Green teas are manufactured in different leaf shapes; flat (Long Jing), large and open (Lu'an Gua Pian), straight and slender (Anji Bai Cha) as well as crimped into a curly shape like the teas we are going to taste today.
Biluochun and Ganlu have more than just the shape in common. They are both ancient teas produced with tiny, downy buds. The original Biluochun comes from the Dongting Mountain near the gorgeous Taihu lake, in the Jiangsu province. 2000 km to the west, not far from Tibet, similar fuzzy buds are used in the production of Ganlu.
The curly, almost spiral, shape is obtained either by hand or with the help of machine. The two Biluochun teas that we are going to drink today are artisanal teas fired by hand in the wok. Under the heat the leaves loose water and shrink, while wise hands give them the known twisted, curly shape.
Ganlu was produced in a small factory, using a swinging machine. The leaves are laid into narrow, curved cavities. The sidewards movement makes the leaves springing back and forth within the heated cavities.
It is not easy to recognize from the appearance of the leaves if they were dried by hand or by machine. The machine-fired leaves are less tightly twisted and usually less silvery, for most of the down remains in the machine. By looking at our teas, we can confirm that ganlu is more loosely twisted, but most of the leaves are still covered with small, white hairs; a sign of its high quality.
The difference between the two Biluochun is the harvest time. Qing Ming was produced during the Qing Ming festival, on the 5th of April, while Ming Qian was harvested even earlier, when the leaves are of the highest quality.
We decide to steep in a medium-size gaiwan and use only 1.5 grams of leaves. Biluochun is notoriously difficult to be prepared in the traditional Chinese way; if not carefully brewed it may result excessively astringent.
The coiled, dusty leaves unfolds into tiny, bright buds. In each gaiwan there are tens of leaves, maybe hundred. We cannot help thinking at the tireless pickers that so carefully removed the little leaves, one by one, from the tea bushes.
We heat up gaiwans and cups with hot water and proceed with the first brew. We use water at 80°C and steep for 60 seconds.
The liquor of the biluochun is a golden with brownish shades. Ganlu is pale green and very clear. Also the dry leaves of ganlu were brighter.
The biluochun teas share a common corn taste, with hints of dry fruit. We recognize also a honey-like texture in Ming Qian. Overall, the taste is light. Ganlu feels fresher and more intense. Clearly sweet, but still rather light.
For the second infusion we use less water (90ml instead of 100ml), slightly higher water temperature (82°C) and longer steeping time (1'15). Now the biluochun are both deeper, clearly fruity and slightly grassy; little astringency in the aftertaste. Ganlu is fresh, sweet and thick like dew. We love the tickling sensation on the tip of the tongue; addictive!
For the third infusion we steep the leaves two minutes long. The taste is consistent with the second brew, just less vivid.
Despite the similar appearance, Biluochun and Ganlu have quite different taste profiles. Biluochun is more indicated to those looking for a classical green tea, warm and fruity. On the contrary, Ganlu is rather fresh and sweet; fuller in mouth than Biluochun.