People often refer to China’s ten most famous teas as if there were some ancient and revered list, gone unchanged since the days when they made those expensive Ming vases or something. In reality, there are a lot of lists of China’s top ten teas, and they vary a fair amount. Two teas are always on them, though: Long Jing (Dragonwell), and Bi Lo Chun.

Bi Lo Chun is an old and valued style of tea, with attestations as early as the Sui Dynasty, in the fifth century! It didn’t get the name “Bi Lo Chun” (also spelled Pi Lo Chun and Bi Luo Chun) until 1699, though. The original name was Xia Sha Ren Xiang, which means Scary or Deadly Fragrance. The story goes that a young woman picking the tea ran out of space in her basket, and started putting the leaves down the front of her shirt. Warmed by her body heat, the leaves gave off such a striking aroma that they were named for it. Then, in the seventeenth century the Emperor Kangxi, visiting the area where it was grown, decided it needed a more civilized name and called it Bi Lo Chun, which means Green Snail Spring, because the leaves are curled into little spirals that resemble snails, and are picked in early spring.

The early picking is an important feature of this tea. The Chinese Qing Ming festival, in early April, is the traditional start of spring, and Bi Lo Chun is picked around then, and sometimes even earlier. The bud and first leaf are picked when they’re still very small (there can be 7,000 in a single pound of Bi Lo Chun!), and the tea is renowned for the delicacy of its leaves. A good Bi Lo Chun is very downy, the buds still covered in their tiny white hairs, as though it were half white tea. I always want to pour out the leaves and pet them because they look so fuzzy, an impulse I usually only get with Silver Needle (I try to suppress it. They are sort of soft, but they’re too small to pet properly, so it’s an excercise in frustration). The tea itself is remarkably sweet and floral, like you get with some oolongs. This comes through strongly in the fragrance of the dry leaves, which I suppose led to the original name. There’s also a rich, sometimes nutty support for that floral note, so you end up with a really complex well-rounded tea.

Originally Bi Lo Chun was grown only on a pair of mountains (collectively called Dong Ting Mountain) by Tai Hu lake in Jiangsu Province. They still grow it there, the tea plants mixed in with fruit trees to enhance the sweetness of the tea. Since it’s so popular, actual Dong Ting Bi Lo Chun is fabulously expensive, and the finest stuff can’t even be bought commercially. Tea in the same style is grown all up and down the Chinese coast now, though, so those of us who don’t live on the shores of Tai Hu can have some, and we have a really nice example from Fujian Province, quite rich and satisfying. It’s really worth sitting down and savoring, and maybe at the same time you can pet the pretty downy leaves, just a little.

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

Advertisements
hojicha

Hojicha

Working at the Teahouse Kuan Yin is a labor of love, and a rewarding one. We love being able to talk with customers about the teas we carry, learning from our experienced patrons as well as passing on our own knowledge. But since coming to work at the Teahouse Kuan Yin, by far one of our most rewarding experiences has been photographing teas for the store’s website. It has been a continuing challenge because many of our teas are so different from one another, each with distinct colors, textures, shapes and sizes. The challenge itself makes it a rewarding experience, which we feel has given us a deeper appreciation for the teas we serve here.

Serving tea has always been considered a special act, or a gesture if you will, because one is providing the tea drinker with a specific experience which engages the senses. That said, as servers at Teahouse Kuan Yin we often are so caught up in our work that we don’t get to take the time and really appreciate the teas for ourselves. Sure, we’ve tasted them all, but when do we really get to look at our teas? This is where the wonderful experience of photographing the teas comes in.

Take for example our Hojicha. How best to convey that toasty warmth of flavor as well as color? What about the beautiful geometry of how the pieces lie together?

Bi Lo Chun

Bi Lo Chun

Or the Bi Lo Chun. This tea is known as Green Snail Spring, and we hoped to make the photograph of this tea as expressive as its name. Its fluffiness sets it apart from other green teas, as do the elegant, chaotic curlicues, the contrast between light and dark green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gold Yunnan

Gold Yunnan

What about the Gold Yunnan? It is easy to steep one’s teas without looking closely at the leaves, but this tea’s golden sheen begs to be admired. The leaves are as velvet-y as the brew itself, and should not be ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jasmine Pearl

Jasmine Pearl

We especially loved the look of the Jasmine Pearls. It is a given among tea lovers that part of the pleasure of drinking Jasmine Pearl comes with watching the pearls unfurling in the water, and obviously the beautiful aroma. But after spending time trying to figure out how best to photograph this tea, we both agree that part of what makes this tea beautiful is how tightly each pearl is wound, and the stunning craftsmanship involved in such a small thing. Each pearl is unique, and bands of light green travel across them differently every time.

Organic Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum

And my god, look at the Chrysanthemum!

Texture. Warmth. Sunshine. Need we say more?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Li Shan Mao Feng 5.8 zoom

Li Shan Mao Feng

We love the Li Shan Mao Feng:

The twists and folds of each leaf are stunning, and the contrast between dark black and amber orange is really unique.

ti-kuan-yin-green

Ti Kuan Yin Green

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ti Kuan Yin Green:

Its color is a vibrant and complex green, you can see the way in which each leaf has been rolled. There is an acutely physical aspect to these types of oolongs, because of the rolling process.

We’ve come to find that the teas here are absolutely beautiful in addition to being delicious. All we ask is that you guys remember: look at your tea before you drink it! All of these beautiful teas can be purchased on our website, http://www.TeaHouseKuanYin.com

Tea and Love,

Lela and Tania
Lela and Tania

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.

Bi Lo ChunBi Lo Chun translates as “Green Snail Spring”, reflecting its color, curlicue form, and time of harvest. Each bud is a tiny silvery-green crescent or spiral, just the very tenderest tip of the very finest plants, hand-harvested and gently processed during the 14 days following the Spring equinox. The tea is slightly hairy—almost moss-like—the downy buds so small and delicate that it takes 50,000 or more of them to fashion a pound of tea.

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.