Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fresh 2012 Bi Lo Chun from China

Just before she left for China two weeks ago my sister-in-law asked if there was anything I'd like. "Fresh tea.  Really fresh tea," I said.  And she delivered it yesterday.  What a gal.

Xi Shan Bi Lo Chun - a green tea which, according to its label, was made April 8, 2012.  That's fresh.
Tie Guan Yin - an oolong, undated but packed in individual serving-sized foil wraps
A black tea - lots of gold furry buds, without an english label but dated September 16, 2011.  Fresher than most tea you can buy in Toronto.

Xi Shan Bi Lo Chun or Green Spring Snail 
Okay, first up is the Green Spring Snail which is a baked (rather than steamed) green tea from the Jiangsu province in China.  ( I did a previous posting on another example of this type of tea last year.)

The dried tea has a distinctive gray-green colour. Click the
image to have a close look at these beautiful furred leaf buds.
According to The Tea Drinkers Handbook this tea's original name translated as "astounding fragrance" or "fragrance to cause fear and trembling" and when I snipped open the foil inner packet yesterday the aroma did indeed knock me over.  So big and fresh and sweet and green!  It was made only three weeks ago -- no wonder.

It's current name -- apparently changed by an Emperor during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), is Bi Lo Chun, sometimes translated as Pi Luo Chun, which means Green (bi) Spring (chun) Snail (lo), and is named for its coiled snail-like shape and the fact it's only manufactured in the spring from the year's earliest plucks.

Separating out the bud-sets you can see the
coiled, snail-like shape which gave it its name.

The always informative SevenCups website further explains the "Xi Shan" part of its name: Within and around the Tai Lake in Jiangsu Province is Dong Ting Mountain where Bi Luo Chun originates. Dong Ting actually refers to two mountains known as Dong Shan (East) seated on the eastern edge of the lake and Xi Shan (West) which sits on an island within Tai Hu. The taste and aroma varies between Bi Luo Chun harvested from these two mountains. Dong Shan Bi Luo Chun has darker and bigger leaves with a rich taste. Xi Shan Bi Luo Chun has small, tender leaves with a gentle taste. 

FYI the Bi Lo Chun I posted about last year was from the mountain on the other side of the lake.

The Tea
Water at 80C for 2 minutes.
I wanted to emphasise the flavours a bit so I did a longer steep than needed.  I will try this at 1 1/2 and 1 minute tomorrow for regular drinking.

The dry leaves give off a big, heady perfume which is sweetly floral with a hint of light lemon, along with a sweet vegetal aroma like steamed spinach and a faint marine (fishy) note -- along with so much else that I'm at a loss for words.  Everything about the aroma is amped.

Bright green of the tiny, tiny leaf buds.
The liquor is a pale, golden green, getting more golden as it oxidises in the glass pot next to me, and is slightly cloudy.  This is due to the teeny leaf bud hairs floating about which seem to add a firmness to the tea's mouth-feel as well.  (Cloudiness can also be due to a high L-Theanine content -- the amino acid which is credited with contributing the calming effect of tea despite its caffeine content.)

The tea has fresh light body with good briskness -- snappy I'd say.  There's a toasty nuttiness, followed by a sweet green vegetal (spinach) flavour and a light marine-ness (seaweed) which is then balanced out by a nice tartness.  Its briskness dries the sides at the back of my tongue, watering my mouth and leaving me thirst-quenched.  What a great tea!

Pale golden green liquor of
the 3-week new Bi Lo Chun.
After drinking it all day I can certainly attest to this tea's caffeine content:  I'm buzz buzz buzzing. Nothing like fresh, spring leaf buds for big fresh flavour and big caffeine.

The refreshing briskness of this Bi Lo Chun reminds me of the wonderful Ceylon tea a friend brought back from Sri Lanka for me. It also had a wonderful lemony snap to it, and became my favorite morning tea, until it was gone.  It also was a very fresh tea -- coincidence?

The thing I've found about freshly made tea is, not surprisingly, its flavour has huge breadth.  Beyond the tea type's distinctive flavour characteristics freshness delivers flavour nuances big time.  As a fresh rose blossom's aroma is so much more than just "rose" (think peppery, peach, almond), so fresh tea is more than just toasty, vegetal and/or malty.  In fresh tea those flavour notes sing with so much.  I've been drinking (mostly black) tea for decades and enjoying the way it perks me up and calms me down and has a wonderful bitter-sweet brew.  But in recent years I've had the occasional really freshly made tea and discovered a whole new world of flavour in tea.  Yahoo.  More, I say!
The shop in Shanghai where it came from...

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