Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be blogging on tea grades, as this is a topic which drives me nuts! There are loads of “fine tea” companies out there all “personally” selecting the “finest” teas… claims which make me smirk to say the least. Sure, their teas do taste very good (the ones not shelving their green tea too long so that the tea is not, er, green anymore), but they are not the “finest” green tea in the universe… we need to be honest.
China (which invented it) is super picky about its green tea, in every aspect of its production and how it tastes, so much so that each and every one of the most famous teas all have their very own grading systems, even before you start talking organic, etc… so I thought I’d start off with LongJing since it is probably the most famous tea in China, and definitely the most popular green tea. There are now 6 grades of LongJing tea in China (it used to be many more).
Each Chinese grade describes the quality and shapes of leaves off the bush (reflecting the skill of the estate/picker). The general philosophy is that younger (most extreme whole, unopened or just opened) buds and leaves are the purest and most fragile of vessels, packed with healthy, flavoursome polyphenols and the other necessities for fine tea. The younger (though not too young) and more perfectly formed buds and leaves are, the purer and more robust the flavours of the tea shall be… And of course in China, where tea leaves are not behind bars in tea bags, appearance offers an extra level of visual pleasure.
From experience, the upper grades of tea are a fantastic experience and truly the finest. Most “fine” green teas available in the west are at least grade 3 or below, and many are probably only grade 5, leaves (and often some stalk) being the main constituent of the tea.
Special Grade One bud one leaf, just beginning to unfold. Leaves flat & smooth
Grade 1 One bud one leaf, opened, also one bud and two leaves just beginning to unfold. Leaves quite flat and smooth
Grade 2 A bud and two leaves. Leaves unfolded. Quite flat leaves
Grade 3 A bud and two leaves, May be some leaves opposite each other. Leaves flattish
Grade 4 A bud and two/three leaves (which are opposite each other). Leaves flattish, but broader and not so smooth
Grade 5 A bud and three leaves or two leaves opposite each other. Leaves rough.
Now! It must be remembered that the upper 3 grades of tea can get very, VERY expensive. Teas picked in the spring of grade 1 or above can reach several US$100 per 50g bag, so you have to be a true connoisseur to enjoy…. and have a few leaves of $$$ in your wallet too 😀