Lu An Gua Pian

Lu An Gua Pian

Classy teas are all made of the delicate, downy, newly budded tips of the tea branches, right? Apparently not, because Lu An Gua Pian has a giant reputation, and part of the processing, um, process is that they go through and pick out all the buds. The leaves are then rolled into rough cylinders, so that they look kind of like seeds, or at least they did to someone after they’d spent enough hours lazing around a teahouse, eating sunflower seeds and having cups of this tea.

What’s going on with that name? It keeps changing.

That’s how it was supposedly named. I know, I know, shocking, the tea is named after the shapes of the leaves, and when I tell you that Lu An is the county where most of it is grown then you’ll just be picking you jaw up off the floor, no one ever named a tea that way before! This name has a cool little story behind it, though. The English name is Little Melon Seed, which is supposedly a pretty direct translation, and that’s not right, didn’t I say it was named for sunflower seeds? Yes. I’m given to understand that the word for sunflower seed in Chinese is “gua zi pian,” melon seed is “gua pian,” so that the current name is a shortening of the original. None of the people who speak Chinese are in the shop right now, though, so I can’t corroborate this. Anyone out there on the net have enough Chinese to give me an informed opinion?

How long has it been around?

Next point of contention, how old this type of tea is. And it is, of course, a point of contention. Opinions are split on whether it was mentioned in the Cha Jing, written in the eighth century, or not invented until a millenium later, during the Qing Dynasty. Now the first one is difficult, because it is named for the shape of the leaves, and tea was not drunk in whole-leaf form at the time. But the second date is also problematic, because it is supposed to be a Ming tribute tea, which it could hardly have been if it hadn’t been invented yet. Its reputation certainly seems like it should have more than three centuries behind it; Lu An Gua Pian is regularly mentioned in the ever authoritative and ever protean list of China’s Ten Famous Teas.

The more I learn, the less I think I know.

I hate to just say that I have a lot of information, but it’s all uncertain. It seems so un-blog-like. I need more information than I have, though! Help me out, Gentle Readers, do any of you have solid information supporting one of the sides? Anyone read the Cha Jing? Seen a decent English translation of it that they could direct me towards? I can’t go around putting my name to uncertain information on the internet!

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff