The Tiny and The Strong

Handmade Bi Luo Chun is Potent and Fragile

Very small and fluffy green tea leaves in a white dish on a woodent able next to a small flower bouquet.
Tiny fluffy leaves of Bi Luo Chun.

Let’s talk about small leaves, specifically those of Bi Luo Chun green tea and Qimen Caixia black tea.

Have you ever counted the tea leaves in your cup? Do that for Bi Luo Chun and you’ll find nearly 100 bud-and-leaf sprigs in a single gram. That’s 100 times someone (tea maker Lu Gengliang, his wife, their son, their apprentice, or their neighbors) plucked a tiny spring bud with a skillful snap.

The exceptionally small leaves of heirloom Bi Luo Chun requires one of the finest and most demanding plucking operations in the world, one done with precision in the dark, early-morning mist off Tai Lake.

Very small and fluffy green tea leaves in a white dish on a woodent able next to a small flower bouquet.
Over 100 tiny leaves from a single dry gram of this year’s fresh Bi Luo Chun green tea.

The intense work of plucking is among the most serious challenges to the survival of traditional teas globally. As economies change, hand-plucking operations will change to mechanization, unless we are willing to pay more to those who do this work. There are fewer and fewer origins, like Bi Luo Chun’s Jingtingzhen, that can command a high enough price for their tea to compensate for the enormous labor that goes into the careful plucking alone – and that’s to say nothing of the hand sorting and hand processing that follows it.

There are many teas called “Bi Luo Chun” on the market, but there are very few like the authentic Xishan Bi Luo Chun left. We feel privileged to be able to have this tea in our catalog, and doubly privileged to live at a time where it can be flown across an ocean just weeks after its harvest.

High overhead view of several tea pickers in straw hats among rows of tea bushes, perpendicular to a large bank of blooming pink trees, harvesting Bi Luo Chun green tea in the spring.
Skilled tea pickers harvesting Bi Luo Chun in the garden next to blossoming peach trees.

It’s tempting to think of old and famous teas like Bi Luo Chun as archaic fixtures, unchanging and uniform, while in fact they are outcomes of changing and complex systems, works of serendipity and circumstance, fragile, beautiful, and fleeting. Each year this tea exists is a rare moment. It’s one that begs for appreciation while we have it.

How does it taste? Fresh Bi Luo Chun is a mix of bright, cool, and sweet sensations, reminiscent of orchids, the delicate toast of roast chestnut, and hints of the tree fruits this tea was grown next to. While their flavor is delicate, the energetic perk of these tiny leaves hits surprisingly strong.

We selected Qimen Caixia as a natural pair with this tea, one also made with skillful hand-plucking of small-leaf heirloom plants, but in this case it’s a black tea.

Qimen is one of the few origins that’s long taken the risk of using their valuable early spring pluckings to make black tea. Until recently, black tea made with young spring buds and leaves like Sunrise Keemun was almost unheard of. The long-standing skill of black tea makers in Qimen is extraordinarily important. Even the most carefully plucked, perfectly grown tea won’t reach its potential without tea makers who know how to process it well.

As we raise our glasses of hundreds of leaves, we’ll do it with appreciation to the rare people and circumstances that got them here as they are. Cheers!

Several people sitting at tables with dry Qimen Caixia black tea leaves in front of them, sorting through them completely by hand.
Workers sorting stems and broken leaves out of Qimen Caixia by hand.