Origins & Travel

Jade Cloud Travelogue: Origin & Hands-on Sourcing

Jade Cloud Travelogue: Origin & Hands-on Sourcing

Organic Fair Trade Jade Cloud is Rishi’s most popular green tea from China, and we’ve specialized in this style of tea since 1998. Originally, we partnered with organic farms in the Jin Hua County of Zhejiang Province to make this tea.


January 18, 2020


Rishi Tea



Organic Fair Trade Jade Cloud is Rishi’s most popular green tea from China, and we’ve specialized in this style of tea since 1998. Originally, we partnered with organic farms in the Jin Hua County of Zhejiang Province to make this tea. In 2004 and 2005, Rishi Tea began development of a new style of Organic Jade Cloud in Xuan En County, Hubei, where it is now grown amidst a pristine natural environment. Our Jade Cloud is a signature green tea because of its special processing and blending method that we adapted to this area’s local and introduced small leaf green tea bush varieties.

Jade Cloud can only be made for about 4-5 weeks each year from late March – early May. During that time, Rishi staff taste each day’s production lots from three different organic factories and cherry pick the best lots to make our annual blend. Jade Cloud is a great everyday green tea but the management of this tea is quite involved and complicated to keep the consistent spring character and quality of the mass batch.

We have to cup so many micro-lots from each day, keep the best and reject the rest. Then by late April or early May, all the lots are in and we make our blend, designed to last only until the next crop year.

The three different factories use three different methods of firing. This is a key point that makes our Jade Cloud quality so unique. One factory uses a very modern and new style of hot air, closed chamber firing method that makes a very fresh and even character. This special hot air roaster preserves a fine leaf shape and gives our Jade Cloud a nice appearance. Another factory uses steam firing that renders a very bright, green, jade color with a smooth body and sweet, umami flavor. The third factory uses a traditional, wood-fired, tumble roaster that creates a wonderfully nutty aroma. This traditional roaster brings out the evergreen and slight floral aromatic character of the local tea bush varieties. Modern hot air fired lots are used to create a fresh and consistent base, while the steamed lots add body, richen the color and add a deep mouthfeel. Finally, the traditional wood-fired, roasted lots allow us to make special aromatic points to balance our Jade Cloud blend.

Jade Cloud is 100% Organic Green Tea and FLO Fair Trade Certified™. The Xuan En Yisheng Tea Co-op includes 1,215 families totaling about 3,645 people. Rishi Tea has supported the Fair Trade Certified™ Tea Project here and has contributed more than $49,000 USD to the Xuan En Yisheng Organic Tea Co-op. The FLO Certified Social Premium Funds have been used by the co-op to improve roads and infrastructure in the villages, create local hospitals and elderly care centers, have given access to education and health care insurance for all 3,645 members and have helped to establish a fund for supporting the most impoverished co-op member families. The local people have built their own co-op managed tea factories and organic management systems with FLO funds so they can improve ownership rights and add further value to the teas they once only harvested. Now they not only harvest the fresh tea leaves, but also produce and sell the teas, taking a greater stake in the total supply chain.

Xuan En County lies in the hinterland of the Tujia and Miao ethnic group’s autonomous prefecture within southwestern Hubei Province. It’s at E. longitude 109°11’52”-109°55’34”, N. latitude 29°33’18” -29°12’18”, locating in the Wuling Mountainous area, in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.

The average elevation here is about 900m, and it peaks out at about 2,000m. Xuan En has a sub-tropical continental monsoon type humid mountain climate, it is blessed with four dramatic seasons and mild weather climate. Its annual average temperature is 13.7°C, relative humidity is 82%, annual average rainfall is 1,358mm, available accumulated temperature is 4,400 degrees, and its frost-free season lasts about 290 days. Its soil is mainly composed of purple sandy soil and red brown soil, with an average PH value ranging from 4.5-6.3. The soil is loose and fertile, and the selenium in the soil is very abundant (up to 0.3-5mg/kg). Because of these unique ecological characteristics, Xuan En is well-suited for growing premium organic green teas.

Pristine Environment

The tea gardens of Xuan En Yisheng Tea Co-op in Hubei, China span across the rolling lush green hills of the Wuling Mountain chain, surrounded by dense forests of pine and bamboo. Jade Cloud is Rishi Tea’s special green tea grown in these Xuan En tea farms.

