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Blog 124: Wuyi Oolong (Yancha): The Assessment of “Maocha/毛茶” (Part I)

“Maocha/毛茶” is a unique stage in oolong tea production. In Wuyi oolong (Yancha) tea-making, Maocha refers to half-processed tea leaves before roasting. In this half-processed state, Maocha can be stored and prepared for the roasting process. Maocha is not a tea product yet. In fact, Maocha still requires many rounds of roasts before it can be called a real “tea”.

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Despite being a working progress, Maocha is crucial in the overall Wuyi oolong (Yancha) tea-making process. As a semi-finished product, Maocha reveals the quality of fresh leaves and imperfections from the preliminary tea-making. Experienced tea makers can decide how to adjust the rest of the tea-making based on “Maocha”.

Therefore, an accurate assessment of Maocha becomes a key in the success of a Wuyi oolong (Yancha).

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Maocha Assessment

Maocha assessment might look familiar to you (see pic above). Tea lovers who have been to a “tea cupping session” in their local tea stores might recognized that both Maocha assessment and “tea cupping” have similar teawares.

This is not a coincidence. As a matter of fact, “cupping” originates from Chinese tea assessment. Unfortunately, most “cupping” outside China are wrong.

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Tea masters testing a Maocha's aromas

While many “tea experts” claim the purpose of “cupping” is to allow more time for a tea to produce good flavors and aromas, a true tea expert would know that it is completely mistaken. A good tea (except green tea) produces flavors and aromas instantly, and it certainly doesn’t require “steeping” to show its characters. (By forcing a tea steeped in water for an extensive amount of time, you’ll be doing a thing called “Suffocative Steeping/闷泡”. See Blog 36 and Blog 37 for more.)

The real purpose of “cupping”, or a tea assessment, is to expose those imperfections of the tea.

But before we add water to dry leaves, we have to assess the quality of dry Maocha leaves. There are 8 assessments in total, and 4 of which focus on dry leaves. Specifically, we’re looking at the tightness, the color, the cleanness, and the uniformity.

The cleanness and the uniformity largely refer to the fact that dry Maocha leaves should not contain stems, yellow leaves and broken/uneven leaves. This part is often overlooked by inexperienced tea makers. When assessing a tea, we cannot just choose 3g-5g of tea leaves because the same batch of Maocha might have very different dry leaves. Thus, how we select dry Maocha leaves is critical.

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Sorting Maocha leaves. (top: Maocha, bottom left: stems, bottom right: yellow leaves/黄片)

Commonly, we’d be selecting dry leaves from a large bag of tea. When we pick leaves, we need to choose leaves from around the top, middle, and bottom. If there’s a huge difference among leaves from different locations, we need to pour a large portion of tea leaves out of the bag and choose from the new batch.

A good Maocha sample should have dry leaves that are not too tight or too loose. If leaves are rolled too tight, the tea soup would become muddy; too loose, dry leaves would break easily.

Dry leaves also need to have a constant lustrous color. Dry leaves with inconsistent colors are often caused by uneven fermentation. If the color is dark yellow or brown, it means fresh leaves are harvested too late, and the final tea might taste too light.

After we inspect dry leaves, we can continue to assess a Maocha’s tastes, mouthfeel, and aromas.

(We’ll continue this topic in our next blog…)

We hope you enjoyed today’s blog. As always, if you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment, tweet us @valleybrooktea or email the author directly at Please also follow us on Instagram @valleybrooktea and join our mail list to get our daily tea updates and our latest promotions!

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