hairy little things in my longjing tealeaves
Whenever Olivia travels to China for work, she brings along some tea so she can maintain her healthy habit. Her daily tea is Phoenix oolong, but she normally brings a medium quality one for the lack of setup in hotel rooms lest she is wasting the quality, she said. So when she asked for an extra pack of green tea this time, I gave her a small pack of Longjing from last Spring rather than a fresh batch. Yesterday she wrote to me saying that she threw away the green tea because there were moulds in it.
Usually moulds do not grow on dry tealeaves. When a tea is so poorly stored to have absorbed a lot of moisture and begins to mould, the mould would look like mould, and not thefine hair aggregates in tea. The smell is clearer evidence.
If you are like Olivia, not wanting to smell check whether it's mould or not, just the appearance is different— a patch of moulds has a thicker "core" that gets thinner as it spreads outward, and the strands radiate outward, obviously or slightly. Most importantly, the tea looks and feels not dry.
Those "moulds" that she talked about were actually the down hairs of the young leaves. In the production of Longjing the hairs are so tightly pressed that they have become tiny pieces of felt-like substance, some even form small balls.
When the leaves are being pressed in the wok during roasting, the hairs are cooked and turns from translucent white to yellowish white, which constitute the final colour appearance of finer Longjings. Many, many tea varieties, especially those that are wok-roasted, have this "hairy" character. Very often we don't notice them. Some people may not even see them even if they look for them, because the leaves of the tea they are getting have already overgrown before they are plucked, or that they have been so over-handled that the hairs have fallen off, or that they have been rubbed off during processing.
Olivia just called in saying that she dug back in the trash can to retrieve the tea. Good packaging helps. She needs a cup of good Longjing now.