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Tea Terms | A Mini-Glossary
Teas not cut by machine, harvested and finished relatively intact.
Teas are best when they are harvested at certain times of the year. The peak season is the Spring, from early April through May. White and Green teas are exclusively harvested at this time. Oolong, Black, and Pu-erh teas are also harvested at this time but may have one or more seasons.
Next season is Summer, but because of the hot weather, few harvests during this time are high quality. Most premium tea producers do not harvest during the summer months of June to August, with the exception of those who produce teas that rely on leaf hopper insects who come only in the summer. Jasmine flowers bloom at this time and are used to scent the high quality green teas that were harvested in the Spring. Often though, jasmine flowers during this time are also used to scent older stale teas from previous years.
The next season is Autumn in October, and few high quality teas are harvested at this time. In certain regions where the mountains are very high and may get some snow, Autumnal teas are harvested instead of the Winter.
Next is the Winter crops from late October to early November, and usually only Oolong teas are harvested at that time in China and Taiwan.
It is important to enjoy teas seasonally like any other agricultural product for freshness, peak taste, and concentration of nutrients.
Teas made by specialists whose hand and involvement creates uniqueness in the resultant tea. Often, the artisan is influenced by a long family tradition, and have made certain techniques an art that no machine nor for that matter, another artisan, can emulate.
Many artisanally crafted oolongs are notable for their ability to produce the ‘Hui Gan’ experience. The word ‘gan’ belongs solely to the repertoire of tea terms and is strongly linked to ones that are abundantly complex. No translation really does it justice. Not quite the same as the bitter-sweet experience of a good dark chocolate, ‘gan’ rather grasps that subtle note found at the border where bitterness trails away and a gentle sweetness begins to emerge. ‘Hui’ on the other hand is a straightforward term and simply means ‘to return.’
Coupled up, the two words capture a remarkable experience in the aftertaste of a tea. ‘Hui Gan’ means the return of sweetness to the drinker’s throat right after a final, slightly bitter note reaches its peak.
Philosophically, this whimsical note is highly prized by the Chinese who view the experience as analogous to the way a life should run its course: first bitter labor, then long lasting sweetness resulting from the fruits of one’s labor.
Gao is “high” and Shan is “mountain”. You will see the word Shan appear in many teas that originate in China and Taiwan, though the Taiwanese were the first to note that the higher the elevation, generally the better the tea. In Taiwan, Gao Shan is marker of quality, afforded to teas that grow at a height of 800 meters or higher. Most teas are not considered premium unless grown in Gao Shan, or High Mountain, areas, because these elevations bring the best growing conditions: cool temperatures and dense fog cover punctuated by adequate noon sunshine. It is also helpful that at such high elevations, pests typically cannot survive long enough to attack the tea plants.