The picking of the tea is crucial for its flavor and oftentimes is one of the signature aspects giving that tea its profile. One prime example is Bi Luo Chun. In the past, Bi Luo Chun went by the name “Scary Fragrance”, or “Stop You in Your Tracks Fragrance”, but it is said that an empress tasted the tea and remarked that it was too beautiful for such a frightening name, thus she renamed it Bi Luo Chun, “Green Snail Spring”.
Bi Luo Chun uses only the smallest and most tender leaves. In the sorting process, farmers tediously sift through the picked leaves and remove any leaf that is too big–leaves that are a good size for other green teas such as Long Jing or Mao Feng are too big for Bi Luo Chun and are sorted out. Since Bi Luo Chun’s sorting, when done right, is the most selective, the finished tea should be very small. Often, I look at a Bi Luo Chun and immediately recognize that its large leaf is either fake or of very low quality. A good rule of thumb is, if the dry leaf cannot fit on the home button of your Iphone, it is no good.
Bi Luo Chun originates from Dong Ting Mountain, outside of Suzhou. On Dong Ting, the tea grown on the east mountain is more desirable than the tea grown on the west side. This is due to the fact the the west mountain faces a lake and the cold wind that comes off of the lake is bad for the plants. The picking for true Bi Luo Chun is very short usually falling between March 27 – April 3rd.
After the tea is picked and withered, it is panfried to kill green and to dry the tea. For the kill green step, the wok is heated to 250 degrees fahrenheit. The tea maker establishes a rolling motion to panfry the tea, giving Bi Luo Chun its spiral shape. The spiral shape is very small and will give the tea a spherical look. Rolling it into this shape not only makes the tea very visually pleasing but it also breaks the outer tea membrane and allows for more juices to come out. A good way to test the making quality of Bi Luo Chun is to drop it into a glass of water. If the tea is well made, the spiral shape will cause the leaves to drop to the bottom of the glass right away. If the leaves drop slowly, or not at all, it is a sign that the leaf does not have a good shape and was not made well.
Bi Luo Chun is strong but refreshing. Since it is a stir fried green tea, it has a fresh, astringent taste. It can be bitter, but the bitterness is more a characteristic bitterness than a flaw (It is good to learn the difference). Other notes in Bi Luo Chun are floral-ness, nuttiness, with a little toasted rice.