Junshanyinzhen – this tea is made in the Junshan mountains, near Dongting Lake in Hunan province. It consists of only singular tender buds hand picked shortly before Qingmingjie holiday. Leaves aren’t rolled so their shape resembles needles covered with silver hairs. Hence the name – yin zhen – silver needles. Buds are yellowish in colour and give a clear yellow concoction with refreshing sweet flavour. During steeping, they move vertically, falling and coming up to the surface. Junshanyinzhen is regarded one of ten most popular and exclusive Chinese teas. The annual production is not larger than 20-30 kg so it is quite uncommon in the world and for that reason extremely expensive.
To process Yellow Tea, the tea leaf must undergo the unique step called 悶黄 (Men-huang, the smothering process) which is the slow oxidation process of tea polyphenols such as catechin. As a result, it produces bright yellow color, refreshing flavor and sweet and mellow taste that are the characteristics of yellow tea. Junshan Island produces Junshan Yinzhen in green tea type as well. Sometimes, this is sold as yellow tea in oversea market, as their selling price is cheaper. HOJO particularly focus on Yellow Tea. In addition we choose type AAA: the best quality among the 3 different grades of Junshan Yinzhen yellow tea. We set AAA grade as our own standard. In China, the AAA grade used to be the National Gift Tea in diplomatic mission. 。
Junshan Yinzhen has won the Gold Prize in year 1956 at the Leipzig Expo； its beautiful appearance and tasting note get a favorable opinion by the people. In year 1957, it was selected as one of the Top Ten tea in China.
Cultivation Jun Shan or Jun Mountain is in fact an island on Dong Ting Lake in Hunan province. Stretching only one kilometer wide, this small area is the exclusive growing region for Jun Shan Yin Zhen. On the island, fertile soil takes on the summer floodwaters of the Yangzi river in leaving it rich with silt. Throughout the year the island’s climate remains enrobed in moisture, its air famously thick with fog and mist. These conditions are considered especially good tea cultivation and are unique to Jun Shan island. Tea is grown on the shore of Dong Ting lake, north of Jun Shan but this tea cannot properly be considered Jun Shan Yin Zhen because it is not grown in the special climate of Jun Shan island.
In addition to its specific environ, equally important to the cultivation of authentic Jun Shan Yin Zhen is the use of the local tea bush cultivar, characterized by its tight and slender buds. Local bushes have an unmatchable richness in their flavor and retain all the original nuances of this famous tea. In recent time the regional government has experimented with growing different styles of tea bushes on Jun Shan Island and around Dong Ting Lake, even promoting planting the popular Da Bai Hao white tea bush from Fujian and the high out put Long Jing No. 47 tea bush from Zhejiang. Unfortunately, “Jun Shan Yin Zhen” from these tea bush cultivars is not openly noted as such on the consumer market, leading to much confusion and difficultly to obtain an authentic product. The scarce examples of Jun Shan Yin Zhen we’ve seen available in the west are dominantly made from the Da Bai Hao cultivar.
Finally, a small but noteworthy influence on the agriculture of Jun Shan Yin Zhen is a medicinal herb, He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum), which grows clinging to the trunks of the tea bushes thoughout the island. In the old government plantation days it was custom to harvest the He Shou Wu and sell it in the off season. Some suggest the intermingling of this herb is responsible for the distinctive flavor of the local tea bushes grown on the island.
Jun Shan Yin Zhen’s entire production, from its stringent picking to its unusual seventy-two hour oxidation is done only with the aid of simple tools and requires constant attention to detail.
Even its picking is markedly detail oriented when compared to other bud tea. Most bud teas are picked as one bud and one leaf which are later separated from each other. The production of Jun Shan Yin Zhen demands that tea pickers pluck only buds, the hardest picking standard. Tea pickers are required to pluck the buds without the use of their fingernails; rather pickers must gather the bud by breaking it from its stem with a twist. It takes 60,000 of these carefully harvested buds to yield just one kilogram of Jun Shan Yin Zhen. The reason for their special picking is to minimize direct handling of the raw buds and protect the quality of their oxidation in the next stages of production. The oxidation of yellow tea is so precisely controlled that the oils and moisture from a worker’s hand can have a noticeable influence in the final product.
After plucking, the production of Jun Shan Yin Zhen begins in a way similar to some green teas, with a pan firing that lasts for a few minutes. The tea is still wet and hot after firing. Rather than dry it further, it is wrapped a special type of thick paper and then put in wood cabinet and left to undergo very slow oxidation. During the oxidation period, the tea is stirred. This step disperses the heat created by oxidation. How often the tea is stirred depends on ambient temperatures. Heat, like moisture, is a variable that speeds oxidation in tea.
