Xinyang Maojian Tea: A Look at the Famous Chinese Green Tea

Xinyang Maojian tea (信阳毛尖), also known as Yu Maofeng, is a famous Chinese green tea produced in Xinyang, Henan. It is considered one of the top ten famous teas in China and is also recognized as one of the famous specialties of Henan Province. Created by Han tea farmers in the early years of the Republic of China, this tea has become a favorite among tea lovers due to its unique flavor and aroma.

Image: The shape of Xinyang Maojian tea leaves is straight, round, tight, and needle-like, achieved by rolling young tea leaves into thin, needle-like shapes.

Characteristics of Xinyang Maojian Tea

Xinyang Maojian is known for its unique and delicious flavor. When boiled with water, the color of the tea liquor is yellowish. The tea liquor is slightly thick and has a refreshing brisk taste with a long-lasting aftertaste. The tea leaves are thin, tender, and evenly shaped, covered in abundant white hairs, and commonly known as “hairy tips.” The leaves have a slightly dark-green color, straight and delicate edges, and a thin and firmly rolled appearance with both ends in a pointed shape. The regular length of a Xinyang Maojian tea leaf is about 0.5–1 inches.

Compared to other famous types of green tea, the Mao Jian leaves are relatively small. After brewing, Maojian and pouring the water into a teacup, the aroma will flow into the air and create a peaceful atmosphere. Another notable characteristic of Xinyang Maojian is its fragrant aroma. This is attributed to the presence of significant amounts of acids and esters such as the Hexadecanoic and Phthalic acids, which collectively give off a strong floral smell. The leaves tend to form balls and release a rather pungent smell when stored for a long time. It needs air, or the lack of oxygen will release an odor, to make up for the lack of oxygen.

Recognitions of Xinyang Maojian Tea

In 1915, at the Panama International Exposition, Xinyang Maojian tea won the gold medal along with Kweichow Moutai. In 1990, the Xinyang Maojian brand also participated in the national appraisal and won the first place in the comprehensive quality of green tea. Xinyang Maojian is known as the “king of green tea”. The Xinyang Maojian brand has ranked third in the value of public brands in China’s tea region for many years. In 2017, in the evaluation of China’s tea regional brand value, Xinyang Maojian ranked second in the brand value list with 5.991 billion yuan.

History of Xinyang Maojian Tea

The name Xinyang Maojian can be divided into two parts: “Xinyang” (信阳) and “mao jian” (毛尖). Xinyang is the name of the city in Henan, China that produces this type of tea. “Mao jian” refers to the shape of the tea leaves. “Mao” (毛) means tiny fuzz in the cup when brewed, and “jian” (尖) refers to the shape of the leaves which are sharp and full, and resemble young leaves.

Xinyang has a tea history dating back 2300 years ago. In 1987, tea was discovered in an ancient tomb in Gushi County of Xinyang. This tea discovery highlights the ancient roots of tea production in this region.

In 1080 AD, during the Song Dynasty, one of the greatest scholars, Su Shi, commented that “Xinyang tea is the best among all teas from the area of southern Huai river.” This demonstrates that Xinyang Maojian has a long-standing reputation for its high quality and taste.

In the past century, Xinyang Maojian has been considered one of the 10 best teas in China. Its popularity in Henan province is unmatched, where it is enjoyed as a relaxing beverage after a busy day.

In Xinyang Maojian history, there were eight famous tea shops. These tea shops were instrumental in promoting the growth and popularity of Xinyang Maojian. The eight tea shops were:

  • Yuanzhen Tea (元贞茶社, 1903)
  • Longtan Tea (龙潭茶社, 1903)
  • Hongji/Cheyun Tea (宏济/车云茶社, 1910)
  • Yushen Tea (裕申茶, 1911)
  • Guangyi Tea (广益茶社, 1912)
  • Wanshou Tea (万寿茶社, 1913)
  • Guangsheng Tea (广生茶社, 1915)
  • Bohou Tea (博厚茶社, 1919)

In 1914, Longtan Tea and other shops sent teas to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and won a gold medal. Over the next 100 years, the tea shops disappeared, while Longtan Tea has survived and developed into a group of companies known as the Henan Xinyang Maojian Group.

Origin of Xinyang Maojian

Xinyang Maojian is produced in southern Henan Province. The climate in this region is mild, which is ideal for growing trees that produce high-quality tea leaves. Xinyang tea trees are planted at high altitudes where the weather is divided into four distinct seasons. The region is also surrounded by high mountains, such as Mt. Cheyun, Mt. Jiyun, and Mt. Tianyun. These mountains support environmental humidification and moisture, while the abundant forests, clouds, rainfall, and large temperature differences between day and night contribute to keeping the soil healthy and fertile. The trees absorb chemical elements more efficiently, which helps produce higher quality green tea.

