I find it fascinating that tea is so affected by the hand of the maker. In terms of variety, tea is peerless in it’s ability to be transformed. Cultural traditions are among the most important factors in determining a teas final flavor. I would argue more important than the leaf itself. While certain varieties of the actual tea leaf differ, the driving force behind flavor begins with picking and handling and ends with firing/steaming and final finishing techniques. To illustrate the profound differences a leaf can undergo, I have A/B-ed 2 teas. They are both green tea. One from China and one from Japan.
The first tea shown above is a Huangshan Maofeng green tea from Anhui province in eastern China. Grown at an elevation of about 600-800m, this tea is harvested in early spring. High elevation, simple processing, and surrounding orchid bushes lead to a very light and floral green tea. The relatively uncomplicated process of making this particular tea consists of picking, firing, rolling, and drying. Most tea in china is wok fired, including this Huangshan. Wok firing is done by hand at high heat and rather quickly. Just enough to “kill the green”, or stop the plant from continuing to oxidize. This step imparts a slight “nuttiness” to the tea and accounts for chines green tea’s light golden liquor.
The second tea, a deep steamed sencha from Yame prefecture, Japan, appears very different. Grown at a slightly lower elevation, this tea is picked by machine and more thoroughly processed. The deep green color comes from a process of steaming which lasts 120 seconds. This leads to a more broken leaf and a deep, rich aroma. When brewed, the small particles pass into the cup adding a chewy, soupy thickness not found in chinese teas. The later steps include multiple rolling, drying and firings.
Dry leaf has notes of orchid, sweet grass, slight fire and charcoal, slight medicinal note.
Liquor: Nutty, floral and fragrant. Very light and easy drinking. Balance of water and tea.
Wet leaf: Orchid/jasmine aroma.
Yame, Fukamushi Sencha:
Dry leaf: fresh mowed grass, seaweed, slight leather, pronounced “hika”, or fired note.
Liquor: Deep, tangy marine notes. Rich and brothy. Slight foral overtone. Pine, grass, summer. no water taste, just tea.
Wet Leaf: Floral, baked grass, melon, candy.
Climate and tea varietal affect flavor of course, but the difference in processing leads to vastly different teas. Tea is a beautiful way to experience the union of a master craftsperson and mother nature.
To account for other factors affecting differences in flavor, I’ve included a chart showing the chemical makeups of tea from Yame vs. General Chinese teas.
(This chart is merely a guidline, teas chemical structure changes yearly with harvest.)
You can find more Yame tea here.
Huangshan is from our friends at In Pursuit of Tea