Jin Jun Mei (=”Golden Eyebrows”) is Chinese black tea of relatively recent invention. Just like Lapsang Souchong, it comes from Wuyishan, a mountain range in the north of the Chinese province of Fujian. ‘Zhengshan’ means ‘Original Mountain’, referring to a specific area in the Lapsang region of Wuyishan. Accordingly, only tea coming from this area may rightfully go as “Zhengshan” tea. For detailed information about Wuyishan, its teas and individual cultivation zones, please read my dedicated article in Siam Tea Blog:
Wuyishan – a special ‘terroir’ for tea
The unsually high mineral content of the volcanic soil has earned Wuyi’s Oolong teas the designation as ‘rock teas’. However, the same rocky soils are also coining for the taste of Lapsang black teas. Starting from the time of the Tang dynasty, tea from Wuyishan enjoyed great appreciation as an imperial ‘tribute tea’. The nutrient-rich Wuyi soils are responsible for a particularly high content of vitamins and minerals. Today, the special terroir is under the protection of ‘UNESCO World Heritage’ status. The protection relates to the fields nature, landscape and culture. In this respect, UNESCO has defined several zones with different levels of protection and weighting of the above-mentioned fields.
Jin Jun Mei – as young as the current millennium
The village of Tong Mu, centre of Wuyishan’s zhengshan area, has a special reputation for its Lapsang black teas. Especially Lapsang Souchong has gained worldwide fame due to its special type of processing, which is unique within the world of tea. The resulting smoke flavor has made Lapsang Souchong very popular in England. For example, this becomes obvious from mentionings in reputed classic British novels.
The idea of specifically identifying higher picking standards (pure buds, 1+1 or 1+2) of Lapsang teas is as young as the current millennium. Well, why such distinction became necessary in the first place? In order to understand this, we’ll have to throw some light on the historical background and development of Lapsang Souchong.
Lapsang Souchong – origin, legend and background
According to legend, the discovery of Lapsang Souchong tea owes to mere coincidence. The legend takes place at the times of the Qing dynasty, China’s last imperial dynasty lasting from 1644-1912. Back then, it supposedly happened that the inhabitants of Tongmu village once got under attack. This forced them to dry their tea leaves much quicker than usual. In order to achieve this, they decided to heat the tea leaves over the hearth fire of burning pine wood. Later then, they found the resulting smoke aroma and flavor to be very tasteful. And from thereon, the intial error established as a new method. In particular, smoked Lapsang Souchong quickly established a a popular variant among Westerners. In China, however, the practice of camouflaging minor quality tea with smoke aroma, soon became a widespread practice. As a result, Lapsang Souchong black was long considered as a “poor-man’s-tea” among the Chinese themselves.
Development of Lapsang black tea since 1979
The scene underwent drastic change, when Tongmu village in 1979 became a UNESCO World Heritage site. As a consequence of this, the value of the cropland within the UNESCO protection zone multiplied within no time. This in turn made the production of cheap tea unprofitable, thereby effecting a shift towards higher quality. Part of the set of restrictions coming with the World Heritage status was a strict ban on pesticide use within the UNESCO protection zone. As an effect, this further contributed to higher selectivity of crop and processing quality. In parallel, from a consumer’s perspective, it also provided a desirable warranty of health qualities. Plus, both the natural enviroment and tea quality greatly benefit from keeping the soil free of pesticides.
Ever since, the production of Lapsang tea in Tongmu village and the surrounding mountains has mainly developed into two directions. On the one hand, this is the Classic Lapsang Souchong. Though sticking to the classic processing scheme, there’s an upgrade to this through using higher quality tea and leaf grades. On the other hand, part of the focus has shifted to quality non-smoked Lapsang black teas. One of these came abut during the 1990’s under the name of Lapsang Jin Jun Mei. For this particular branch of Lapsang black teas, only the young spring buds qualify for picking.
Wild Zheng Shan Jin Jun Mei ‘1+1’
Wild Zheng Shan Jin Jun Mei, part of Siam Tea Shop’s ‘Biodiversi-TEA‘ line, is the product of a small “zhengshan” village. The settlement’s roughly 50 inhabitants organize in an agricultural cooperative, sharing labor and gains equally between the members. Part of the cooperative’s farming areals is a widely untouched bamboo forest on Tong Mu mountain. Stretching altitudes between 1100 and 1500 meters, it is home to more than 100 years old tea bushes. These grow dispersed among the bamboo trees and other shrubs and weeds in a biodiverse environment.
Picking and processing
Picking standard for Wild Zheng Shan Jin Jun Mei is ‘1+1’. This means, only the young bud with its pertaining youngest leaf qualifies for picking. As is crucial for artisan teas, all picking is done by hand in the traditional way. Also, most of the processing in this cooperative takes place manually. At this, the first processing step is the withering of the freshly plucked tea leaves. Next comes a mechanical rolling process for breaking up the leaf surfaces and initiate the oxidation process. Then, a third step is the actual oxidation of the tea leaves. And finally, the last step is roasting in a wok pan over charcoal fire for the purposes of fixation and final drying.
Taste and appearance
The dry leaves have an evenly dark color, contrasted by the golden color of individual tips. Fragrance and taste are reminiscent of that of the sweet Longan fruit native to China and hardly show any loss even with long storage periods. Rather, the fragrance even intisifies with time, while the broad, but never obtrusive roast aroma will lose edge with time, making the overall taste of Wild Jin Jun Mei appear ever softer, given proper dry storage. Due to the wild character of Wild Zheng Shan Jin Jun Mei, this tea contains far higher concetrations of both vitamins and amino acids than conventionally cultivated tea. Both is contributing to this tea’s characteristic, full-bodied taste that friends of mild and sweet Dian Hong teas or stronger Keemun or Assam teas will similarly embrace.
‘Wild Zheng Shan Jin Jun Mei 1+1’ vs. ‘Lapsang Jin Jun Mei Golden Eyebrows’
While we usually choose only representative of a type of tea for our assortment, we have decided to offer Wild Zheng Shan Jin Jun Mei along our Lapsang Jin Jun Mei Golden Eyebrows, because
- both teas might not be available throughout the year due to their relative rareness,
- they both show significant differences in character due to the essential difference between wild tea (Wild Zheng Shan Jin Jun Mei) and ‘conventionally’ cultivated tea (Lapsang Jin Jun Mei Golden Eyebrows) grundsätzliche Unterschiede im Charakter aufweisen, und
- both teas show very individual – though similarly amicable – taste profiles also due to their different picking standard (1+1 vs. pure buds).
While our Lapsang Jin Jun Mei Golden Eyebrows is dominated by a fruity-sweet not combined with strong roast aromas, there’s a mild and malty sweetness prevailing in the Wild Zheng Shan Jin Jun Mei, accentuated by a broad, but nevertheless unobtrusive roast note that fits perfectly harmonious into the tea’s overall taste profile.
The best approach to the preparation of Wild Zheng Shan Jin Jun Mei 1+1 is by using the most common standard for preparing quality Chinese black teas: pour 200-350ml water of a temperature of 90+°C over 3-5g dry tea leaves and let infuse 2-3 minutes according to personal preference. Depending on infusion time and dosaging, Wild Zheng Shan Jin Jun Mei has the potential for 2-3 delicious infusions (second infuison: 3-4 minutes, third infusion: 5 minutes).