“No, really. What are we doing?” whispers a young tea picker.
Dawn breaks. It is the hazy white light of an early spring morning, shining over a tea plantation in the Anhui province of China. The air is vibrant, green, full of life. The fields of tea bushes look wild with the neon green flush of new budsets, waiting to be picked. The tea master appraises the expectant flock of talented tea pickers and repeats the day’s orders.
“Today, we are capturing leaf for Liu An Gua Pian. This means we are NOT taking the typical budset – the top two leaves and bud of the new spring growth. We are instead plucking ONLY the first true leaf just beyond the bud. That leaf, the one most full of energy, most full of the bush’s life and flavor rushing to greet the new year…that is the leaf that must land in our baskets.”
“Are you kidding me?”
No Really, Tea Pickers of Liu An Gua Pian Are Practically Snipers
Yes, the story above is a work of idealized fiction based on real practices…but, seriously, can you imagine that? A single leaf that has to be identified, one by one, and plucked in a specific way so as not to damage it or the plant?
This is among one of the most labor-intensive to gather. Suddenly it makes perfect sense as to why an Emperor would taste this tea, cherish its perfect gentle mouthfeel and lush, bright vegetal notes, and then treasure it for centuries as one of the exclusive Ten Teas only he can enjoy. It’s an exquisite luxury for an exquisite role.
Named after the melon seed (guapian in Chinese) due to the leaf’s similar oval shape, Liu An Gua Pian has been culturally associated with luck and fertility.This could be due to the melon plant’s prolific nature, but the fact that it so perfectly captures spring’s energy in the cup probably helps, too.
Curious to try some? If you enjoy smooth, vivacious green teas with a round body and fresh nose – this tea may be a joy to you. It is for me!
Honor the Sniper, Pamper the Tea – The Rewards Are Yours
Knowing how hard an artisan worked to gather, manufacture and present this tea to us, I try my best to treat it like the treasure it is and do it “right”.
For a stellar cup of Liu an Gua Pian, coax the leaf’s best flavor out with these rules:
- Use cooler water. Like most green teas, you’ll need to use a cooler water temperature. Liu An Gua Pian should be steeped at 160-170 degrees. I personally don’t carry a thermometer wherever I go, so I judge by taste. If the water doesn’t scorch the soft tissues of my mouth and is a fairly pleasant temperature to drink, then it shouldn’t scorch my delicate tea leaves, either. Tip: If you drink tea at work and are getting tea water from a one-temperature machine, draw the water and wait 3-5 minutes for the water to cool sufficiently.
- Try short steeps. The Asian method of making several infusions in a small teapot called a Gaiwan has a lot to say for it. As a tea leaf unfolds it releases many variations in flavor, therefore multiple short steeps allow you to get a greater sense of that dynamic. I recommend two or three 2 minute steeps with this tea, or 3 minute steeps if you’re using your leaves less.
Are you familiar with this delicate, well-loved and prized green tea? Tell us why you like it in the comments!