You’ve probably heard often about how terroir makes a difference in a tea’s flavor. One of the components of that terroir that gets mentioned so often that there are even teas named after it is mist. So, what’s the secret? What role does mist play in tea flavor? In a word: moisture!
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Harvesters get out into the tea gardens early. With dawn just breaking, the dew still on the ground, and mist hanging over all, the tea plants are waking and pushing up tender leaves and buds to be plucked. These are processed into some of the finer, more delicate teas such as Chinese white teas. This is one of the reasons that teas are generally grown at higher elevations. Another benefit of the mist is to shield the tea plants from the sun, which causes tea plants to mature more slowly. This is reminiscent of the tea gardens in Japan that cover some plants for awhile to shade them from the sun and create a special taste in the leaves.
Some Misty Tea Growing Regions
- Yunnan Province — A region in China where tea grows on high mountains covered by mist that, along with clean water from nearby rivulets and rich humus soil, contributes to the unique flavor of Yunnan black tea.
- Hollonghabi Tea Estate (Assam) — A 383-acre (155-hectare) plantation a few miles from Ledo, where the mist swirls over the green fields of tea plants that cover the hillsides in the early mornings.
- Darjeeling — A region of India at elevations ranging from 4,000 to 10,000 feet and that has mist almost constantly. The mist and altitude combine to keep tea plants cool and moist, giving the tea leaves a distinct “muscatel” flavor that is relatively light and makes these teas very suitable for afternoon.
Some “Misty” Teas
- Wild Ti Kwan Yin Oolong Fujian Province — Grown on the mist-shrouded hilltops in the Fujian Province. The leaves are plucked once a year (in Spring) instead of two, three, or even four like many other teas. This is mainly because this is a wild, that is uncultivated, tea and is watered naturally in part by that mist. The liquid is floral, green, fruity, and honey tasting and smelling with a color similar to champagne. The trees are rather inaccessible and thus spurred the legend of monkeys picking the leaves.
- Cloud and Mist (“Yun Wu”) — A “top ten” Chinese tea from the Jiangxi Province in China. Mellow taste, and nutritious (vitamin C, alkaloids, etc.). First cultivated in the 2nd century by Buddhist monks but still picked from wild plants by locals. Today there are about 130 acres of tea plants scattered in patches on the hillsides. Growth after Winter’s dormancy starts around the end of April and continues through the beginning of May when leaves are about three centimeter long. Then picking starts, with only one shoot of one leaf being plucked. These are air-dried for 4-5 hours and then rolled between the palms of the workers’ hands, roasted, rolled again, and roasted again. This is all done very careful to avoid leaf breakage, a sign of a very high quality tea. Cloud and Mist
- Xin Yang Mo (Mao) Jian — Dates back to the Tang dynasty, this tea is from Henan Province, the Xin Yang prefecture, China. This area of the province is mountainous, crisscrossed by streams and brooks, and has plentiful clouds and mist. This mist is again a source of moisture for the plants. The leaves are processed into fine, taut strips and steep up a chestnut flavored liquid. Hand-processed by skilled workers using practiced motions to roll the leaves while they adjust the heat.
- Pi Lo Chun / Bi Luo Chun (“Spiral of Spring Jade” or “Green Snail Spring”) — A “top ten” tea of China with the best tea being picked at Emerald Spiral Peak in the Dong Ting Mountains which are often enshrouded in mist, keeping the young tea leaves very moist. This moisture contributes to the flavor, as supposedly do the plum, peach, and apricot trees grown among the tea plants.
- Long Jing — A “top ten” tea of China. It owes a lot to the unique natural condition in the growing areas. The geographical setup staves off cold current from the north and holds back warm current from the south, thus forming cloud and mist over the tea growing area. This keeps the tea trees under diffused light and ultraviolet rays most of the time, and this stimulates synthesis and the accumulation of aromatic substances and amino acids in the tea.
- Formosa Oolongs — Steep mountain peaks enshrouded in clouds and mist are a big factor in accounting for the intoxicatingly fragrant and floral taste of these teas. They are usually lightly oxidized and retain their signature “green fragrance” (qing xiang).
Yes, mist is a critical ingredient in tea, as you can see above. Try one of these teas and taste the mist.