Monday, February 21, 2011

Bi Luo Chun green tea from China

Visited a friend last week who mentioned her current favorite green tea is a Bi Luo Chun (Spring Snail Shell).  Easily influenced, I found my eye landing on some Bi Luo Chun in my tea drawer.

The stuff I have is truly a beautiful looking tea.  From an arm's length it's a sage green-grey but when you look more closely it is a mix of dark grey with dark green small twisted leaves and flecks of brighter green dusted with the pekoe of the many teeny buds.  It's from Tao's wonderful tea shop and the label tells me it from the East Mountain of Dong Ting Lake in the Jiangsu Province of China.  According to the Tea Drinker's Handbook, this tea in Jiangsu is only harvested once a year at the end of March.

Bi Luo Chun is considered one of the Ten Famous Teas of China.  It's also known as Dong Ting or Pi Lo Chun and, in English, Green Snail Spring.  To truly appreciate the work involved in making 500 grams of this tea, have a look at Chinese Tea 101 which has a wonderful series of photos of the process from plucking to baking.

The beautiful, pekoe-covered leaves of the Bi Luo Chun from Tao's.
The Tea
3.8 grams in 7 oz of 80C water for 1 minute.  Second steep 1 minute.

Can you see the little flower bud
in the lower right quadrant?
When I open the jar the first pleasure of this tea is a rush of fresh clean green aroma, abit like a fresh mown lawn.  The tiny, tiny leaves are whole, tightly wound and tend to curl into little "U's" or spirals.  There's also alot of silvery and pale yellow furry pekoe.

The wet leaves area a bright green and the leaves are a uniform size, tiny and narrow, an indication of its high quality.  Some show a slight rusty brown and I don't know if that is from a little oxidising on the bush or during the withering.  The first aroma is of the "fire" from its processing -- so different from all the Japanese steamed green teas I've been enjoying.  This is followed by rich fried greens and/or nuts (chestnut?) along with a slight sweetness and finished off with just the lightest tang which gives it a nice clean profile.

Bi Lo Chun liquor

The liquor is a mid-golden yellow.  It has good astringency which gives me a slight furring on the tongue, and abit of a pucker.

The flavour is beautifully balanced between a light floral sweetness, a clean lemony snap, fresh raw green bean and abit of bitterness on the sides of the tongue.  (To my tongue, one of the integral flavour notes of tea is bitterness, like another popular beverage -- beer.)  I do love that tang -- so charactertistic of baked green teas, perhaps mostly chinese green teas; it's like the raw green leaf.

My first second brew at 2 minutes was quite bitter -- like slightly burnt fried onions or chinese greens, and I realised I should not have increased the brewing time.  Actually, the best subsequent steeps were all at 1-minute, which continued to give me good flavour and pleasure in the cup.  BTW I got quite a caffeine buzz from this tea which makes sense since it's all buds.

I've made this a number of times over the past few days and I keep thinking that if this were a wine it would be one of my favorites, an excellent Chablis -- crisp and bright with a minerally finish. 

Later:  I made a small pot of this tea a couple weeks ago for some friends and we did three very flavourful steeps from the same leaves.  This is a wonderful example of this tea type and one that just keeps on giving.

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