Spring is the most exciting time of the year in the world of tea. It has been many months since fresh leaves have been picked, and everyone waits with eager anticipation for that first sip of fresh, aromatic tea.
In China and Japan, The flavor of those early harvests drives people wild.
What is it about the flavor of spring that makes it so treasured? Can you really taste the difference between spring tea and summer tea, or even the difference of three days between picking in the final brew? The fact is, spring tea really does taste different from anything else out there. It has a distinctive flavor, texture, aroma and aftertaste that sets it apart and comes through in everything from traditional Dragonwell to Laoshan Green grown in the far north of China. It may sound strange, but spring tea at the end of the day actually tastes and smells like springtime.
Compared to autumn or summer tea, spring harvests are usually much lighter in flavor. Bitter and vegetal notes have no place in the early spring harvests. Flavors tend to be delicate and yield to aroma, aftertaste and texture. This is a unique experience that is sometimes hard to convey. In America, we almost always talk about taste. We want to describe flavor notes. In China, the early harvests aren’t necessarily about taste. They give you an opportunity to appreciate the quieter and more subtle aspects of tea.
Spring tea is often about aroma, first and foremost. To compliment a tea, you don’t say it tastes good; you say it is aromatic. Spring tea smells like spring. Green teas evoke the light, tender buds. Exotic fruits and flowers are also dominant, especially in spring oolongs and japanese green tea. The aroma of spring tea reminds us of young, new life. Every tea farmer we work with talks about wanting to capture the smell of their land, their farm, their tea forest in the full bloom of spring through the craft of making tea. Their goal is to preserve the aromas the tea absorbs from the spring air so that they unfold when you brew the dry leaves.
Spring tea is usually softer and smoother on the palate than summer or autumn tea. It can feel like velvet, silk or cream. There is no rough feeling, and the minerality that is a big part of autumn can be replaced with a linen-like quality or even a light sparkling sensation depending on the tea. Texture builds on the palate over each sip and becomes a very dominant part of the tasting experience. Early spring harvests are highly desired for their lack of dryness or roughness on the palate.
The tasting experience of fine spring tea is very intriguing- everything starts out quiet and subdued, and the flavor grows to fill out the palate the most after you have already sipped it. This is called aftertaste– the sensations in the mouth and the back of the throat that linger long after the tea is gone. Spring picking tea is very heavy on the aftertaste, full of sweetness and floral notes. Sweetness is a constant throughout the tasting, but because of the way it lingers in the aftertaste, each sip seems sweeter and sweeter.