Jin Jun Mei, or Golden Eyebrows black tea is one of the most sought after teas in China, prized for its delicate tiny buds and rich honeyed flavor. True Jin Jun Mei is picked and processed in the Wuyishan Ecological Preserve and made nearly entirely of tiny early spring buds. The result is a rich textural experience with tons of buddy down suspended in every cup for a thick brew.
We were lucky enough to be in Wuyishan learning all about Jin Jun Mei this spring right before picking. Li Xiangxi and her family explained what an incredible amount of work it is to produce a tea made from such tiny buds. Every bud is picked by hand, and the finest Jin Jun Mei can take over seven thousand buds to make a half kilo.
We were so excited when the first Jin Jun Mei of the season arrived, because this year we could taste it with the smells and sights of our visit fresh in our memories. The best teas evoke a sense of place, and Jin Jun Mei is no exception. Every Jin Jun Mei that Li Xiangxi and her family produce are full of the sweet and rich mineral flavor that comes from the unique rocky geography of the region.
We started with the classic 2017 Jin Jun Mei.
This tea is made mostly from golden downy buds with darker black buds and tiny beginnings of leaves mixed in. The tea is beautifully twisted and perfectly intact. The color of the brew was rich and thick like amber. One of our favorite parts of brewing jin jun mei is after pouring out the first rinse smelling the intense heady aroma wafting from the wet leaves in the gaiwan. The aroma was malty, rich and savory, like toasted sesame.
The first sips continued with big sesame flavor and a huge thick mouthfeel. As the tea continues steeping out, it moves towards classic sweet pumpkin, toasted marshmallow and even a floral hint of rose.
Next, we moved on to one of Li Xiangxi’s favorites, the Black Buds Jin Jun Mei.
This tea is underappreciated in China because there is a misunderstanding that the darker color of the buds means it is a later harvest or a lower grade. The truth is that buds can be black, orange or silver depending on the specific plant. Black Buds Jin Jun Mei is made from the same early harvest buds as the classic Jin Jun Mei, but these leaves are set aside for their darker color which yields a very different flavor. The aroma of the wet leaves is deep and toasty, a satisfying roasted quality.
The first steepings were full of big rocky mineral flavor, toasted barley, and an alluringly sweet fruity note that wavered between grape and pear on each steeping. A thick honey sweetness builds up over time along with a mouth-watering juiciness.
Next, we brewed up the fresh 2017 Tongmu Reserve Jin Jun Mei.
This tea is one of the buddiest, most decadent black teas out there. The buds are bright gold and completely downy. The intense down yields an incredibly thick brew. The wet leaf aroma is like fresh baked bread and dark cane sugar. Classic sweet potato notes are bolstered by luscious rich vanilla and orchid florals. As the tea steeps out, it becomes even more dessert-like with buttercream cake and candied ginger spice.
This Jin Jun Mei is cultivated single-varietal tea from within the famous Tongmu reserve, picked by Li Xiangxi’s family, whose ancestral family home is deep in the Tongmu mountains. It is the cultivation of this tea that gives the buds their golden down – foraged tea bushes have too much natural variation, with buds of all colors, from silver and black to gold.
Finally, we moved onto the last and most stunning Jin Jun Mei of all.
This year, for the first time, Li Xiangxi was kind enough to set aside a half kilo of her family’s wild-foraged high mountain Jin Jun Mei from within the Tongmu reserve.
This tea is picked from completely wild trees that grow straight out of volcanic rock between groves of wild bamboo. Each tea tree ranges between thirty and over a hundred years old. The variation in wild-propagated tea plants leads to a varied bud appearance from deep black to orange to silver.
The aroma of the tea in a Jingdezhen porcelain gaiwan was full of lychee and grape high notes with a cozy yeasty rising bread undertone that hints at the texture to come. The first sips were shockingly thick, thicker than any other tea we have tasted. The full body complemented the mossy flavor of old tree Wuyi teas that comes through before shifting to a sweet buttercream cake aftertaste. As the tea continued steeping, the mouthfeel moved from thick and hefty to a refined sticky rice quality, complimented by orchid florals in the aftertaste. In very late steepings the crisp sweetness of Wuyi minerality dominated with honey and melon notes and a sensation on the tongue that began to approach the electrical quality of yun.
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