Green tea is a highly popular tea type worldwide, and China is one of the largest producers of green tea. The country’s green tea varieties come in a range of shapes and flavors, each with its unique taste and aroma. This article delves into the world of Chinese loose leaf green tea, examining different tea leaf shapes and their characteristics.
History and Production of Chinese Loose Leaf Green Tea
Although some green teas trace back to China’s Tang dynasty, over 1,000 years ago, these teas mostly refer to a specific tea tree variety or production area. The modern-day production of green tea has evolved significantly. The main production steps involved in green tea production include harvesting, fixing or “killing the green,” rolling, and drying.
Harvesting green tea involves hand-picking young and tender leaves and buds to produce the highest quality tea. The timing of the harvest depends on the tea variety, altitude, and climate. Usually, it starts in early spring and can continue until autumn.
The second step is fixing or “killing the green” (Sha Qing – 杀青), which prevents the leaves from further oxidation. Tea farmers typically use pan-frying, baking, or steaming to quickly heat the leaves to a high temperature. Pan-frying is the traditional method used in China, while steaming is mostly used in Japan, and baking is occasionally used in both countries.
Next, tea farmers roll the tea leaves to break the cell walls and release the flavor and aroma compounds in the tea leaves. The goal is to shape the leaves evenly and compactly to preserve their freshness and aroma. The tea leaves are hand-rolled or machine-rolled into various shapes such as needles, curls, or spirals, depending on the tea type.
The final step in green tea production is drying or firing the leaves to remove any remaining moisture and stabilize their quality. This step involves exposing the leaves to heat, either by baking or roasting, to reduce their moisture content to less than 5%. The goal is to create a shelf-stable product that can be transported and stored without losing flavor and aroma.
Varieties and Characteristics of Chinese Loose Leaf Green Tea
Chinese loose leaf green tea comes in a variety of shapes and flavors, each with its unique characteristics. For example, Long Jing (Dragonwell) is one of the most famous green teas in China, known for its flat and narrow shape, chestnut aroma, and mellow flavor. Meanwhile, Bi Luo Chun (Green Snail Spring) has a curly shape, a fruity aroma, and a refreshing taste.
Other green tea varieties include Tai Ping Houkui (Monkey King), Mao Feng, Huang Shan Mao Feng, and Liu An Gua Pian (Sunflower Seeds). Each variety has its unique flavor, aroma, and appearance.
Leaf Shapes and Flavors
Green tea is a popular beverage known for its health benefits and unique flavors. However, did you know that the shape of the tea leaves can also affect the taste and aroma of your tea? Here is a guide to the most common leaf shapes of loose leaf green tea and the flavors they offer.
The flat shape is the most common shape of Chinese green tea leaves. The process of roasting the tea leaves in a wok makes them flat and upright. Longjing tea (or Dragonwell tea) from Hangzhou and Tai Ping Houkui from Anhui are some examples of green teas with this shape.
Long Jing (Dragon Well) is highly-regarded Chinese green tea that has a fresh, nutty flavor and a sweet aftertaste. Its flat and upright leaves are grown in the West Lake region of Hangzhou, and it is a favorite among tea connoisseurs and is a cherished gift in China.
Tai Ping Houkui is another Chinese green tea with flat leaves, grown in the Huangshan Mountains in Anhui province. This tea offers a fresh, grassy flavor with a refreshing aftertaste. It is interesting to note that Tai Ping Houkui’s shape is referred to as “flower-shaped” in China, as it resembles the unopened petals of a flower bud.
The straight shape of tea leaves is round, tight, and straight, achieved by rolling young tea leaves into thin, needle-like shapes. Xinyang Maojian from Henan and Yuhua tea from Jiangsu are famous types of straight green tea.
Xinyang Maojian (also known as Yu Maofeng) is grown mostly in the Xinyang region of Henan. It has a strong, brisk taste, with a slightly bitter aftertaste, and is often used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat ailments like indigestion and high blood pressure.
Yuhua tea, also known as Yuhua Xinyang tea, is a type of green tea produced in the Yuhua District of Nanjing, located in Jiangsu Province, China. It is one of the most famous teas from the region and is well-known for its delicate aroma and mellow taste with a slightly astringent finish.
The beaded shape is achieved by tightly rolling tea leaves into small balls or pellets. This shape is common in many Chinese green teas, including Gunpowder and Dragon Pearls Jasmine Green Tea. The tightly rolled shape allows the tea to be stored for long periods without losing its flavor.
Gunpowder is grown and produced in Zhejiang province and has a smoky and earthy flavor. It’s a popular green tea variety globally, especially in North Africa. Dragon Pearl Jasmine Green Tea is scented with fresh jasmine flowers, which results in a tea with a delicate, floral flavor and aroma that’s both refreshing and soothing.
The spiral shape is formed by rolling tea leaves into tight spirals. This shape is common in many types of Chinese green teas, including Bi Luo Chun and Lu Shan Yun Wu. The spiral shape gives the tea a fresh and floral aroma, allowing it to be brewed multiple times without losing its flavor.
Bi Luo Chun is grown in the Dongting Mountains in Jiangsu province and has a delicate and floral flavor. It’s often described as having a sweet and fruity aroma and is a favorite among tea enthusiasts. Lu Shan Yun Wu, on the other hand, grows in the Lu Shan Mountains in Jiangxi province and has a light and refreshing flavor. It’s known for its floral and nutty taste, with a slightly sweet aftertaste, making it a favorite among tea connoisseurs.
Twisted-shaped tea leaves are tightly rolled into thin, elongated shapes, and they are common in Chinese green teas such as Huangshan Maofeng. The twisted shape of the leaves allows for a more robust and full-bodied flavor.
Huangshan Maofeng grows in the Yellow Mountain area in Anhui province and has a strong and nutty flavor. It’s known for its slightly sweet aftertaste with a smooth and mellow finish.
Understanding the different shapes of loose leaf green tea is essential in selecting the right tea for your taste buds. While each shape has its unique flavor and aroma, the brewing process also plays a vital role in bringing out the tea’s full potential. So, experiment with different shapes and brewing methods until you find your perfect cup of green tea.