First Flush explained

This is a blogpost where you could learn about all the concepts surrounding new green teas: why does first flush matter? what's makes Ming Qian tea so valuable? how does time and storage affects green tea?

Before we dive into the theories, there are couple of tasting notes we noted down while testing all the samples that we have been keeping in the fridge + this year's first flush (only 2 month old).

2019 First Flush Ming Qian Long Jing, sealed, kept in fridge vs.

 2021 First Flush Ming Qian Long Jing, sealed, kept in fridge vs.

2022 First Flush Ming Qian Long Jing vs

2021 Long Jing, sealed

as depicted in the picture below, from left to right, up to down

Look:

The non Ming Qian tea stands out as you can clearly see the leave is way bigger. This is because tea harvested early Spring endured colder temperature, thus grows slowly. The buds are harvested before the Spring rain as well, thus leaving the leaves small but compact with flavors.

From left to right, one can clearly see the color and shape changes. High quality Long Jing should have jade green color and a flat body. The 2019 one, although stored in a fridge and sealed, still loses its color over the years. The 2021 one still remains its color, but the shape as became more tightened as the result of being in the fridge for a year.

 

First Flush Long Jing 2019, 2021, 2022

Soup:

The standard depiction for quality Long Jing's tea soup is: golden. The 2022 one is clearly the most golden one whereas the 2021 one is too on the transparent side, and 2019 one the brown side.

Taste:

The aroma from the 2022 one is so overwhelmingly stunning: roasted nut, fresh linen, the moment you open the jar. Both the 2021 ones still have the signature Long Jing nutty flavor when you smell the leaves. The 2019 one has some impurity smell in it after years in the fridge. 

We leave out the taste of the 2019 one as it's not of fine drinking grade anymore. The 2021 Ming Qian tastes more reserved, doesn't have too much aroma but retains more the green tea freshness. In comparison, the 2022 Ming Qian gives a full flown nutty, buttery, vegetal taste with long umami aftertaste.

 

So what causes these massive differences? Here are the FAQs to these observations:

Why are the taste different for green teas of different freshness?
Chlorophyll, aldehydes, esters, vitamin C, amino acid contributes to the texture and umami of green tea. All these substances are sensitive to light, humidity, temperature, etc. Storing green tea in a sealed bag in a fridge best prevents these substances from changing nature. Although the freshest of freshness is still most pronounced for new green tea harvested within 6 month, as they are the most intact in terms of the substances.
 
Why do green tea's color change after more than months of storage?
Chlorophyll is the main component of tea color and is very sensitive to light. When exposed to light, a series of chemical reactions occur and the color changes to yellow-brown. This makes the tea go bad. To prevent this, store green tea in an opaque container.
 
What's first flush and why does that matter?
The best translation of first flush in Chinese should be 'Toucai', which refers to the first picking of a very small amount of buds and leaves that have reached the picking standard after the tea garden begins in spring.  After a winter of dormancy and nutrient accumulation, the overwintering buds have abundant organic matter. In addition, the spring temperature is moderate and the rainfall is sufficient, making the spring tea buds plump and rich in substances. Its freshness, plumpness and coordination are extremely high.
What's Ming Qian?
There are 5 solar terms between Spring Equinox and Summer Equinox and Qingming is one of them. As the name suggests, Mingqian tea is the tea made before the Qingming Festival, around 5th of April. 

Due to the different picking times, the freshness and quality of the tea leaves are relatively different. Generally speaking, tea before Qingming is less infested by insects, the buds and leaves are delicate, the color is green and fragrant, and the taste is mellow and beautiful. The standard output is very small, so "Mingqian tea is as precious as gold". 
To put it simply, the quality of Mingqian tea itself is good, but the amount is small, and the time to market is early, so it has a lot of appeal to consumers.
 

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