Sunday, February 24, 2008

How to read a tea leaf

No, it is not fortune telling. :P

In picture below is Zhi Lan Xiang Ping Jai Tou, spent leaves after god knows how many brews. As you can tell, leaves are uneven by shape, color and fermentation. Spent leaves show all the tell tail signs of quality.

A. Does not belong here, a much darker green leaf some how got into this bag. Most likely a Big Dark Leaf from a container next to the Zhi Lan Xiang fell over. It happens and often at tea shops or factories. As long as the ratio is low (usually only a few leaves), it does not make a difference.

B. Bruises, these are not fermentation color change. Bruises are created during fermentation process, tossing leaves too hard breaking leaves in the middle which cause fermentation in the middle of a leaf. A few of these in a cup will cause astringency.

C. Flower fragrance.

D. Light floral aroma.

E. Nectar/honey/fruit juice flavor.


Teop said...

I'm guessing that the bruising is distinguished from fermentation color change due to their locality across the leaf, rather than along the edges and stem.

But I'm not seeing how you go from the leaves C, D, and E to your description. Is this based primarily on the observed degree of fermentation on each of C, D, and E?

Thank you for another interesting post!

Imen said...

C, D and E are harder to explain. Single bush processed teas have one thing in common, it contains leaves of any size, shape and maturity, hence during fermentation process, all of the above factors cause different degrees of fermentation. The result is each shape/fermentation/maturity types of leaves have its own flavor. That's also the basic grade separation for commercial Dan Congs.

toki said...

imen-is this a fall or spring harvest? Or is a mix of both?

Imen said...

Toki, Spring only.

Hobbes said...

Dear Imen,

Thank you for the information, it is the first time that I have seen someone brave enough to say "this particular leaf will have the scent of flowers, this particular leaf will have the scent of fruits."

Can you provide more information on how you decided what characteristics each leaf will impart? Much like the poster of the first comment, I would love to understand this in more detail.

Many thanks,


Imen said...


This is "science" of tea makers, which has nothing to do with my bravery if any. :P

Oolong teas in general takes on floral, fruity or champagne like flavors which are result of fermentation, roasting gives tea the sweet taste by transforming sugar in leaves. Maturity of leaves when picked from tree will dictate fermentation degree if weather is right, and tea maker is skillful. Ever wonder why all oolong teas are made of maturer leaves compare to green? And why it's not just one size leaves, rather 1 bud, small 1/2 open leaf and an open leaf on a stem. That's what it takes to make fragrant oolong.

Like my previous comment, the shape and degrees of fermentation gives a leaf a distinctive flavor. Younger /greener gives Qing Xiang light fragrance. 1/2 open leaves gives more pronounced floral flavor, open leaves takes on fruity aroma. If you look at your samples, lighter aroma teas will always be greener, heavier flavored ones will be darker such as honey orchid. Well except my honey orchid #2. Of course it's not just the fermentation, roasting also goes hand in hand with the fermentation.

When it comes to the other side of tea drinking, this type of information rarely is available to consumers. I might be disclosing too much information by industry standards. If one day I disappeared, you know I become fertilizer of a tea tree. :P