This tea is one of China’s most famous teas, still it is produced in very small quantities. At least if one ignores the large amount of adulterated tea soldout under the same name. According to a credible source only 500 kg of this tea is produced aech year (1) while but another source indicates 300 kg/year (2).
The tea leaves are yellowish green, straight and covered with fine hair. About 2.5 to 3 cm long and 3 to 4 mm wide. The tea is classed as yellow, which means that it is manufactured in a very special way and it is grown in one place, the mountain in June Shan 君山 of Lake Dongting 洞庭湖, very near Yueyang 岳阳.
June Shan is a very small mountain area, about 1 km wide, covered with mist much of the year. Total plantations extend of 72 rock of varying size. There are also grown tea on the northern shores of Dongting but then the climate here is different from that at Jun Shan is not regarded as genuine June Shan Yin Zhen (1).
June Shan Yin Zhen has a long history, one source indicates that it has been produced since the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) under the name Huang Ling Mao 黄翎毛 (2) while others are more cautious, stating that it was produced since the end 1500s. As usual, everything about the Chinese teas history should be taken with a big grain of salt. After Tang Dynasty, the tea have become a tributte to the Emperor and was produced in very small amount, around half a kilo per year (2). During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the tea have been called Bai He Ling 白鹤翎 because it was grown near the temple Bai Ling He 白鹤翎. It apparently also called Bai Mao Jian 白毛尖 (white needele) because of their white fluff the tea had at this time. The tea got its present name during the Qing Dynasty (1912-1949) (2).
Over the past 50 years, the tea has won several awards and is a common gift to the Chinese foreign guests, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. June Shan Yin Zhen is said to be Mao Zedong’s favorite tea as well, but it is hard to be sure.
Varieties and qualities
Besides a suitable climate, this tea uses a special local cultivar characterized by its dense and long, narrow leaf buds. Where thiis cultivar originates is uncertain because this area has been involved in a number of wars, resulting in a lack of reliable written sources (2). There has been some experimentation with other cultivars, including Long Jing No. 47 and Da Bai Hao from Fujian (1), sold as genuine June Shan Yin Zhen, something that destroys the reputation of this tea.
Recently Hunan Junsha Yinzhen Tea Co. bought all the tea plantations at Jun Shan, which means that only the tea from this industry can be counted as genuine June Shan Yin Zhen. Unfortunately, this has not reduced the number of counterfeits, but if possible, increased the confusion. The reason is that the company sells several teas as June Shan Yin Zhen even if they are produced in different ways. The most common one is Jun Shan Qing Zhen, a green tea with similar appearance as Jun Shan Yin Zhen. This tea is much easier to manufacture and looks better. The tea has not produced very long but has a slightly smoky flavor and is quite nice. Another tea is Fu Jian Yin Zhen who looks almost identical but whose leaves are a bit smaller and yellower. The larger the leaves are used to make a tea named June Shan Mao Jian (4).
To protect their teas against counterfeiting has all packaging from Hunan Junsha Yinzhen Tea Co. a numerical code which you can verify on the company website, http://www.yinzhentea.com.cn/cx.asp.
In total there are almost 10 qualities of this tea if you include the green (2) and the finest known Wang Cha (Tea King). This is picked between 7 and 10th day during the Qing Ming Festival 清明节 which begins the 4th or 5th of April. During this period it must not rain or be frost and leaf buds must be absolutely perfect according to the requirements placed upon this tea. This means that the most talented tea pickers can harvest about 2 hg of this tea per day (4). The entire harvest occurs during a fortnight period that begins four days before the festival (2).
The production is done completely by hand with simple tools but it is far from simple and requires constant monitoring. Even to harvest the tea is complicated. Usually one pick the bud and one leaf. This also applies to teas that consists solely of a leaf bud since the bud is separated later. When it comes to Jun Shan Yin Zhen, however, only the bud is picked and it is not allowed to use nails. To get harvest on kg of finished tea there is some 60 000 leaf buds needed.
The reason that you are so careful in terms of how the tea is picked is that it is extremely sensitive during the oxidation process and the quality could be affected by moisture and oils from tea pluckers hands (1). Usually the buds are harvested when they are 25 to 30 mm long and 3 to 4 mm wide. In addition to leaf bud one takes a few millimeters of the branch. With this size, one can get together half a kilo per day which is equivalent to 10,000 buds (2).
After the tea is picked it is fried in a 100 degrees hot pan a few minutes. During roasting, the temperature rises to about 130 degrees but it is still significantly cooler than most green teas (2). Inistead of drying it further, as green tea is made, it is put in special kind of thick paper and then into a wooden cupboards (1) or pot (2) where it may oxidize slowly. A manufacturing step called Chu Bao 初包 (2). At regular in the 1-1.5 kilo containers are stired (2),(3) to remove heat generated by the oxidation. How often this happens depends on how hot it is in ambient air (1) but the temperature is always around 30 degrees(3).
According to one source (2) the leaves dries to about 40% moisture content over a hot open fire before being wrapped and placed in boxes.
After about two days the teas is fried once again, something called Fu Hong 復烘, to remove moisture from the leaves and after this, the leaves are wrapped into paper and then back to wood cupboards for another day. At this time the leaves have a moisture content of 20% (2). The second packing is called Fu Bao 復包. After this the leaved are dried in hourglass-shaped bamboo baskets over charcoal until the moisture content of only 5%. This is the most important step during manufacturing and requires the most care and skill. In total, it takes about three to four days to produce the tea (1),(2).
1. Seven Cups Fine Chinese Teas
2. HOJO Tea
3. Jing Tea
Image source: Hudong
It depicted the tea is a Cha Wang Jun Shan Yin Zhen from TeaSpring harvested in 2010 which cost $ 23 for 25 grams. The rating applies to this tea.