Tea leaves, from plant to your teacup, undergo quite a journey of processing, storing, preparing for sale, etc. Máochá is one of those processing steps, according to several experts on tea. Some translate the term as “crude tea,” but it’s a bit more complicated than that.
|Maocha resting (Yahoo! Images)|
One source says: “All types of pu-erh tea are created from máochá, a mostly unoxidized green tea processed from a ‘large leaf’ variety of Camellia sinensis (C. sinensis assamica) found in the mountains of southern Yunnan.” Confused? Can’t blame you. We usually think of this varietal as being grown in the Assam state in India. But it is grown elsewhere, too, including other Asian countries.
Another source says of máochá in shengcha pu-erhs: “Most factories…buy maocha from neighbouring growers or collectors. Some do not even know which batch from where, …the name of the cultivar… They put the finishing work on these materials and then their own label. …Unlike other fine teas and post-fermented puers, where there is real know how in producing better qualities, compressing tea to make shengcha puer discuses is only manual labour.” Another good reason to buy from reputable tea vendors.
- Varietal/Cultivar — Hundreds, possibly thousands, of varietals/cultivars of the tea plant Camellia Sinensis exist. Which is used in the máochá can make quite a difference in the finished pu-erh quality. For example, leaf buds from a Dabai cultivar from Fujian province are smoother and more even in size and shape than those from a cultivar indigenous to Laos, which is larger, harder, and more coarse feeling with a harsher and rougher flavor.
- Source — As shown above in No. 1, the difference in location where tea leaves are harvested makes a difference in varietal/cultivar. However, the other differences are environment that affects the way the tea plants grow and how they absorb nutrients around them.
- Leaf Grade — The grade is usually an indicator of máochá tenderness. There are 10 grades, with “super” being the most tender (tiny buds with golden tips) — it has an elegant appearance but also some bitterness to the flavor. The 10th grade has big leaves and stem pieces and a rich flavor, showing that grade of leaf is not necessarily the best criteria for choosing which pu-erh to have.
Try some 2007 Nannuo Mountain Pure Old-tree Maocha – Zhu Lin Village, for example. The máochá was harvested in the spring of 2007 from the Nannou mountain region, specifically in the Zhu Lin village area by local tea farmers. My personal sampling of this tea revealed that it has a very short period of astringency quickly followed by a nice sweetness, a wonderful mouthfeel, and a deep wonderful feeling in the throat. It is all large-leaf, old-arbor (many over 200 years old) tea. This contributes to the mellow taste of this tea.
That’s just one of many fine pu-erhs where the máochá really makes a difference!