Thursday, June 7, 2012

TeaChat Discussion of Extra Dried Tea, and TeaVivre's Xin Yang Mao Jian

This post is in reply to a thread on the TeaChat forums, titled Extra Dried Tea. This thread begins with a poster, beachape, who wrote about friends they had in the Huangshan area of Anhui province in China; the discussion is about green tea:

...They told us that the secret was that they dry the tea more than usual when they prepare it. Most tea for sale is about 80% dried upon sale/packaging. They dry theirs as much as possible, which makes the tea very brittle but preserves well. Such brittle tea would not be good for sale, and producers prefer to have more water weight to gain a better profit...

There is then a reply from edkrueger who writes:

...I think the "extra dry" sounds like "properly dry". And a lot of products nowadays are not dry enough...

Chip, who moderates TeaChat, then chimes in:

Playing devil's advocate ... the drier the leaf, the more it is going to want to absorb surrounding humdity/moisture/aromas ... odors? Is this a logical conclusion? So, I would think the best storage of such tea would be paramount ... and even then, once open ... drink up!

I find this discussion interesting, in large part because I don't have enough knowledge or experience to say which, if any, of these lines of reasoning are accurate. Please chime in in the comments if you know about any of these things, and know which of these rationales are more or less valid, and can explain why.

My experience with TeaVivre's Xin Yang Mao Jian:

Recently I sampled a tea, Xin Yang Mao Jian from TeaVivre. I liked this tea very much; it was a bold, brisk, bitter green tea, darker, and fruity, with an intense aroma and flavor. I gave the tea a very high rating, 93/100. I also shared it with Evan of Pluck Tea, and we both enjoyed it; I enjoyed it even more with his brewing of it, as I find Evan to be considerably more skilled at preparing green teas than I am.

Here is what the leaf looks like now:

An interesting twist: the mao jian goes bad very quickly:

I wish I had photographed this tea up close right when I opened it, because I think it looked slightly different. It looked very wiry--so much that I posted a reply on the thread above remarking that this particularly tea was more thin, wiry, and brittle than I would expect for this style, and wondering if I had a batch of drier-than-normal tea. It's hard for me to know, however, whether the tea changed, or whether I've simply gotten to the bottom of the container, where the pieces seem to be both larger, and more broken. It's a simple fact of physics that when shaking a tea about, the smaller, denser pieces will tend to accumulate at the bottom, and the lighter, more wiry pieces will tend to stay at the top. This tea was relatively loosely packed, so as to keep the leaf intact, so I can see the settling explain the difference I observed between the beginning and the end of this small batch.

But, regardless of explanation, I found that, about a month and a half after opening the mao jian green tea, when I got to the bottom of the container to consume the last several cups worth of the tea, it began to acquire "off" aromas, and these aromas were so unpleasant that I ended up pouring off the last cup that I brewed. I have little interest in brewing up the remaining few cups worth.

Granted, this is a tricky tea to brew. Even when it was right out of the container, I found that it had a narrow range of temperatures that produced good results, and it would be dramatically bitter if the temperature were too high, and quite bland if it were too low. I also found it performed better with Gong Fu style brewing, and was trickier to produce good results with using western-style brewing. But when I got it right, it was very good--good enough that I gave it a 93/100 rating.

Either the tea has spoiled somehow, or the leaf that settled to the bottom of the container has characteristics that I find objectionable. The remaining leaf smells strong, but no longer smells pleasing to me. There are also strong vegetal tones which were absent in the original aroma of the dry leaf. The remaining dry leaf now smells a lot like asparagus to me, and the brewed cup is now substantially more bitter and astringent, even brewing at lower temperatures.

I was careful to store this tea in a clipped bag inside an airtight tin. The inside of the tin even smells a bit off now.

Interestingly, I stored two other green teas from TeaVivre the same way, their Huang Shan Mao Feng, and their Chun Mee, and both of these teas have stayed fresh very well. The Mao Feng in particular tastes just as fresh as the day I opened it, and if anything, has come to taste a bit better to me.

Do you have any explanations?

I'd be curious to hear anyone's explanations about this phenomenon. I also would like some critical feedback on the original thread...and I'm curious if you think there is a relationship between these two things, or if you think they are unrelated.


  1. Not meaning to be pedantic, but I think it has an impact on the narrative here - Chip has never been employed by Adagio Teas.

  2. My experience with this mao jian is it has stayed consistent over the last 7 months. I haven't noticed it being all that picky. I steep this one mug at a time in a French press. It has a hefty aroma that I call beef stew. Others refer to it as asparagus. Of course that seems to be what you dislike. It also does have a mild bitterness that I like. It gives it character. My experience seems to match other's reviews over on Steepster. I have no explanation why your early cups were different.

    1. I like the bitterness in this tea, and I liked the vegetal tones of the tea at first.

      I wish I could know if the tea had changed, or if it was my perception; I've been pretty careful about storage. My intuition is that the main explanation would be that the settling of the leaf somehow sorted the sample into more broken, heavier bits at the bottom, and I don't like these as much as the intact, more wiry leaf at the top. It seems improbable that the leaf changed this much in this time-period.

      But oh well. I still have been impressed with TeaVivre and I don't think this would make me much less likely to want to consume this tea again, I drank quite a lot of it and enjoyed it a lot before getting to the small amount that I didn't like towards the end.