Green Needles Heritage and Development
Green Needles inherits some important traditional processing methods from the historical green tea "Enshi Yulu," which was well known sincethe Tang Dynasty, during the 7th century. Xuan En County in Enshi, Hubei was the major producing area for Enshi Yulu green tea. The Chinese characters "Yu Lu" mean Jade Dew and are the very same characters the Japanese use for Gyokuro (Jade Dew).
In the 17th century, during the time of the Qing Emperor Kang Xi, a local Xuan En tea master developed a special heated table for slow drying, hand rolling, shaping and fixing the tea's aroma. From the invention of this table, Yulu steamed green tea became famous for its uniquely shaped, needle-like appearance and a distinctive evergreen aroma that was attributed to this hand rolling on the heated table and also to the pristine cultivation area of Xuan En.
Enshi Yulu green tea was given as a tribute to the Qing Emperor Qian Long in the 18th century. He appreciated Yulu tea so much that he awarded the tea maker and his tea with the Emperor's own calligraphy insignia. Yulu tea was distinguished as a famous "Tribute Tea" from that time. Inspiration for Sencha?
Sometime during the late 17th or early 18th century, Japanese monks learned about the hand rubbing and rolling of steamed Yulu and favored this process. They witnessed the use of the special heated tables and taught tea people in Japan about these methods. Original Sencha, or what is known today as "Temomi Sencha," is hand-rolled on a heated table called a "Hoiro" and is said to have been inspired by the early production methods of Xuan En green tea and the famous Enshi Yulu.
These traditional Enshi Yulu methods of steaming and the drying/shaping table directly influenced our current Lu Zhen Green Needle processing. Recovering Traditions
In 2006, we decided it was important to establish and recover the traditional steaming method from the old days of Yulu and also to establish a distinctive type of steamed green tea from Xuan En that stands out as unique and different from all the steamed, Japanese-style Sencha made in China today. Although steamed tea originated in China, the steaming process is not used so much in China today and is more favored for Japanese-style green tea. In the spring of 2006, we established a steaming line in Xuan En to make a renaissance-type of steam-fired Lu Zhen Green Needles.
Today, both the roasted and steamed type of Lu Zhen Green Needles have the influence and connection to the traditional craftsmanship of the drying and heated hand-shaping, rolling table developed in the 17th century. Lu Zhen Green Needles is an artisan tea that represents the evolution of a long-standing tea tradition. Lu Zhen Green Needles is rarely found outside of China and we are proud to include such a unique green tea in Rishi's Organic Tea offering. Representing "Enshi Yulu"
In 1992, the Xuan En Wujiatai Tribute Tea Factory started to cooperate with our friend Professor Ni, who is a tea professor in Hua Zhong (Central China) Agricultural University, in order to develop a better green tea to represent the famous Enshi Yulu area. Over the years, steamed Yulu was all but lost and the production of Lu Zhen Green Needles was not as consistent as it is today.
After a few years' tests with Professor Ni, in 1996, the current Lu Zhen Green Needles processing was established. At that time, the firing method for Green Needles was the usual tumble roasting. Still today, the roasted type of Green Needles is the most popular style of Green Needles in Xuan En. Processing
The processing of Lu Zhen Green Needles relies on careful craftsmanship. It is an artisan-made tea. The fresh leaves are harvested either one leaf or two leaves and a bud at a time, by hand. The fresh leaves are withered for 3–4 hours before processing.
After withering, the tea is loaded into a steamer, little by little and is then run through a serious of heated and cooled air drying conveyors. The tea is rested on bamboo mats before rolling and partial drying. The tea is shaken and heated to straighten the needle-like shape, and is then rubbed, rolled, and shaped on the heated tables to fix the shape and aroma of the tea while slowly drying. Small batches are finished on the tables while larger batches are moved from the tables to a conveyor drier.
The roasted type of Green Needles is picked according to the same standards and withered for a bit longer time. Then the tea leaves are added to a tumble roaster, cooled and rested before rolling and shaking straight. The tea is hand rubbed and rolled and manipulated on the heated tables until the aroma, shape and degree of dryness is achieved. Larger batches are finally dried in a conveyor oven while smaller batches can be totally finished on the tables. Varietals
The Xuan En varietals used to make our organic Green Needles are all small leaf bush types such as, E Cha #10 and Long Jing #43. "E" is a sound from the abbreviated name of "Hubei." E Cha means Hubei tea. There is also a local varietal called "Xuan En Qun Ti Zhong" which means Xuan En Local Group varietal.
The Green Needles selected by Rishi Tea for both the Green Needles roasted and steamed types are made from the Long Jing #43 varietal, as it tastes better and has a higher percentage of amino acids and L-theanine when compared to the other local varietals. Lu Zhen Green Needles made with the Long Jing #43 varietal is also sold at a higher price in the Chinese domestic markets due to its top quality and rich flavor. Effects of Weather
The global climate is changing and wreaking havoc on the traditional areas where export grades of green and other types of teas are produced. Green Needles is from an area that has not been so affected by the current bad weather conditions and industrialization that is disturbing our usual tea-producing areas. Lu Zhen Green Needles is a great choice for spring green tea lovers from the hinterlands of Hubei that may be little known outside of China but now present a great origin of organic green tea for all of us to enjoy, even while so many other origins of spring teas are yielding terrible results this year. The organic teas of Xuan En just may be one of the best areas of green tea production in 2010. Please enjoy!