Bi Lo Chun is another ancient tea. This one is grown in China’s Jiangsu province and is one of the northern most grown teas. Once enjoyed by emperors, and today more well known than other Chinese green varieties, it is still harvested only once or twice a year in small quantities.
As with many other rare teas, Harney & Sons has come to the rescue. The leaves are small, squiggly pieces, that have been tightly spiraled. Coated in a heavy layer of fuzzy down, the dried leaves have almost a blue-grey hue. Once steeped, however, the leaves turn this beautiful sandy-green and unroll into the most precious tiny leaf sets, no more than an inch long. I highly encourage you to pick up one and hold it on the tip of your finger for examination and appreciation of the talent needed to make this tea.
Like most green teas, you’ll wish to steep this tea for two to three minuets at 175 degrees.
The resulting liquor is a golden green that meets a dark pale yellow, with an almost orange tint.
For the aroma of the wet, steeped leaves, I first need to remind you that I am a southern woman. I was born in the Atlanta area and have lived here my entire life. There are some things that do not exist anywhere else on this planet; they are just southern.
When my tasting partner Lori, another born and bred southern woman, and I smelled these leaves we agreed that there was an aroma of cooked butter beans and black eyed peas (two very southern foods). Then as the leaves began to cool a bit, we hit on the primary scent; one that made both of our mouths water (and we may or may not have accused the other of hogging the shared gaiwan). The aroma, you ask? Hot. Boiled. Peanuts.
If you have not experienced a hot boiled peanut, bless your heart, you’ve missed out on life. As incomprehensible as it is for me to believe, hot boiled peanuts are not for everyone. Like my New York born husband. Try as he might (and he only tried once, bless him), my man cannot appreciate (or stomach) this southern delicacy. Meanwhile, I think about these peanuts at least once a week.
Now, if you have tried the boiled peanut and you didn’t care for it, don’t fret none, as we say in the south. This thin bodied, lightly astringent liquor tastes nothing like a hot boiled peanut (much to mine and Lori’s disappointment). Nor does it taste like hot boiled peanut juice (also to our disappointment).
I found the flavor to be similar to that of asparagus. Lori thought it needed salt and was bitter on the finish. Though initially one may find adding salt to one’s tea to be an odd request, it really isn’t all that odd. In Okakura Kakuzō’s famous writing, The Book of Tea, he explores the origins of the Japanese tea ceremony and the preparation of the tea, which included salting the water. Remembering this gem of knowledge, I fetched Lori a wee bit of salt. She found the addition of salt made the brew a bit better for her palate.
Typically the aromas of steeped leaves give you a hint of what to expect when you take your first sip. Granted, they may not be identical flavors, but they at least get you in the ballpark. Never before have I tried a tea where the aroma was so vastly different than the flavor. My first cup really threw me for a loop; so much so I found it difficult to seek out other flavors.
Sometimes in life that happens. We plan and prepare and make many efforts in a particular direction all the while expecting a certain result. And if we don’t get the outcome we were anticipating, we find ourselves disappointed. Many of us, myself included, can spend valuable time that we will never recover, steeping ourselves in the disappointment. When we get stuck in this rut of negativity and depression, not giving ourselves the gift of lifting our head and hearts above the muck and mire, we steal away our chance of getting to taste other flavors of life. Flavors that, though not expected or anticipated at this time of life, can be tasty in their own way.
Anticipating the unexpected helped me to enjoy and appreciate my second cup of Bi Lo Chun all the more.