality is up. The flavor of the He Family’s pre-Qingming tea is more robust and sweeter than we have ever experienced in working with the He Family.
Due to the smaller yield and the incredible flavor, the He Family is carefully hand processing every batch to get the most out of their precious crop. They needed to charge a higher price to us than usual this year in order to weather the scarcity, but we have tried our best to absorb the increase as much as possible and offer the lowest price we can to help the He Family sell more of their crop and flourish this spring to set up for a good autumn.
While Mr. He is busy processing tea, Qingqing is busy with daughter Niuniu – just starting Kindergarten this spring. Niuniu is learning to taste tea with care, and even helping her mother with customers, welcoming them into the family shop with a smile.
With the precious early harvests finished, we expect the bulk of the main spring harvest to pick by May 15th. This picking will include the Spring 2016 Laoshan Black, the Laoshan oolongs as well as new green teas.
Don’t miss out on the tiny pre-Qingming harvest the He Family was kind enough to share. The extremely unique weather this season has yielded an incredible flavor worth trying while it is fresh!
NOW AVAILABLE from the He Family:
Longjing Village, Zhejiang
Li Xiaoping and her husband Shui Huamin are masters of their craft, respected throughout Longjing for their labor of love. This season, Dragonwell also saw colder weather, though nothing as extreme as Laoshan. All of Mrs Li’s tea has already picked for the year, so this week she can finally rest and enjoy tasting all of her harvests.
We worked with Li Xiaoping to secure her four earliest harvests of the year to feature in our Tea of the Month Club. Her 1st picking and classic (4th) picking are on our site for sale now. The first picking of the year is stunningly sweet- multi-layered textural experience, while the classic picking is much more full bodied and crisp.
This year’s pickings very closely follow the traditional Shi Feng Dragonwell aesthetic.
This year, we plan to continue selling both harvests until the 1st picking sells out. We were only able to acquire several kilos after Tea of the Month Club. The 4th picking of the year will be available in limited quantities for the next month until we run out, at which point we will begin offering the 5th and final picking before Qingming Festival. This harvest will be more full bodied, and depending on how much Li Xiaoping has left, potentially 25 to 35 cents cheaper per 25g bag. The earlier picking we currently have available is a seasonal limited offering, slightly pricier but sweeter and greener for the earlier pick date.
Whichever picking your choose, be sure to drink lots of Dragonwell this month! It is incredibly potent and seductive when fresh. Don’t save it: other teas will be coming in the later months and autumn. Spring is Dragonwell’s time to shine.
NOW AVAILABLE from Mrs. Li:
Xingyang Workshop, Pu’er (Simao), Yunnan
It was exciting to visit Xingyang’s workshop this spring where they finish green tea, black tea, and pu’er alike from their fields in the mountains between Pu’er and Ning’er. Their two green teas were our first new offerings of the spring and they are a compelling look at the Yunnan perspective towards green tea. The main difference between Xingyang green tea and sheng pu’er is simply the higher temperature that halts oxidization and further chemical change to lock in the green flavor of the region.
Outside of the green tea offerings we don’t expect any other new 2016 offering from Xingyang. We will continue to work over the summer to represent more and more Xingyang sheng and shu pu’er teas to give a full sense of what they are able to produce.
NOW AVAILABLE from Xingyang:
Daping, Anxi, Fujian
We had the privilege to spend several days with Master Zhang this spring. Tieguanyin picks later than Spring green teas, as the weather is different in Anxi, and the leaves need to be much bigger and heartier for good oolong.
The first varietals to be ready are Huang Jin Gui and Jin Guan Yin, but Tieguanyin comes in late May. We will be offering Master Zhang’s first pickings of the year, which are known for their much greener and more fragrant quality, before the larger June harvest with the more traditional balanced florals. Stay tuned!
Tongmu, Wuyishan, Fujian
Li Xiangxi and her brother believe that their black tea and roasted oolongs taste better with 2-4 months of age. They are busy picking right now, having just finished building their new school to teach tasting and ceremony.
They will be releasing their fresh teas in mid to late June. In the mean time, the harvests from 2015 are at their peak, having enough age to really bring out the subtlety of the roast. Enjoy the 2015 harvests and other fresh spring teas while the Wuyi teas continue to get finished and rested.
Qianjiazhai, Mt. Ailao, Yunnan
Yunnan saw a very hard winter, with snow actually falling in Qianjiazhai. Many of the tea trees saw frost damage, though few were actually killed. It takes a lot to bring down a 300 year old tree. Even on trees whose branches were stripped bare, we could see stubborn little buds coming back.
In addition to a cold winter, Qianjiazhai saw a rainy early spring. Luckily, the rainy season seemed to come to an end in time for the early spring pickings so that the tea could properly sun dry.
This spring we had the privilege to meet several members of Master ZHou’s cooperative, interview tons of people, taste fresh tea, and be part of the entire production process from picking to finishing. Our intensive Qianjiazhai experience gave us the education to line up an incredible set of spring offering which are being finished and pressed by Master Zhou in the coming days.
We travelled across Qianjiazhai documenting beautiful old trees between 800 and 1800 years in age, measuring trunk width, interviewing local families to learn the history of each tree, and tasting the fresh leaves. We are excited to have picked out a 1300 year old tree with a beautiful taste profile; have no fear – we will be sharing more in depth articles on these soon, accompanied by hours of interviews.
This tree was just picked several days ago, and the entire harvest is being set aside and pressed for us this year as a limited offering. In addition to our single tree cakes, we will be offering a blended cake that Master Zhou puts together, selecting tea from several members of the cooperative from trees between 100 and 500 years of age for the best combined flavor of the season.
In addition to our traditional favorites, we are plotting with Master Zhang to commission a pressing of black tea cakes that will grow with age, as well as introduce tea made from the closely related local wild Camellia Crassicolumna tea. Also known as Qianjiazhai “Ye Sheng” tea, this species produces yabao, sheng pu’er and black tea that are naturally caffeine free, and full of incredible flavors unlike the more traditional camellia sinensis varietals that we are used to.
All these new teas are being finished right now and need a few weeks for their aromas to really start coming out. We plan to have these teas available by the end of May.
Mt. Wudong, Fenghuang, Guangdong
This Spring, we were lucky enough to be introduced to Master Huang, an award winning Dancong Master who has several published books and can count himself as one of Master Zhang’s first teachers. We will be releasing tons of video interviews and an exclusive translation of his landmark text on Dancong in the coming months in preparation for the honor of representing his family work to the Western world.
His son is busy picking and finishing Dancong Oolongs this month, but Master Huang firmly believes that Dancong needs at least two months to age before it is good to drink. He teaches that the best flavor can be tasted after four months, and before the tea loses its aroma after about a year and a half.
Respecting his wishes, we will be releasing his tea in late June and early July. We can’t wait to share some of the unique high elevation Dancong varietals of Wudong Shan, and share everything we have learned about this fantastic tea!
Tea of the Month Club members will be the first to taste this new Dancong, as Master Huang and his family will be curating the June club box.