By Courtney Van Evera
“The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”
~ G.K. Chesterton
When Spring comes, something inside of us, along with bushes, trees, and flowers, awakens. Spring is also a thrilling time for tea, as the first plucked teas behold some of the most sought after camellia sinensis flavors.
Every tea-producing region of the world has a special name for teas that are picked first, usually corresponding to a specific date:
Nepal/India: First flush (picked before April)
China: pre- Qing Ming or Ming Qian (picked before April 4-6)
Japan: Shincha (picked early to mid-April)
South Korea: Ujeon (picked before April 20)
Many of these “first” teas has a story by the time in reaches Happy Lucky’s.
March 26, Ilam Nepal. The sun casts its rays on the lower slopes of the Himalayan Mountain Range just as the first spring tea leaves are plucked by the deft hands of experienced tea leaf pluckers. The first spring growth is not dispersed evenly throughout the tea bushes so pluckers must skillfully search for these tender early buds. For the next two days this first flush of spring tea will undergo withering, light hand rolling, and brief drying. On March 29th, it is packed leaving Nepal by April 10th. By the time this specific batch of tea lands in L.A., it has sold out: now unavailable to buyers in the U.S. Fortunately, Happy Lucky’s was able to secure a healthy portion of this Nepal Honeysuckle Green Tea! Happy Lucky’s leafsters (tea experts) evaluate the tea according it’s intended purpose: to taste like the blooming floral display in Nepal this time of year. The Nepal Honeysuckle Green arrived this week and is right on target!
Happy Lucky’s also has a First Flush Darjeeling Black Tea. In picking these first buds, the Darjeeling “fine pluck” is employed: experienced pluckers take the stem of two leaves and a bud between the thumb and forefinger, and twist it for a clean snap. This tea absorbs the fresh citrus tree cues from the Glenburn Plantation, which complement the bold backdrop of a much more oxidized Darjeeling black tea.
Tea expert and competition judge, Lydia Kung, asserts “Green teas should come at the end rather than the beginning of a tea consumer’s journey, after he/she has come to appreciate what was not done to green teas.” Especially regarding first flush green teas, like Happy Lucky’s Rising Phoenix, every step counts. One day of rain could mean an over-retention of moisture for tea leaves, resulting in decreased quality of fragrance and mouthfeel. Excessive rolling or pressing will cause juices to exude from the leaves, resulting in overbearing tea. If the temperature is too high during the de-enzyming process, tender leaves will be corrupted. Because of the lack of manipulation to green leaves, their appearance is an inseparable point of quality. The leaves of the Rising Phoenix green have been lightly rolled, preserving a surprisingly buttery and sweet spinach flavor.
When these teas are harvested for the first time this year, spring festivals all over the world are being experienced for the first time this year. The Holi Festival in India displays an accord of color as lively squirt gun battles take place in the streets between strangers, rich and poor, and young and old. People walk away donned in the colors of Spring. Chinese New Year is a spring festival which honors the renewal of springtime.
In Japan, the cherry blossoms, or sakura, bloom from Okinawa to Hokkaido. This viewing season is called hanami, and is eagerly anticipated by local Japanese people and those who travel to be part of it. Easter, originating in Asia, celebrates the renewal of spring as well. Seeing new life begin excites humankind every year.
Our beverage should match the occasion. With complex and vibrant flavors, first flush and spring teas capture the enchantment of Spring!