2024 Source in review. (Part 1)

Every year holds challenges. To find teas that really showcase the specific  characteristics of the specific cultivar you have to pray for good weather and then navigate through the market finding the good teas and interacting with farmers. These challenges are even harder when buying tea from a distance where you have to communicate with farmers via wechat (china’s whatapp)  and hope they understand. (Something that is especially hard through a language barrier). This year I was able to find some fantastic teas, but there was also a lot of  disappointment in teas that in the past have been staples of Sweetest Dew.

Lets start on a good note, Bi Luo Chun. This year I went back to the family I stumbled upon last year and they received me warmly. My Chinese has improved since last year so not only was I able to watch the whole tea making process but I was also able to communicate more  with the family and ask more questions. We talked alot about new and old varieties, something I will talk about in another post.

What made this year very special for Bi Luo Chun was the different pick dates. I was first there March 30th and I bought three pounds of tea. They had one pound from that day and gave me two pounds from the day before. They almost mixed them together but I stopped them and I’m so glad I did. When I got home I tasted the two batches. No two batches of tea are the same but I never expected them to be so different!

Day one was your typical Bi Luo Chun. It had zest. It had kick. It earned the nickname the IPA of teas. The second day though was my favorite. It was more subtle and its strength was more in its finesse. There was less pop but I felt it had more structure. These two Bi Luo Chuns could not have been more different!

So excited by the difference I couldn't help but get the following day, April first, which was more vegetal and round. I choose to live in tea regions so that I can deeply study and understand the local teas and this year's Bi Luo Chun adventures for sure deepened my understanding of the tea. With such a strong start I was excited for the rest of the year. Unfortunately from there the season went south.

The biggest disappointment this year was Monkey Valley. A Huang Shan Mao Feng from the core region, this tea uses a wood fire to bake the tea dry. This gave the tea a stronger flavor that was more nutty. In the past it has been my favorite. Green teas though are hard to buy without tasting cause you really have to know the tea and know when it is best. I know that this tea, and greens in general, are not the best when they are first picked. The first picking is good but you need a little bit of time for the flavor to develop. So I ordered the Monkey Valley just short of a week after the first picking. I thought this would be the level of flavor I was looking for. I was deeply disappointed when I received the tea and found no flavor.

As I sit here writing this I still don't know why it didn't have flavor. The weather was not good this year, but in HuangShan the weather is rarely good. The leaves did seem a little small but they should have still produced more flavor than they did. I ordered more tea picked a week or two later and that too was flavorless. The Cha Shan, from a nearby region, was also very bland. Neither could be put on the website. This year only the Qimen Huang Shan Mao Feng made it to the website.

The Qimen Huang Shan Mao Feng is made by a man I met when I first moved to Huang Shan. His father was a local famous tofu salesman and he stayed in the business of Huang Shan products. Most of the year he sells tofu, but when tea season comes he returns to his home in the Qimen mountains and makes Mao Feng in a wok.

Qimen used to be a green tea producing area until locals started making red tea to join the much more profitable export market. That being said, lots of green tea comes from Qimen. Qimen Huang Shan Mao Fengs are known for a salty green bean flavor. The difference in flavor is due to the difference in cultivar. To be honest most of Qimen Huang Shan Mao Fengs aren't good. They use a shaking machine that is looked down upon by Mao Feng drinkers because it produces a flavorless tea. By cooking his tea by hand in a wok, he is able to capture the flavor of Qimen Mao Fengs while maintaining the rich body that is the essence of Mao Feng. While this year was a little smoky, in all my years in Huang Shan this is the only Qimen Mao Feng I have ever liked.