The buds were picked in Matai terraced tea plantations, in Lincang County. They were withered, rolled, oxidized and dried with hot air in Mrs. Pu's tea factory. The brewed leaves are dark brown, and the tea soup is coppery, this indicates a full oxidation. Sometimes, black tea producers shorten the oxidation time and stabilize the tea by drying it. It gives a yellow brew and red leaves. Mrs. Pu decided here to complete the oxidation and give the tea more sweetness.
This tea has very pleasant scents, a beautiful mix of natural flowery aromas and some slight roasted notes due to the drying; the result is a spicy flavor that makes you want to drink more. Single bud teas are fragrant and sweet, they have a light mouthfeel and concentrate their power in the nose of the tea drinker.
This tea can be brewed up to six times in a gaiwan and performs well in a large teapot or a in glass over three infusions.
When buds start sprouting, this is the beginning of a tea cycle. As the first bud opens into a leaf, it reveals another bud that will also open and so on. The whole stem that derives from the branch and its attached leaves is called a flush. The flush grows up to five or six leaves, if it is not picked, the complete flush is going to lose its tenderness, and the leaves become thick, and it will take a long time before a new bud sprouts. Of course, this rarely occurs in a managed garden. At some point in the growing cycle, the flush is harvested.
The good practices require that two leaves are left on the tea stem to allow photosynthesis and not put a strain on growth. Which means if the picker wants to harvest a 1 bud/1 leaf grade, he should wait for the 1 bud/3 leaves stage before picking.
As far as high-quality tea goes, there are four main grades commonly found:
single buds used to make white, green and black tea
1 bud/1 leaf for white, green, black, oolong and more rarely pu-erh tea
1 bud/2 leaves suits to white, green, black, oolong and pu-erh tea
1 bud/3 leaves mainly used for black and pu-erh tea
As a rule of thumb, each superior grade takes about twice the time as the lower grade to pick. For example, a skilled tea picker in Jingmai can usually harvest 50kg of 1 bud/3 leaves grade in a day, but he will only managed to get about 6 or 7 kg of 1 bud/1 leaf or 3 kg of single buds.
Since picking high-grade tea takes such a long time, most of them come from conventional plantations in which the tea farmers have shaped picking tables on the tea trees. By pruning the tea trees, the tea farmers carve a flat surface on the top of the tea trees, just like a brush cut. Not only this facilitates tea picking, it also allows the tea flushes to grow at the same pace. In unpruned tea trees, it is common to find tea flushes at different growth stage and make it harder to harvest a consistent grade.
The notion of tea grade is virtually inexistent when it comes to ancient tea gardens. The tea farmers wait for the end of the growth cycle before picking to harvest a maximum weight of tea leaves. This explains why pu-erh tea cakes made from ancient tea garden material generally have fewer buds and older leaves than the ones made from natural tea gardens or plantations.
A claim of ancient tea garden material associated with a high grade should surely make you raise an eyebrow.
A high tea grade translates into somewhat more refined fragrances and a lighter mouthfeel. Thick tea soup and bitterness is the privileged of lower grade teas. Their aspect is considered more appealing by most tea drinkers, which makes them perfect for Instagram pictures.
Low-grade teas can usually be brewed more times than high grade. You will rarely get more than 4 infusions out of single bud teas while you will easily enjoy a low-grade old-growth Pu-erh tea over a dozen steepings.
As a tea lover, you shouldn't mistake tea grade and tea quality. A high-grade tea is clearly more expensive to produce, but the difference in taste and quality is a matter of personal preference.