July 22, 2020
by Diana Rosen
Spring may mean blossoms and bees, warming temperatures and grass instead of frost, but to me, springtime is always filled with the anticipation of the season’s first flush green teas: Japanese Senchas, Chinese Lung Chings, and other emeralds in the kingdom of tea masters’ green teas.
This year, so fraught with uncertainty, political drama, and a worldwide pandemic, has one sterling silver lining: an exceptional group of Masters Teas to quench our thirst for perfection in the leaf, and soothe our souls with the centuries-old tradition of mediation with tea.
Although the 2020 choices are many, twenty-six to be exact, this spring’s first samples brought two that, I admit, I dream about days, even weeks after first sampling them. Teas can do that.
I first tasted Mao Feng and Lu An Melon decades ago at the home of a venerable Chinese tea master who served each to me from an exquisite antique guywan into delicate pure white thimble cups. Each became benchmarks for those categories that rarely have matched my memory since.
The Mao Feng was, simply, delicious; complexly flavorful, and I greedily drank as many thimble cups as the host would offer. The Lu An did indeed have a signature thick honeydew essence so unexpected that at first I didn’t believe I was drinking tea.
Tea tasters will use “silky, full-mouth, lingering aftertaste” as tea-tasting phrases, but too often teas do not come up to the drama the phrases imply. With these two seminal tea-tasting experiences I understood, for the first time, what these phrases could mean.
The 2020 Adagio Masters Tea, Lu An Gua Pian (aka Lu An Melon Seed,) is not the same as my memory. Just as my grammar school walk of one mile has grown exponentially to a three-mile hike up hills and dales, I suspect my first taste of Lu An Melon Seed has been exaggerated by memory, but this 2020 sample will definitely have a place on my tea-drinking schedule in the weeks ahead. In fact, I’ve made it my morning tea, one that gives me a lovely fruity taste experience and a bit of energy to tackle the day’s tasks.
This Lu An Melon Seed has a slight green assertiveness that was unexpected yet thoroughly satisfying. The smoothness of the tea in my mouth, the sweet grassiness, the soft aftertaste made for a layered taste profile that made it one of my favorites this season.
I shouldn’t be so surprised, as these long (5cm) elegant leaves, the second slightly more mature leaf, are plucked from five-year-old trees grown at 800 meters above sea level, then de-veined before pan-frying and shaping over charcoal fire. The selection has leaves only, no buds or stalks to distract from their pure green flavor. (As for its name, it’s melon seed refers to the shape the leaves after processing, flat and oval, similar to the seed inside a melon, or from its distinct melon scent.)
Lucky me (and you!) that we can sample this traditional tribute tea (gong cha) that dates back to the Qing dynasty.
The 2020 Adagio Masters Tea, Huang Shan Mao Feng, brought the memories of its hallmark taste and fragrance back to me. Its creamy silkiness blessed my tongue and the lingering aftertaste was calming and I felt relaxed enough to begin my mid-morning meditation practice.
Grown in Anhui Province, Huang Shan Mao Feng (Yellow Mountain Fur Peak leaves are beautiful. The hand-plucked two leaves and bud are even in color, long and flat, and gently floral in the dried state.
They produce a pale yellow cup that looks like barely-infused water yet offers substantial flavor redolent of flowers which some say remind them of orchids but I inhaled and tasted instead a sweet lychee essence pleasing to the nose and delicious on the tongue. I drank numerous thimble cups from two infusions made in my guywan. Then, poured a third full steeping, this time enhanced by drinking it with a small nectarine and a few raw almonds. This is definitely both a stand-alone tea experience and one that marries so well with a small snack of fruit and nuts. It will be a fixture of my mid-morning meditation tea ceremony for weeks to come and, no doubt, create new dreams of tea.
Huang Mao Feng and Lu An Gua Pian are barely one percent of the 2020 spring tea offerings, and set my expectations on fire for a season of tea tasting joy.