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Autumn 2017 Dianhong Jingmai Black Tea

  • Natural tea gardens of Jingmai mountain
  • Picked in September 2017
  • Made in Jingmai by Ye Jing Yu
  • Loose leaf light roast black tea

A lot of black tea is made on Jingmai mountain. There are two main types: sun-dried and oven-dried. This one belongs to the second category and could be considered the ambassador of it. 

Sun-dried black tea can age several years and somewhat improve as time goes by, however, just like Pu-erh tea, its fragrance is somewhat smothered; its power is not fully unleashed. 

Oven-dried teas, on the opposite, are not made for long term storage, they are best enjoyed within a year or two. In the months that follow their production, they give you a kind of bite on the tongue that makes you want more; you end up drinking cups after cups and hardly get bored. They are easy-drinkers and can be enjoyed by any tea enthusiast: even the hardcore pu-erh tea addicts would find it entertaining.

This black tea was dried at a relatively high temperature, which gives it a lightly roasted feeling: the taste of fire a.k.a. Huo Wei 火味. It was made from standard grade natural tea garden material from Jingmai mountain and treated well in the expert hands of a Dai lady named Ye Jing Yu and her team. 

It is a very brewable tea that delivers a harmonious mix of flowery and toasted fragrances, without one taking other the other. The quality of Jingmai natural tea garden leaves is proved again in the mouth: this tea features a very present mouthfeel and delivers a lingering fresh feeling after a few cups. It performs well both in Gong Fu style and in a mug.


More on tea oxidation

In the books, you will read that black tea is fully oxidized. In the tea factories of Yunnan, this is different.

Yunnan black tea, also known as Dianhong 滇红, is made in a range of oxidation degrees this is why when you brew them, you can obtain noticeably different colors, from yellow to dark red.

Black tea is considered fully fermented because no particular process is designed to stop oxidation. In other words, unlike green, pu-erh and oolong tea no kill-green process is done when processing black tea. The goal of kill-green process is to destroy enzymes, let's talk about them.



As a reminder, an enzyme is a large molecule that helps make a chemical reaction happen. Without the enzyme, this chemical reaction would take forever. Enzymes are the matchmakers of chemistry, without them, many molecules would not form. They are everywhere in nature; they allow plants to fix carbon from the atmosphere, help humans digest food, and are even responsible for the beautiful colors of an autumnal landscape. The enzymes that make oxidation possible are nicknamed PPO, which stands for polyphenol oxidase. 

Because of their size and complex structure, the enzymes are rather easily broken down by heat.; this is the most straightforward method employed to stop their activity in tea, but there's another way...

It's possible to only stop their activity temporarily instead of destroying them forever; and we can do this by drying the tea. Indeed, enzymatic activity depends on water content, if it drops below a certain point, the oxidation process will be extremely slowed down. 


Back to the tea factory with black and white

It is possible to prevent full oxidation for some time in black tea, simply by drying it. Complete oxidation will eventually occur over the years. Doing this requires a strong drying, only achievable with a hot air dryer. Sun-dried black teas tend to fully oxidize anyway because their water content can hardly be lowered enough by sunlight.

Semi-oxidized black teas are common in Yunnan, we don't call them oolong tea because their oxidation is not stopped indefinitely, only slowed down. Technically, could we call them post-fermented black tea? These teas feature a golden yellow soup and a thinner mouthfeel than fully oxidized black teas. Their fragrance pool is different, and they can be more aggressive, offering some bitterness to the tea drinker.

White tea is another example of stopping oxidation simply by drying. You will notice there is a significant difference of oxidation between young and old white tea. If you come across a white tea with apparently little oxidation, it means it has probably been dried in a machine. Such process is common in Yunnan. Some white teas can even be mistaken for green teas when they are very young. 

When we make Moonlight White tea in our Jingmai tea factory, we complement the 3-day shade-drying process by leaving the leaves under the sun for about half an hour;  this allows further reduction of water content and will slow down oxidation a little bit, offering greener tea. 


Experience tea oxidation at home

 You can see the effect of tea oxidation at home. Brew a white tea and you will notice the leaves change color over the hours; this is just because by hydrating the leaves, you just reactivated the enzymes. To a lesser extent, you can also see this happen with Pu-erh tea since the kill-green process is performed with low temperatures and only partially destroys the enzymes. You can see both the tea soup and the wet leaves turn red; it might take more time than for white tea though.