After roughly two days in the cabinets, the tea is refried again to further remove moisture from it. After which it is rewrapped and stored for one more day in the cabinets. Once the final round of oxidation is complete the tea is removed from cabinets and then dried at low temperature in bamboo basket over charcoal. The basket has a unique size and shape, similar to a Djembe drum with distorted hour glass-like dimensions, narrowing at its center with a wide top and bottom. Tea is shaken in the basket to dry it evenly. This final drying is the most skill intensive step in production because the slow charcoal drying brings out complexities of teas flavor precursors and perfects the fragrance of the dry leaves.
Throughout this entire three day process there is no direct hand tea contact with the exception of the pan firing after picking. By the final stages of production the tea has become an even light yellow color. To achieve this consistency, the tea master carefully controls the temperature of frying and during oxidation, knowing when to stir the tea and knowing at just what temperature to keep the coals in the final drying process.
The result of this three day struggle with minute chemical processes yields a result that is nothing short of exquisite. Jun Shan Yin Zhen, masterfully produced, brews liquor with a very floral nose developing as the tea cools. Body starts in front pallet, lingers and migrates to mid pallet where it sustains its rich complexity. Although strong in flavor, it doesn’t shock the rear palate with a sour tang like many green teas or light wulong.
The most distinctive process of yellow tea is called 悶黄 (Men-huang, the smothering process). The leaves which processed in a similar way of green tea are wrapped and kept for 4-5 days that generate typical flavor and color of yellow tea.
Point of Making Junshan Yinzhen 殺青 (Sha Qing) – Pan Frying – Activation and Inactivation of Enzyme
The purpose of 殺青 is to inactivate oxidative enzyme such as polyphenol oxidase (PPO) with heat. Unlikely to Japanese green tea that is heated by steam, Chinese green tea is heated by pan frying method. Pan frying is literally frying tea leaves in a metal pan when the temperature of pan reaches 200℃. With high temperature, it takes very short time to heat the tea leaves and inactivate oxidative enzyme. In the production of yellow tea, fresh tea leaves will be fried in a pan too. However it is important that the starting temperature of pan is kept at much lower temperature, i.e., 95 - 105℃. The pan temperature will be then gradually increased until 120 - 130℃ and then progressively decreased. When the temperature of tea leaves is slowly increased, enzyme like PPO will rapidly oxidizes polyphenols at maximum speed. The gradual increment of temperature will accelerates enzymatic activity. Eventually, when the temperature of tea leaf reaches > 60℃, most of the enzymes will be inactivated, and this prevent tea leaf from turning into black tea. After 殺青, tea leaves are dried by burning fire made of specific type of tree. Usually, strong fire is used in order to prevent tea leaves from absorbing essential oil of firewood. Tea leaves will be cooled down after drying process. The water content of tea leaves was reduced to 40-50%.
Each 1kg of tea leaves are wrapped with paper and placed inside a pot. It is left under humid condition for 1-2 days. During this period, auto-oxidation of polyphenols in tea leaves was gradually underway. In this oxidation, no enzyme is involves, therefore, it is a non-enzymatic oxidation. The typical yellow color of yellow tea is composed during this stage.
復烘 (Fu Hong) －Second Heating – Production of the flavor
Tea leaves are dried again in order to distribute moisture evenly. Heating process also generates identical Junshan Yinzhen flavor. After the drying process, tea leaves are cooled down and even out moisture. Eventually, the tea leaves contained about 20% of moisture.
復包(Fu Bao) －Second Wrapping
Once again tea leaves are wrapped with paper and 悶黄 will be carried out. In total, it takes 4 days in overall process of 悶黄, which produces substances contribute to typical flavor, color and taste of yellow tea. Finally tea leaves are dried to less than 5% moisture and all reactions are stopped.
5. Quality Inspection Criteria
1) Tea buds is bright yellowish green color, straight and covered with white down. 2) Water color is light almond-yellow color. 3) Fragrance is called 清香 (Qing-xiang) that is greenish refreshing flavor. 4) Taste is brisk (鲜爽 Xian-shuang), sweet (甘甜 Gan-tian) and mellow (醇 Chun). 5) Tea buds after brewing is very bright yellow color, fleshy and thick, and soft. 6) The size of bud：Length 25-30mm, Width 3-4mm, Stem 2mm The leaves of the finished product is featured by strongness, needle-shape, uniform length and size, golden inner side and white floss outer side. The appreace of it looks like silver needle. So it got its name “Jun Shan Yin Zhen”.
When infused, Junshan Yinzhen produces bright, straw colored liquor, freshing and intriguing flavor, somehow deeper and fruitier than green tea, with abundant hints of smoke and an ethereally sweet finish.