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

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Jasmine PearlJasmine tea is extremely popular, not only in our own teahouse but also around the world. While most mixtures of tea and other plants are modern and not quite perfected, jasmine tea has a history that will impress the most stiff-necked tea snob. It was invented in China during the Song dynasty, which ruled from 960 to 1279AD, and was the first scented tea.

In the modern age of industrial production and widespread wealth some corners do get cut. A lot of jasmine tea is now made simply by taking some mid-grade tea leaves, spritzing them with jasmine oils, tossing the result in teabags and calling it a day. But for good jasmine tea, like we sell, the traditional method is still used, and it is quite the process. First the tea is picked and processed as usual. For high-grade jasmine tea, obviously some good tea is made. It can be any kind you like, but is most often green. We also carry a really spiffy silver needle jasmine, though, which I sometimes get out and stare at because it is just so pretty. That doesn’t actually have anything to do with the jasmine, though. They just started with some really nice tea.

The next step is the jasmine flowers, and here we get fancy. Jasmine flowers bloom at night, opening around sunset and closing again by the morning. To make tea, the flowers are picked during the day and tossed in with the tea leaves from the last paragraph, and sometimes stirred around a great deal. Then they are allowed to sit together overnight. The flowers, even though they’ve been picked, still open up as the air cools, and the tea soaks all the fragrance up. Tea is very hygroscopic, which is your awesome word for the day so go use it in a sentence, it means that it is very good at soaking up moisture, including the fragrance. This is why it’s so important to store your tea in airtight containers, because usually you don’t want it picking up every scent in the room! But in making jasmine tea it’s a good trait. The tea soaks up the scent so well that the flowers are totally spent afterwards. The light flowers are blown out of the mixture with huge fans, and then often fed to pigs because there’s nothing left; all the scent is now in the tea.Silver Needle Jasmine

This process is repeated at least twice, and often many more times. Usually a 4:1 ratio of flowers:tea leaves by weight ends up being used! Once the tea producers feel their tea is scented enough the tea has to be dried again, because it’s absorbed so much water from the flowers. For our most popular jasmine, Jasmine Pearl, they roll them up into the little pearls by hand before the last drying. In high-grade versions, all the flowers are removed, but sometimes a few flowers will be left in for decoration.

Fujian province, the source of our jasmine tea, is considered the best at making it. Jasmine plants grow well there, producing large and fragrant blossoms. The tea plants do well, too, which is critical. The jasmine has a gentling effect on the tea, making the result smoother, sweeter, and a bit gentler on the stomach, but to get a really top quality jasmine tea all the ingredients have to be the best.

While a lot of teas that are mixed with some other plant are flavored teas, jasmine tea is actually scented. When you lean over your cup and take a deep breath it smells like a jasmine plant, perhaps with the bright flower scent gentled and rounded a little by the tea. Plug your nose and take a sip, and it is a slightly sweet cup of tea. But unless you’re drinking your tea with a nasty cold, the scent and flavor of the tea mix while you drink it, combining elegantly into a fun but still refined cup of tea.

Elizabeth Deacon, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

Upcoming Tea Tastings!

Cool and refreshing Tea.  Tea is from the hottest parts of the world where it is enjoyed warm or iced.  Join Teahouse Kuan Yin this summer for our hot and cool tea tastings.  We will learn about tea production, history, culture, and service.  While comfortably relaxing in the air-conditioned teahouse we will sample six different cooling teas.  Join us for one or all of the tastings, bring a friend or family member, and give the gifts of tea. 

For those passionate about tea who cannot attend these tastings, please contact Rachel Newman to arrange a private tea event at your home or office. 

 

Hot China, Cool Tea June 14th 5pm

Six Chinese teas grown in China’s hot, southern climate, where summer temperatures reach 99º with 100% humidity.  Silver Needle, White Peony, Dong Ding Green, Three Roses Charcoal Baked, Pu’er Green, Pu’er Camel’s Breath are the flavors due to cross your palette.

 

Yin Teas for Keeping Cool June 28th 11am

Six Green teas that are Yin in nature, which help keep the body cool during hot summer months.  We will discuss the nature of Yin foods and how and why these work to cool our bodies.  We will taste Snow Bud, Green Snow Bud, Dragonwell (Longjing), Little Melon Seed, Formosa Green, Moroccan Mint.

