It's my distinct pleasure to introduce the second-to-last of our new Chinese green teas--Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun (also transliterated Pi Lo Chun). This tea is one of my very favorite Chinese greens, and it's the tea that incited my interest and eventual passion for the world of tea--one sip and I was hooked! Bi Luo Chun means "Green Snail Spring," and Dong Ting is the mountain and surrounding region in Jiang Su province where it is produced. Among most "China 10 Famous Tea" lists, Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun is second in popularity only to Xi Hu Dragonwell. Like Dragonwell, Bi Luo Chun originated in a specific geographic area but became so popular that producers throughout China (and even Taiwan) now produce teas in the same style and call them Bi Luo Chun. Just like Xi Hu Dragonwell, though, the Bi Luo Chun from Dong Ting has special flavors and characteristics that simply can't be replicated outside the traditional growing area. I've been on the hunt for a Bi Luo Chun that represents the true Dong Ting characteristics for a while now, and hadn't been successful until I came upon this prime, outstanding example. I've had many nice Bi Luo Chuns that resemble the Dong Ting variety in appearance (tightly-curled buds covered in fluffy white down), but when it comes to flavor they usually end up tasting more generic--fresh, slightly fruity, and delicate, but lacking in the completely unique green tea flavor found in Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun. It brings me great pleasure to offer our customers this great Bi Luo Chun; though this tea is extremely famous in China, its popularity is much less in the West, and it's uncommon to find a Bi Luo Chun in the West that actually exhibits the characteristics that have made this tea so famous in China.
Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun is best photographed up-close--enlarge the above picture to really appreciate the tiny, delicate buds that make up this tea and the fine white down that covers them. Plucking for this Ming Qian tea is an incredibly intricate process, and
after meticulous sorting, the leaf profile is a flawless selection of tiny (around half the size of the buds found in Dragonwell!) buds and leaves. During pan-firing, the leaves are hand-rolled repeatedly until they achieve their signature curled, downy appearance. One pound of finished Bi Luo Chun contains over 6,000 buds! The highest-quality Bi Luo Chun has a predominately dark appearance--grades that feature an overwhelmingly white, fluffy appearance generally aren't as good, though they do play upon some consumers' belief that more down equals higher quality.
Tasting this tea was a real pleasure--the flavor is almost completely unlike any other Chinese green tea, and the leaves' transformation after contact with water is pretty dramatic as well. Once they're wet, the leaves spring back to their original bud-leaf form and take on a vibrant green hue. Gong fu brewing is ideal for Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun, because the tender leaves are particularly delicate and can be shocked by very hot water. Some sources suggest dropping the leaves into the water, rather than vice versa. I'm not sure why this is--if forced to guess, I'd say it's because the leaves are rather dense and they usually stay at the bottom of the brewing vessel (while most green teas have a tendency to float); dropping the leaves into the water might make for more even brewing and easier expansion. In my experience, though, it doesn't make much of a difference in flavor.
The first infusion produced an ethereal, medium-bodied cup. The first thing you'll likely notice about Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun is its rich, creamy, slightly fruity flavor. This flavor was elegantly present in the first infusion and tasted invigoratingly fresh. In the second infusion, this characteristic became even fuller, making for a luxuriously rich mouthfeel and hearty polish. The fruity notes became more prominent and the liquor's appearance became very cloudy (another trademark characteristic of Bi Luo Chun) from the down on the buds. The third infusion revealed more change in flavor and the richness took on a slightly woody, soothing characteristic. By the fourth infusion, the leaves' richness tapered and what remained was a smooth, refreshing green flavor with a lingering peach-like aftertaste. It would be reasonable to expect up to five or six good infusions from this tea.
Competition infusion was a bit surprising; hotter water and a longer steeping time didn't make the tea nearly as bitter or astringent as I expected (considering some of my past "mis-brewing" experiences with Bi Luo Chun). Still, though, competition infusion produced a much less delicate or enjoyable liquor, and the the richness that came across in layered stages during gong fu brewing was more of an all-at-once flavor explosion.
Overall, this Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun is a must-try because its flavor profile is completely different from most Chinese greens, which often share very similar general characteristics. It's also a must-try for anyone who has tried other, lower-grade, "High Mountain," or other non-Dong Ting Bi Luo Chuns; it's another experience entirely! This final close-up is a fantastic reminder of what a startling change the leaves go through as they are infused.