Chái Lín Jūn’s 2011 harvest

I finally managed to visit Chái Lín Jūn’s tea-farm just 2 days in of this years harvest.
Here an impression of, no, not the high quality tea they produce there, but of the rubbish that was deemed unfit and discarded during the sorting.

Although the tea trees have of course been planted and are cultivated there on the farm, they are allowed to grow almost as they would in the wild. No cutting for accelerated growth nor shaping for machine harvesting. It makes it a bit harder to pick the tea but that’s well worth it.

For larger versions of all images please click them.

Chái Lín Jūn does not machine harvest nor does he produce autumn tea. The reason for that is quality. Farmers who do produce and offer autumn teas here in China almost all use pesticides, even the so called organic ones. International tea importers are well aware of that and do test samples, but please don’t let me spoil your autumn greens should you like them, as at least on the international market they are fairly save to consume. Anyways, I personally tend to avoid them here.

Once the picking is done, usually in the early afternoon hours, the sorting starts immediately followed by shāqīng also known as kill-green.

For kill green and the first pre-shaping 2 machines are used, the rest of the process is done by hand. A wood fired air-oven is preheated.

The tea looks like this when it comes out the machine that helps squeezing the leaves a little and releasing the tea oils.

From there it goes onto the heated air to be hand-rolled with distinct movements.

I grabbed a handful almost finished tea and took this shot so you can compare and see how it started to curl up, changed its color and the little white hair started to show.

A few minutes later I enjoyed the first glass and as you can see, the little white hair made it all the way in there. MMMmMMMM, so delicious.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlzQvHrIWWg&rel=0&w=480&h=385]

All tea made pre-qingming (before the 5th) is rather pricey and not much of it is available as Chái Lín Jūn’s farm is not industrial scale….

….however, if someone really really wants to have some of this fine pre-qingming green in their cups email me (as long as it is for personal use in a reasonable limited amount) or check the menu on the right hand side for varieties picked a bit later.

How Bi Luo Chun tea is made

As promised in my last post when I wrote about Bi Luo Chun tea, this time I will write a bit about how that tea is actually made. The tea leaves are plucked in the early morning hours each spring starting from the beginning of March. The earlier in spring the tea is picked the higher its quality. The harvests grade lowers gradually throughout spring as the tea buds get bigger. Only the terminal bud with an adjacent leaf is being picked and usually less than 2cm in size.

Bi Luo Chun is hand sorted and anything that is not a young tea bud with a slightly opened leave is being removed.

One kilogram of very high grade Bi Luo Chun can consist of  up to 15,000 tea shoots.

Once the sorting process for the day is finished the roasting process is being done the same evening. The roasting starts at a high temperature of about 200°C (390°F) to stop the fermentation process. This step is called  kill-green or shāqīng (殺青). The heat deactivates the enzymes which would otherwise change the teas flavour. The longer the leaves are allowed to oxidize the darker they get until eventually it would become black tea. Our Bi Luo Chun of course is not allowed to ferment that long and gets in the wok right away. It only takes about 3-5 minutes.

In the next half hour step the leaves get their distinctive shape. Bi Luo Chun making requires some practice to master the technique and so there are even competitions for it, as you can see in the picture. The wok temperature is now only at about 70°C (160°F) and the moisture in the leaves is reduced to around 30%.

Over the next 15minutes at 50°C (120°F) the moisture reduces further to below 20%, the tea leaves spiral up and lump together and the little white hair starts to show.

In the last step, at only about human body temperature, the drying is completed and the colour of the tea has changed quite significantly. It looks rather gray and hairy by now, but only until you use it. Once in contact with hot water the leaves will unfold, brighten up and develop an amazing fragrance.

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Tea recommendation: Bi Luo Chun

The name Bi Luo Chun was given by Emperor Kangxi and means “Green Snail Spring”. Of course this is a purely descriptive term for the spiral form of the tea which resembles cooked snail meat. This variety is often described as smooth and fresh tasting with a sweet aftertaste. Unusual for green tea, it has a floral aroma and fruity flavor. In several plantations the tea bushes are grown between fruit trees which enrich the Bi Luo Chun tea with its floral and fruity note. The fruit trees also shield the tea plants from sunlight and elements, keeping the bushes small and its leaves tender. It is an ideal tea to be brewed in a zisha clay teapot.
Good quality Bi Luo Chun has downy white hair and is sorted and roasted the same day it is picked. Young tea leaves are naturally covered by little hair which will show if handled with care during the tea making process. The better grade Bi Luo Chun tea you have the lower the brewing temperature you start with. Normally around 80-85°C (thats 175-185°F) increasing the temperature each time you brew. It can be brewed several times from the same leaves and similar to oolong teas it improves with reuse. It is common to brew the same leaves three to five times, the third or fourth steeping usually being the best. Bi Luo Chun is regarded very highly by Chinese tea connoisseurs. Zhen Jun who lived in the late 19th century, author of tea encyclopedia Cha Shuo, ranked it first among Chinese green tea, before Longjing tea and Liuan Gua Pian. The best Bi Luo Chun is cultivated in Jiangsu province on Dong Shan (East Mountain) near Dong Ting, about 20km south-west of Yixing. Similar tea is also grown in Zhejiang and Sichuan provinces but hey differ in taste (more nutty than fruity) and are generally of lower quality. If you use a zisha clay teapot to brew a fine tea like this it is best to only use the pot for one kind of tea as it is porous and ‘remembers’ the flavor. If you are interested in purchasing authentic Bi Luo Chun tea have a look on the right hand menu under shopping. In one of my next posts I might write some more about the roasting process and how a tea like Bi Luo Chun is made.

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Yixing is truly the chinese pottery capital

To get a few impressions have a look at this video. I hope you enjoy it.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITnZ1fbTKFM&rel=0&w=480&h=385]
For all of you who can’t visit this beautiful city and its famous pottery market
you can find some interesting links on the right hand side.

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