Liu An Melon Seed, or Liu An Gua Pian, has been a famous Chinese tea since the Tang Dynasty--Lu Yu mentioned it in his famous tea classic, the Cha Jing. Since that time, it became an imperial tribute tea during the Ming dynasty and remains one of the highest quality green teas from Anhui province, especially in the county of its origin--Liu An.
Liu An Melon Seed is an atypical premium Chinese green because only full leaves are used to make it--no buds, which are usually a must for top-notch and famous Chinese greens. Because of this, its certainly unique for its flavor, dark, striped appearance, and unique characteristics. We'll soon be receiving a Special grade Liu An Melon Seed, and my tasting notes follow.
We cupped this tea along side a much more expensive, award winning Top grade from the same producer, and it performed remarkably well. Using two different brewing parameters--competition and gong fu--gave a good impression of this tea's lovely, unique characteristics and overall potential. Brewed gong fu style (3.5 grams of leaf) in a gaiwan at 170º, the first (20 sec) infusion was really lovely--as the leaves started to open up, the flavor was a combination of light, ethereal floral notes and Liu An Gua Pian's trademark nuttiness, which tends to be slightly fuller than the chestnut notes many Dragonwell drinkers are used to. There's an excellent balance between the floral/nutty flavor that shows this as a well-made Melon Seed--not too nutty or dark, as is often the case--and an approachable, rounded sweetness that will make this a favorite green tea for drinkers who don't like overly-vegetal Chinese greens.
In the second and third infusions, the liquor darkened a bit, became fuller-bodied, and the tea's potent sweet aftertaste was released in delicious full force! By the third infusion, the leaves gave up a noticeable but comfortable astringent mouthfeel. Not too drying, and totally expected--a bit of astringency is part of the territory when you brew Chinese greens multiple times, as long as the tea's flavor holds steady and there's no bitterness, which was the case here! This Melon Seed went up to five infusions (really good for green tea which, by virtue of its processing, doesn't last as long as oolong or pu-erh) with solid flavor, and perhaps a bit of a diminishing showing on the floral side. Once the astringency showed itself in the third infusion, it actually didn't increase at all in later infusions, which is a big bonus. As you can see in the picture, after a round of infusions, the big leaves expand to fill the gaiwan.
Competition style--consisting of one long steeping (6 minutes) with very hot water--yielded pretty good results. This is always a dicey way to cup green tea, since hot water and extended steeping makes for bitter green tea, but the idea is that stressing the tea shows all of its characteristics (good and bad) at once. The competition brew gave a dark liquor, bitterness, and a relatively low amount of astringency. After swallowing, though, the bitterness gave way to undertones of the sweetness that runs deeply in these leaves. Most importantly, there weren't any bad or off flavors (I've had a few swampy Liu An Melon Seeds before, in all honesty). Compared to the Top grade, this Special performed very well--the higher grade was slightly subtler, lighter in the mouth, and had a more uniform leaf appearance with fewer broken leaves. With the price difference, which is considerable, the Special grade is a much better value with comparable quality. As you can see in this last picture, Liu An Melon Seed leaves are big--much like oolong leaves. This tea will be available at Miro Tea for cups and bulk purchase within the next two weeks (I'll be sure to post when they arrive!). If you're reading the blog from outside Seattle and are interested in our teas, I apologize that we don't have a fully up-and-running web sales website yet, but if you're interested in the teas or anything else mentioned on this blog, please let me know via comments, email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call the Miro store (206-782-6832), and we'll be happy to work out a shipment for you. Looking forward to sharing our next Chinese green tasting notes!