By Christopher Gronbeck
I hesitate to write about Bi Lo Chun, because my words can’t afford this fabulous tea a modicum of justice. But I proceed because my hesitancy is trumped by my desire to share it with those who haven’t already had the exquisite pleasure of experiencing it.
Bi Lo Chun is at once unknown and ridiculously famous. It’s rarely found in this country outside of the finest tea houses and tea purveyors, and yet a well-known Qing dynasty tea encyclopedia ranked it first amongst Chinese green teas (followed by Long Jing, aka Dragon Well, and Liu An Gua Pian, aka Melon Seed). Note that not all Bi Lo Chun is created equal, so be sure to get it from a trusted source of fine teas.
When drunk, Bi Lo Chun has a silky, smooth texture, and a sweet, vegetal—but not grassy—flavor. Its liquor is light gold, sometimes with a slight green tint. The original name of the tea translated as “scarily fragrant” or “deadly fragrant”, but a wise emperor—perhaps savvy of potential marketing challenges—rechristened it with its modern name. The original was understandable, however, as Bi Lo Chun has an absolutely sublime fragrance. Really, it has many different fragrances: one of the loose tea; one of the tea leaves slowly expanding as they heat and hydrate in a warmed, moist tea pot (undoubtedly my favorite); one of the tea steeping in the pot; one of the tea in your cup; and one of the leaves that remain in the pot after you pour off the water. And like any fine green tea, each of the multiple steepings you can coax out of it is its own wonderful experience.
Despite its incredible aroma and flavor, Bi Lo Chun reveals its most graceful secrets only when treated with great respect. It’s a fickle tea, to be sure, as it scalds in boiling water, and is all too easily oversteeped. But with a little understanding and a tender touch, Bi Lo Chun is an incomparable gem, one that any tea lover cannot help but admire, if not absolutely adore.
If, as Ben Franklin said, wine is proof that God that loves us and wants us to be happy, then Bi Lo Chun is proof that God wants us to be amazed.
Bi Lo Chun can be purchased at the Teahouse Kuan Yin on-line store
for $5.50/ounce, one of the best bargains in the world of tea.