What an amazing day. We were invited to join Pauline, Mr. Yu, Mr. Chen and the Agriculture Director of East Mountain, where the original Bi Lo Chun is grown, Mr. Wu for a visit to the factory where the finest early spring Bi Lo Chun is produced.
This exceptional tea is completely hand processed from the first plucking to the final downy buds in the cup. I was honored to enjoy a cup of the rare first flush, so limited in supply that it is not available in the commercial market. Unlike many of the Bi Lo Chun teas that I have previously experienced this soft green tea has obvious fruit tones and a sweet, complex character, what a treat.
The factory owner and Mr. Yang, head of the East Mountain Farmer Cooperative, explained that the original and only certified Bi Lo Chun, one of China's 10 famous teas, is only produced in the East/West mountains. Most of the Bi Lo Chun teas, especially in the US, are copy's, not the real thing. Authentic Bi Lo Chun teas are certified, like a trademark, and are extremely expensive. Certified teas can not be sold randomly without an agreement with the cooperative, which is what the meeting is all about today, procuring the selling rights for certified Bi Lo Chun teas in the Shanghai market.
Mr. Yang went on to point out the many differences in the environmental conditions that add to the exceptional character of the tea. The East, West Mountains are surrounded by water and connected by only one bridge. The moist, humid conditions create the perfect atmosphere for growing tea. In addition the surrounding lake acts as a barrier, protecting the area from unfavorable conditions, man made or natural. Pauline suggested to me that this is a "clean tea" because of this barrier. The teas grow among various fruit trees giving them their naturally sweet, fruity character.
Special processing is precisely carried out by hand and is extremely labor intensive. We entered the factory to witness a long line of tea plucker's waiting to see if their teas would be selected for processing. Once selected the teas were collected by workers and the leaves and buds were striped, the best way I can describe it, ending up to appear as a single bud the size of the tip of a small pinky finger. It was amazing watching these workers so carefully, yet quickly prepare the teas for firing.
Although very expensive I was able to purchase some of the first flush teas we had cupped and am looking forward to sharing them with family and friends when I return home.
We had a great meal I will tell you about later, going to the Humble Administrators Garden in Suzhou, more photos later to.
Until next time, Beth