Serious Eats: Drinks

The Best of Spring-Picked Green Teas

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[Photos: Liz Clayton]

As delicate as they are pleasurable to drink, the first-picked teas of spring are a scarce but special treat for tea enthusiasts. The spring-picked green teas of Asia offer a new dimension in tasting the first blush of the unique flavors that develop across harvest seasons. Though some will warn that these fragile early teas can lose much in transit, we took the risk and tasted six of the loveliest spring-picked greens we could get our hands on.

Early spring-picked teas will typically be subtle in flavor with a lighter color in the cup, and some spring-picked greens may almost trick you into thinking they're white teas. But don't be fooled—these young greens have a graceful identity all their own.

Here are a few of our favorites.

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Emerald Lily

The curly, twisted leaves of this twice-yearly (once spring, once fall) harvested green tea from the Yunnan region of China has a lush lightness, tingly-fresh but with the creamy mildness that comes from flavors so delicate and gently developed. One of the more beautiful spring greens you'll come across, its floral-pastoral flavors should linger in your mind long past the finish.

Yunnan Spring Buds

Redefining the mental preconceptions of "light" and "delicate" is this Yunnan-picked green bud tea. The slightly twisted, early-spring harvested tea yields an incredibly subtle, yet flavor-rich brew: creamy, sweet orange-blossom aroma and light sweet-nut cup. Neither dry or astringent, this pre-Qingming season tea drinks like a whisper, but with much to reveal. Available online.

Long Jing (Dragonwell) Premium

Dragonwell's characteristically smooth flavors are widely known, but the early spring pickings of this roast-flattened, broadleafed tea are resoundingly fruity and fresh, green and light with a smooth chestnut that meets honeydew melon rind at the finish. From the Chinese province of Zhejiang, the early picked Long Jing is much like the better, acoustic version of a well-known song; an even more mellow and soothing rendition of a tea that's always richly rewarding in the cup. Available online.

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Boseong Standard

On the southwest coast of South Jeolla Province, South Korea, is the Boseong tea-growing region, known for its flavorful green teas. The standard grade of their early spring harvest is full-flavored, light-bodied and grassy, smooth with the aroma of green floral sachet that would draw in even a non-tea drinker. For such a subtle tea it's tremendously big tasting, slightly astringent and delightfully complex.

Nishi Shincha Sae Midori

Japanese Shincha is the name for the first flush harvests of what will later be called sencha green tea, and carries with it the cachet of the rich, layered mysteries of an early-picked tea of this intensity. Lush with grassy, vegetal umami flavors and a creamy mouthfeel, this deep, buttery-meets-piney green tea brings a big body and ephemeral finish. Available online.

Have you tried any of these teas?

Disclosure: all teas were provided as samples for review.

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