China celebrates the Qing Ming festival on April 5th to honor the passing of friends and relatives. For tea growers it represents the deadline for the first harvest of the year. Tea harvested before April 5th is called Ming Qian or Pre-Qing Ming tea. Kilogram designates the earliest harvested tea as “Early Spring” since some tea won’t make the April 5th harvest deadline, but will still have the Ming Qian quality.
Harvesting early is important for several reasons- tea plants are harvested several times a year, but allowing the leaves a long layoff during the winter will create healthy, nutrient-rich and flavorful spring teas. During first picking, they are harvested before full maturity producing a sweet flavor with lots of complexity and low astringency.
Each year Kilogram purchases a few choice lots of early spring tea. I enjoy sharing this special limited availability tea that is rarely found Stateside, giving us a chance to enjoy the sweetest, freshest tea that represents a very small percentage of the annual harvest. Our first early spring China green tea offering this year is Green Needles.
Hubei is a historically influential tea growing province. Many different green tea processing styles were developed in Xuan En County, but few tea makers honor and use the old labor intensive techniques. Lu Zhen or Green Needles is produced using a hot air roasting machine that was invented in Hubei to fire the leaves. This technique develops and preserves the green, savory flavors while imparting a smaller amount of the roasted flavor found in most pan-fired China green teas.
Green Needles is made from the Long Jing #43 cultivar. Tea experts claim it has diminished flavor and aroma due to its fast development and early harvest. However growing Long Jing #43 in Hubei at an elevation of 1100 meters above sea level slows the rapid leaf development creating incredible savory qualities that can’t be replicated at lower elevation. The soil in Hubei is rich with ancient mineral deposits, creating a fresh green, grassiness complimented by flavors of pine, melon, and mineral.
For a vibrant, nuanced flavor, steep 3-4 grams in a small gaiwan with 180F water for 1 ½ -2 minutes. Steep the second and third infusions for 30-45 seconds. Steep a fourth infusion for 1 ½-2 minutes.
Alternately, for a sweeter, softer flavor, steep 6-7 grams in a glass teapot with 180F water for 3 minutes.