Many tea gardens in Xuan En are steeply sloped, and the average elevation of the gardens is quite high at about 900m, though at its highest this region peaks out at about 2,000m. Here in the upper stretches of the Yangtze river the environment is pristine. Many acres of organic vegetable farms and virgin forest surround the organic tea farms at Xuan En.

Jade Cloud is plucked according to the “two leaves and a bud” plucking standard. The young tea bud and two leaves that sprout just below the bud are collected in “budsets” seen here. On the right, the two Chinese characters for Jade Cloud (pronounced “wulü”) are written, which literally translate to “mist” and “green.” The finished Jade Cloud tealeaves, emerald green after processing, are spread out below.

Co-op Members Bringing Tea to the Factory

The Xuan En Yisheng Tea Co-op members bring their plucked tea leaves to one of the co-op factories after they’re done collecting leaf every day. Some of the tea leaves are brought to the steaming factory where the leaves are quickly steam-fired. These steamed tea leaves add vivid green color, sweetness and umami to Jade Cloud. Other tea leaves are brought to the Ma’An factory for a traditional wood-fire roast, where they take on a nutty sweet flavor and develop aromas like evergreen that are specific to the local tea bush varietals. Fresh tea leaves could also be brought to a third factory where they undergo a modern closed-chamber hot air combination firing.

Freshly harvested tea leaves are spread out on woven bamboo mats to wither. The specialists in charge of monitoring the withering of Jade Cloud tea leaves pay close attention to the depth of the pile created during the withering stage.

The balance of flavor in Jade Cloud comes from the intricate artisanal processing steps involved in its production. Some of the tea leaves in Jade Cloud receive a quick steaming process to preserve their vivid green color and umami flavor. This basket of Jade Cloud is just about to enter the steaming room.

Traditional Wood-fired Tumble Roast

Zhu Ping and her team from the Ma’An factory, part of the Xuan En Co-op, are inspecting the Jade Cloud tea leaves that have passed through a traditional wood-fired tumble roaster. The tea leaves that go through this process develop a light nutty aroma, like toasted chestnut. The roasting specialists closely inspect the tea leaves as they emerge from the roaster, and communicate with the team that manages the fire temperature and the rate at which the tea leaves pass through the roaster.

Each basket of tea leaves that is roasted is cooled rapidly with a fan. Shaking the tea leaves in front of the fan also blows away any tea leaf particles that were too small coming out of the roaster.

After further processing steps involving repeated baking and cooling, these Jade Cloud tealeaves are hand-shaped to take on their curled, needle-like form. The shaping process also helps to fully bring out the aromas in the leaf.

This advanced withering machine can be finely calibrated for the rate at which the tea leaves pass through. Some of the fresh tea leaves collected for Jade Cloud are withered and processed in this high-tech factory.

Closed-Chamber Combination Roasting & Firing Machine

This state-of-the-art machine performs a combination of controlled roasting with hot air firing. Whereas traditional wood-fired roasters have an open chamber out of which the roasted tea leaves emerge, this high-tech machine has a closed chamber. The hatch on the end is closed when the firing is active, and super hot air is blasted through the chamber, firing each individual tea leaf evenly through. Meanwhile, the outside faces of the tea leaves are gentle roasted as they pass through the chamber, eventually dropping onto the conveyer tray below to be cooled quickly by fans.

Fan Cooling

The key to Jade Cloud processing is to closely monitor the temperature of the tea leaves during the firing, baking, shaping and drying steps. While the tea leaves must be fired thoroughly enough to maintain their vibrant green color, they must not become too hot for too long or they’ll lose their sweet, fresh flavors. Careful cooling by fans helps maintain the proper temperature inside the tea leaves as they cycle through firing, baking, shaping and final drying.

Cupping Jade Cloud Micro-lots

Throughout the spring harvest season, Rishi Tea staff spend time at the cupping table every day to evaluate each micro-batch of leaf that could become that season’s Jade Cloud. The tea tasters aim for consistency and balance between the tea leaves that are fired in the three distinct ways we’ve seen. To recap, these methods were quick steaming, traditional wood-fire roasting, and combination roasting and firing. Not only do the tea tasters strive to create a balance between these three firing styles, they also consider the unique flavor and aroma qualities of the fresh leaf coming from the various smallholders in the co-op. The result is a delicious green tea blended only to last until the next harvest season.