We recently talked about our 2022 harvest on Nannuo and Lunan mountains, and our projections on how the taste of our new Pu’er, Dianhong, and Yueguangbai teas will be influenced by changes in climate, logistic, production, and social restrictions.
The same keypoints can be applied to the 2022 green tea harvest by adding emphasis on some focal details: the particular relevance of the spring harvest for green teas, the need to set official dates for the opening of the harvest season, and the pivotal role of shaqing in green tea processing.
The beginning of the Spring Harvest: a decision made by official regulations and weather
The early rainy season affected all harvests, with no exception to the new green teas. For this latter tea category, spring harvest is the most important, if not the only, harvest of the year. During this season the young buds and leaves are rich in nutrition, and full of vitality and precious aminoacids, resulting in the most refreshing, umami, and complex flavor. In a year already challenged by movement restrictions, lack of skilled and qualified labour, and higher costs of transportation, a delay in harvesting would result in a further disappointment for the farmers.
As with each year, official pickup dates are established in order to guarantee quality and avoid forgeries. The picking date for Longjing cultivar 43 was set for March 12th, while for the late-maturing Original cultivar the picking would start on March 20th. We were initially frightened by a heavy rain that poured down in Zhejiang on March 10th, which would have prevented the start of the harvest. In fact, to prevent losing fragrance and avoid an excessive humidity in the leaves, it is mandatory to refrain from plucking on rainy days.
Luckily, on March 15th the sky started to clear up, and farmers were finally able to pluck the very first buds of Xihu Longjing cultivar 43, and continue with the Original Cultivar from March 20th on.
The importance of killing green
As with our own production, green tea masters also had to cope with a higher humidity content in the fresh leaves, which resulted in a more difficult shaqing process. The latter is the core phase in the final quality of green tea, which helps reduce the undesired grass taste and develop a complex aroma, while also blocking the enzymatic oxidation reaction. The ability of the tea master stands in his judgement of the humidity level left in the leaves, allowing them to reduce water while cooking on a 250-degree-wok without getting burned.
From necessity to luxury
Green tea, the first tea category to ever exist, is still the most widely drunk and produced in China. The value of green tea this year increased by 5%, making up 1.1bln rmb of total value. Although all 19 Chinese tea producing provinces produce green tea, the first and most famous producer is Zhejiang, birthplace of Xihu Longjing.
The year 2022 started with an increase in Covid cases in East China, and the proximity of Zhejiang to Shanghai greatly influenced the spring harvest. In addition to the movement restrictions dictated by the government and the difficulty to find labour from the boarding provinces, many hectares of land were converted to the production of fruit and vegetables destined to Shanghai and other severely-affected areas. Many pickers also dedicated their efforts to volunteer to help with the pandemic situation, and tea harvesting took a back seat.
Recognizing quality and authenticity: our suggestions
Setting specific dates for the beginning of the harvest season plays a prominent role in defining quality and authenticity, especially in the case of Xihu Longjing, which is often subject of falsification.
Except the picking date, observing the dry and spent leaves is also an important step in recognizing quality and authenticity: an Original cultivar Longjing is easily detected by the uneven shape of its leaves, different from the smooth and uniform shape of cultivar 43, or the short and stout shape of the early-sprouting Wuniuzao. Longjing also has few fur comparing other green teas, and the young steeped Longjing leaves have a yellow-green hue: this is due to the fact that the leaves are so young that they didn’t develop chlorophyll yet, which is the main responsible for the green color in green teas.
Wuniuzao is a cultivar that has recently drawn the attention of many farmers due to its early-sprouting, and the associated earlier entrance in the market. However, its stout leaves are not the best material to produce high-quality Longjing, and Xihu village has abandoned it in favour of the Qing-dynasty Original Cultivar.
After traveling a lot from city to mountain, we suddenly found ourselves isolated as farmers, striving to complete the harvesting season while also creating a community of skilled, qualified, and properly rewarded pickers. When we received the new tea leaves in our hands, their hues felt particularly refreshing, and we felt like we could actually taste the efforts of all the people who contributed to the final result of a new and unique harvest. At each new infusion we feel the gentle yet precise movements of our pickers, and we ascertain the ability of our trusted tea masters. The complex fragrance and rich taste of the new green teas is the proof that, once again, nature can thrive again all adversities, and a joint effort can keep us growing. Sharing the precious result of these efforts is our sign of gratitude for all the tea lovers that keep following us, at each new season.