 

Himalayan Tea July 12th 5pm

Grown in the foothills of the world’s highest mountain range, this Indian valley is hot and sunny all summer.  Still, the locals sip hot black tea.  Why?  We will explore this question first-hand with six different teas from the region.  Darjeeling 1st and 2nd flushes, Assams and Chai!

 

Healthy Tea including Herbals July 26th 11am

Come explore our selection of healthy teas including many of our house-blended herbals.  All tea is healthy, though some have more anti-oxidants while others may help lower cholesterol, fight fatigue, and aid in digestion.  We will sample pure herbals, blends – including our house blend World Peace – White, Green and Pu’er.  Bring your curiosity and questions about health and tea.

 

Ice-Teas August 2nd 5pm

Wonder what your favorite tea tastes like ”on ice”?  We will serve six different teas drizzled over ice so that you may choose how cool your tea needs to be. Teahouse employees love to make their own concoctions of ice-teas all summer long. Some house favorites include Yunnan Gold, Lychee Black, Jasmine, Dragonwell, Silver Needle and Bai Hao, all of which will be sampled.  Requests will be accepted for this tasting only.

 

Southeast Asian Teas August 16th 11am

How do you make Thai Iced Tea?  What is bubble tea?  We will not drink these, but we will learn more about what teas are used to make them and why.  We will sample six teas used as a base for milky, sweet drinks and try them on their own.  The tasting will include, Assams, Ceylon, Oolong and Green teas.

 

All teas listed are subject to change as we await Marcus’ return with some new wonderful teas from Taiwan and China. 

Please email or come into the teahouse to sign-up for tastings.  Tastings are $10 per person, which includes 20% off any tea purchases made that day.

Please feel free to distribute this flyer. 

Website: www.TeaHouseKuanYin.com

Our new blog: www.TeaHouseKuanYin.wordpress.com

At our most recent tasting we explored the vast world of Chinese teas, sampling three main types, White, Green and Black. China, considered the home of tea, was the first place to widely cultivate and create a culture for tea. Gaiwan (Lidded Bowl)
Green tea is most often associated with China, where it is grown, processed and exported more than any other type of tea. White Tea the most rare of teas just has a few varities to enjoy. The three most common, Silver Needle, White Peony and Shou Mei are each fine examples of delicious low caffeine, high antioxidant tea. Black teas are rarely enjoyed by the Chinese, despite the great care given to their cultivation and processing, this tea is mainly for export.

Our tea tasting group thoroughly enjoyed the Silver Needle and Shou Mei White tea, which we steeped for nearly 10 minutes. The long steeping produced no tannins at all and the brew was smooth, slightly grassy and earthy.

At Teahouse Kuan Yin we carry about fifteen Chinese Green Teas making the choice of just two very difficult. I choose Lu An Gua Pian (Little Melon Seed) and Morning Dew, both beautiful examples of Chinese Green tea. Little Melon Seed LuAnGuaPianThe Little Melon Seed, from Anhui Province, is named because of it’s appearance. The brew is light, taste only slightly astringent, and steeps two to three times. Morning Dew, as one taster noticed, is like Kale, or the Sea. It is an evergreen color with a strong green tea taste, as described above, like kale or seaweed, though not nearly as much as Japanese Green tea.

The Black teas truly surprised me since I am an avid Green tea drinker and, like the Chinese, not enthused with Black tea. We planned to try just two, but ended up tasting four, including Golden Monkey, Keemun, Fujian Ancient Tree, and Gold Yunnan. The Golden Monkey had few tannins, which are typical of Assam’s and the taste I don’t like in a black tea. The Keemun also lacked strong tannins and had a slightly smokey taste. The Fujian Ancient Tree amazed us all, the taste was reminiscent of cocoa butter, or more specifically, Hershey’s Chocolate. This beautiful tea when dry is golden in color with long, twisted leaves, appearance is similar to the Yunnan Black teas.
Yunnan Gold Yunnan Gold produced a fine malty flavor with hints of sweetness. These Chinese black teas didn’t have any  apparent tannins, steeped multiple times and had no need for milk or sugar.

All of these teas and merchandise can be found in our Seattle store, 1911 45th Street. We host regular tea tastings on Sundays, if you are interested please stop by, call or email us.
We also sell all of our wonderful teas around the world. Please visit http://www.TeaHouseKuanYin.com to order!

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.