Thursday, October 17, 2013

Yixing Ming Cha

Recently my family and I visited my wife's aunt Mel. Mel is a wonderful person, an incredible chef, and a connoisseur of spices and coffee.

One afternoon, Mel showed me a pretty tin of Chinese tea that a friend had given to her. She had no idea what kind of tea it was or how best to prepare it. She had tried several times to enjoy it but unfortunately she was never able to brew it well.

I recognized the four Chinese characters displayed on both sides of the tin. They said Yixing Ming Cha (宜興茗茶) which I translated as "young and tender tea leaves from Yixing." A close inspection of the dry leaf indicated to me that this is a green tea with lots of fuzzy silvery buds. It looked like it was already a year or two old but the combination of a foil bag packed inside of a tin seemed to have benefited the leaves as they still had a nice aroma. I told Mel what I knew about Yixing, and their famous clay teapots, but I admitted that I didn't know too much about teas from this area.

The dry leaf.

I made a noble effort to brew the tea using Mel's six cup stoneware teapot and tap water boiled in a sauce pan (we couldn't find her tea kettle). Mel, my wife, and I all tried a mug and agreed that it was flat, boring, and grassy. When I suggested that this tea might taste much better if it was brewed in a gaiwan using spring water Mel gave me the tea.

Today I'm giving this Yixing Ming Cha my full attention. I used fresh spring water at 170° F, one rounded teaspoon of dry leaf, and a small gaiwan. My first infusion was ~1 minute.

Turns out this is a good tea although it is getting stale. It was probably picked in the early spring of 2012. The liquor is light with medium body. It is not at all nutty or roasty but it's a little bit sweet with a clean aftertaste. During four satisfying infusions I got some subtle notes of honeydew melon and a brightness in my throat that reminded me of decent white tea.

This session inspires me to keep a look out for Yixing tea in the future. Have you had any experiences with, or do you have any more information to share about, teas from this fascinating part of China? Also, what is the difference, if there is one, between Yixing (宜興) and Yang Xian (陽羡)?