A few years ago, I tried “Snow Shan” green tea from Vietnam . . .
And I hated it.
Okay, maybe “hate” is too strong of a word; “touchy” would be better. It was really difficult to brew. If I went out-of-bounds on the steeping parameters, the leaves imparted a bitter and astringent brew, not unlike a young Lao Mane’ sheng puerh. My guess was that because it took a longer fry to kill-green the leaves (especially old tree material), and also thanks to the more humid environs of Northern Vietnam, the all-handmade process led to some really touchy leaves.
So what is Snow Shan green tea? Well, it’s more purally known as “Thuyet Shan” (Snow High Mountain) green tea. And it’s exactly that, green tea made from tea trees high up in the mountains of Northern Vietnam. But there’s a really important distinction: Thuyet Shan is made from some of the oldest tea trees, from some of the oldest feral gardens in the world. Northern provinces like Yen Bai and Ha Giang are dotted with them.
I’ve mentioned trying teas made from these types of old trees many times. But other than the one time, I don’t think I tried another old tree green tea made from them. Mostly out of fear. But then, Hatvala posted something interesting.
They had me at indigenous peoples making tea from old trees. I was good to go. I got in contact with them, and they sent me — not one, but two — green teas from the same province; Ha Giang. Bamboo Dream (the one shown above), and Tiger Monkey.
For brewing, I approached these like any other pan-fried green—plus airing on the conservative side. I went with a brewing temp of 175-ish (Fahrenheit), and roughly 3 grams of leaf to a 6oz. gaiwan. Infusion time: three minutes.
This smelled like how a pan-fried green tea should. Date sugar, chestnuts, flowers, with maybe a little bit of assamica astringency on the back-whiff. Appearance-wise, it was its own thing. I have no clue what green tea to compare it to, maybe Mao Feng? Dunno. Point is, it was lovely.
The liquor brewed up a little darker than I anticipated. Bold, jade green, instead of the usual pale yellow, I was expecting. The aroma it gave off was similar to fresh puerh maocha, only lighter on the earth. Taste-wise, it was deep! Full-bodied, too. Spring grass and floral blooms on the forefront, followed by a sweet middle, and a touch of assamica astringency on the finish.
Now, this, I had something to compare it to. It looked like a Bi Luo Chun from the outset. Pretty sure that was the inspiration for it. Maybe also a little bit like a Gan Lu, save for the fact that the leaves used were a little older. Few buds, from what I could tell. Dry smell was very similar to the Tiger Monkey. Date-nut-flower-ish aroma.
The liquor brewed up the same bold, jade green as the Tiger Monkey, but with a far more cloying steam aroma. That was a bad sign. Further confirmation when I tasted it. Oh, dear Lord, it was bitter! Very surprising considering how light my starting temperature was. This had the same problem as the one Snow Shan green tea I tried.
So, I did a reboot. I dumped my kettle water, and brewed again from scratch; this time at roughly 160F. For a steep time, I shot for two minutes instead of three. And then I prayed. For the new set of leaves, I mooched from the “display model”.
The result was better, and quite the relief. The liquor was pale yellow-to-green, the steam aroma could be likened to cooked greens, but in a pleasant way, and the flavor was all artichoke hearts and trail mixed nuts.
One interesting thing I found with both teas, several months after the initial session, was that they both are perfect gong fu green teas. When one kept the water temp at 175F, and did successive infusions at thirty seconds, the results were spectacular, and any assamica astringency was minimized. They lasted forever this way, too; seven steeps . . . at least. That and the more desirable notes shined through all the better.
Favorite? Tiger Monkey, without a doubt. It completely circumvented the pratfalls of the usual Snow Shan green tea style. Probably because it—more or less—mimicked the style of, say, a Mao Feng, which I was fine with. All date sugar and grass, my favorite notes of a Chinese green tea, but . . . not from China. Bamboo Dream was still good, but took some adjustment to find its proper range. Not as overly bitter as the last Snow Shan I had, but just as touchy; best results when gong fu’d.
I guess that’s the end of the article, I don’t have any other witticisms to pass along. I would provide buyer links, but Vietnam is currently not allowing things to ship out of the country. (Thanks, pandemic.) If you want information on them for a future order, go to HERE. I’ll update information accordingly when the country is no longer in lockdown.