Last year, for the first time in my life, I ordered fresh green teas—teas that had been picked from the first tiny leaves of tea to poke out after winter in high altitudes, prepared with care, and then immediately sent to be consumed. Apparently, fresh green teas are the best.
It was probably my first time having young green teas of reasonable quality, so of course they were amazing.
This year, I almost ran out of my formerly fresh, now a year old, green tea before it became new green tea season again. I say “almost” because I had gone through everything except about two servings of miao jian king which I was holding on to as, I don’t know? Emergency green tea? In case there was a green tea emergency and I ran out? That sounds like a real thing that could definitely happen somewhere outside my brain. (Thank you, brain, amazing work.)
As it happened, I bought more fresh miao jian king this year, and it arrived while I still had a tiny amount of the old miao jian king left. So I decided to have a head-to-head taste test to see what a year of aging did to fresh green tea.
Why, when the benefits of fresh green tea are widely discussed? I guess, stubbornness. Just because everyone says it’s better doesn’t mean it’s actually something I think is better, right? Shouldn’t I decide for myself?
(There are other confounding factors in the experiment: tea tastes different from year to year, due to changing weather conditions. Nonetheless!)
I prepared both teas the same way, using identical tea to water ratios, the same temperature of water, the same brewing time, and so forth. Then I drank them: a sip from one, then a sip from another.
I was kind of worried when I started this: what if the difference was too subtle? What if I couldn’t tell? What if I liked the old green tea better? Would that mean that I had bad taste in tea? Would it make me a tea fraud? Would I have to confess to tea fraudulence in my very own tea newsletter?
It turns out that it was extremely goofy to be worried. The difference is not subtle at all. It’s almost like the difference between fresh and dried basil, although maybe not that pronounced. (Perhaps freshly dried basil versus basil that has sat in a bottle, unused, for a year, might be a better comparison). Neither is necessarily bad, but there are ephemeral compounds in the fresh(er) basil that mean it smells better and tastes different. You can tell that they are the same thing, but one just feels faded in comparison to the other. The fresh green tea had a much fuller taste to it; the older green tea was maybe just a little more bitter in the aftertaste.
I have now convinced myself that fresh, newly picked green tea is in fact far superior, which is a thing that everyone already knew. Huzzah for confirming experiments, I guess?
In reading this over, it seems that this taste test says more about me than the actual tea. I get to jump from shortage anxiety (hello, my old friend) to arrogance (perhaps I am in fact actually the only one, stubborn edition) to anxiety that I am doing everything wrong, including drinking tea (aka, perhaps I am in fact the only one, anxiety edition).