Geographical Conditions

Xinyang, a prefecture-level city in Henan Province, China, is known for producing high-quality Maojian tea. The area boasts unique natural conditions that are conducive to the growth of tea trees, resulting in a tea that is highly sought after by tea connoisseurs around the world.

Xinyang’s annual average temperature ranges from 14.5 °C to 15.5 °C, with an average temperature of 15.1 °C. From late March to late November, the daily temperature averages at least 10 °C, which lasts for over 220 days. The effective accumulated temperature is 4864 °C, and the average monthly temperature from April to November is 20.7 °C. The area receives abundant rainfall, with an average of 1134.7mm concentrated from April to November. Xinyang has 1592.5 hours of illumination, which accounts for 73% of the total hours in a year. The amount of solar radiation is 89.25 kcal/cm2, and the effective radiation is 43.74 kcal/cm2.

The soil in Xinyang’s mountainous areas is mostly yellow and black sandy loam, deep and loose, with high fertility due to the humus content. The PH value ranges from 4 to 6.5. Tea farmers traditionally grow tea in the high mountains at an altitude of 500 to 800 meters. The mountains are undulating, with dense forests and abundant vegetation. The area experiences abundant rainfall, with clouds filling the air, and the relative humidity is over 75%. The sun is not strong, and the temperature difference between day and night is significant. These conditions result in slow-growing tea tree bud leaves with strong tenderness, rich hypertrophy, and more effective material accumulation. The location’s northern latitude and high latitudes allow for the synthesis and accumulation of nitrogenous compounds such as amino acids and caffeine.

Fresh Tea Leaf Requirements

The best quality Maojian tea is harvested in mid-April, called “Yu Qian Tea,” meaning that the tea is picked earlier in the spring before the solar term ‘Grain Rain’ (Guyu). The leaves are rare and fresh, resulting in a tea that is two to three times more expensive than tea produced after this season. In general, the ratio of fresh leaves to produced tea is 50,000 buds: 500 grams.

Tea production in China dates back to the Zhou dynasty (ca. 1066–221 BCE). A historical account prescribes specific requirements for picking Maojian leaves. Only girls aged 15 to 16 years old should be involved, and these workers need to bathe and change their clothes prior to picking. Picking the tea shoots must be done by mouth, and the leaves are deposited in perfumed pouches hanging in the girls’ chests.

In the twentieth century, Xinyang Maojian tea gained popularity. Different groups and communities began to develop their own tea production techniques. They learned West Lake Longjing tea frying techniques and eventually improved their techniques and created a unique tea-frying process. In 1913, they produced “The Mountain Tippy” tea, later renamed “Xinyang Maojian.” Xinyang Maojian tea won a gold medal in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, in 1914, and was selected for the top ten in 1958.

Understanding the Seasons of Xinyang Maojian Tea

Xinyang Maojian tea is a famous type of tea in China that is known for its rich flavor and aroma. Local people categorize the fresh tea leaves according to the growing season into spring tea, summer tea, and autumn tea. Let’s take a closer look at each season.

Spring Tea

This type of tea is usually produced before the end of May. The tea shoots are strong and the leaves are soft and tender, making it the best quality of the year. Spring tea is divided into three subtypes according to the growth period: Mingqian tea, Yuqian tea, and Chunwei tea.

Ming Tea

This is tea collected before the Ching Ming Festival, which is around April 5 in the Gregorian calendar. The buds that just emerged in spring are harvested, resulting in a tender and scented tea. This type of tea is the highest level of Xinyang Maojian tea.

Tea Before the Rain

This tea is collected before Gu Yu, around April 20 in the Gregorian calendar. The leaves are full of vigor and form one bud and one leaf, resulting in a shape that is only second to Ming tea. The taste is slightly stronger, making it suitable for those with slightly higher consumption.

Spring Tail Tea

This tea is collected before the end of spring, which is the end of the fifth month of the solar calendar. Although the strips are slightly worse than the other two types of spring tea, it is still good quality and relatively cheap.

Summer Tea

This tea is produced at the end of June to July when the temperature is high. The leaves are relatively large and wide, and the taste is slightly bitter. However, it is resistant to foam and cheaper in price.

Autumn Tea

The tea harvested after August is called autumn tea or white dew tea. The leaves contain relatively less material, resulting in a dull taste and aroma. However, it has a unique sweet and fragrant aroma that sets it apart from other types of tea.

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