Guzhu Zisun (Purple Bamboo Shoot)

Green Tea 2021

Guzhu Zisun is grown in a natural bamboo forest and traditionally handmade, with a fresh clean flavor and lingering sweet aftertaste. The early spring buds and leaves have a faint purple blush when fresh. This was the first tribute tea 1200 years ago.

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Tea Origin
Changxing County, Huzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China

Tea Bush
Lao Chashu Quntizhong (Old Heirloom Tea Bush)

Tea Master
Pei Hongfeng

Harvest Time
Early April

Picking Standard
One bud, two leaves

Guzhu Zisun has a fresh and clean yet complex flavor that possesses light notes of macadamia nut with a wildflower aroma. Its sweetness is mild and soft and lingers in the mouth. Purple Bamboo Shoot’s name comes from the faint purple blush of color the early spring buds and leaves have when fresh.

A smiling older woman in an apron and carrying a woven basket for Guzhu Zisun green tea leaves, standing between tea bushes and some bamboo.
Tea master Pei Hongfeng harvesting Guzhu Zisun.

Guzhu Zisun (Purple Bamboo Shoot) green tea was the first tribute tea made for the emperor’s court 1,200 years ago. It is traditionally handmade by tea master Pei Hongfeng, who is now in her seventies and remains one of the rare few female tea masters in the world. She is highly respected as a master tea maker as well as a local community leader. Every spring, she helps support her community by hiring local women who cannot travel far for extra jobs or income to harvest the tea.

The heirloom cultivar tea bushes used to make this tea grow in the bamboo forest behind Pei Hongfeng’s house. The freshness from its natural growing environment is present in the tea.

Growing Guzhu Zisun in its natural habitat

A patch of sunlit Guzhu Zisun tea bushes underneath towering stalks of bamboo in Zhejiang Province.
Guzhu Zisun (Purple Bamboo Shoot) tea bushes growing in the natural environment of a bamboo forest in Zhejiang Province.

These Guzhu Zisun tea bushes grow largely unattended in the bamboo forest. They are not uniformly trimmed like in commercial tea gardens. They let the tea bushes be. They are surrounded by bamboo and native trees which house birds that eat the worms and bugs so they don’t have to use any pesticides. Falling bamboo leaves make for a natural fertilizer.

Faintly purple young leaves growing on the bush, the namesake of Purple Bamboo Shoot green tea.
Guzhu Zisun (Purple Bamboo Shoot) gets its name from the faint purple color the green tea leaves have while they are young in the spring.

Purple Bamboo Shoot is harvested by hand during the first week of April, about a week later than most high-end green teas. Tea pickers carry small baskets around their waist and must wear rain proof clothing because the wild tea bushes tend to have a lot of water on them. Harvesting the leaves from these natural bushes is not an easy task, as the bushes vary so much in size and shape. Some bushes are very large, making it very difficult to reach all the leaves.

Making a traditional green tea by hand

Three fresh pluckings of Guzhu Zisun held in someones fingers against their palm.
Fresh one bud, two leaf  pluckings of Guzhu Zisun.

The harvest happens in the morning, while the processing is done in the afternoon. The plucking standard for Purple Bamboo Shoot is one bud and two tender leaves with a short sprig. After picking, they let the green tea leaves wither for a couple hours to make them pliable enough for processing. Fresh leaves are very crisp and firm and would break if you fried them right away.

A woman holding a large round tray of green tea leaves while stoking charcoal in the bottom of a bamboo basket.
Ms. Pei checking the charcoal while holding the tea that will be roasted over it on its woven tray.

Both hands are used to fry this tea. The tea master will wear a glove on her right hand, and with her bare left hand she will check the temperature of the wok. This process is different from the techniques used to make other green teas like Bi Luo Chun or Longjing (Dragon Well); this tea must be gently fried to preserve the puffy shape of the leaves. Once fried, the tea is set out to cool down to room temperature, usually taking a couple of hours.

The tea is then roasted on top of bamboo drum holders above a charcoal pot to dry. They will stoke a charcoal fire first, then thickly cover it with with ashes so there is no charcoal smell. The temperature is kept very low and the windows and doors are kept open, so there will not be any charcoal aroma on the finished tea. The tea will be roasted slowly for at least 2-3 hours. This is to remove most of the remaining moisture so that the tea will remain shelf stable for longer. If you don’t dry it enough, the excess water will cause the tea to oxidize and go stale very quickly.

The long history of Purple Bamboo Shoot green tea in Zhejiang Province

The name “Guzhu” refers to the village name where the first tribute tea factory was established in 785 AD. The village is surrounded on three sides by mountains, but the east side is open, running down to Tai Lake. This allows fog to roll over the village where this tea grows. The water there is very pure and they still use this water to brew their tea. This tea was originally a shape very similar to the tea known as Green Bamboo, hence the name. Back 1,200 years ago they would pick only tea buds, which resemble bamboo shoots. The plucking standard changed to give it a much richer flavor and smooth sweetness due to the addition of a more mature leaf. Before the invention of loose leaf tea, this tea was steamed into cakes and then ground into a powder to drink like matcha. It was not until 1368 AD that tea was brewed using whole leaves.

Different dynasties’ emperors have their favorite teas, and the rulers of the Tang dynasty favored Purple Bamboo Shoot. Lu Yu, the famous tea master, was instrumental in promoting drinking green tea and tea culture during the Tang Dynasty (619-907 AD). In addition to writing the first book about tea, he built the first tribute tea factory for the emperor in Guzhu Mountain in Zhejiang Province in 846 AD. It was his belief that Guzhu Zisun was the very best tea, and it became established as a prestigious tribute tea for over a thousand years. Lu Yu mentions that the soil the tea grows in should have stones in it. Stones add minerals that help the tea taste better, as well as filtering water and helping the soil breathe.

When they would make this tea for the emperor each year, 30,000 people would be employed to make tea during early spring. There were a great number of tea gardens for work. There were at least 1,000 people who worked all year long to take care of the gardens, watch the factories, etc. A temple was built alongside the tribute tea factory, watched over by monks. Each year before the harvest, the local government would pray, eat vegetarian food for 5 days prior, and bathe vigorously to honor the tea. Chinese tradition holds that tea is a treasure from the gods, sent to earth to help people, and the first tea has always been considered the best.

The first tea of the season would be sent to the center of China, Xi An, the capital in the Tang Dynasty. The tea had to arrive before the Qing Ming Festival on April 5th, where Chinese show respect to their ancestors and the king of the sky, thanking him for allowing spring to come and asking him to bless the coming harvests. A silver bottle of water from Guzhu would be sent alongside the first tea by the horse express. Horses would be changed often to make sure the tea got to the emperor before April 5th. It was the emperor’s favorite and would be used to pray to his ancestors.

No chemical fertilizer, pesticide, or herbicide was used in the production of this tea. Click here to read more about our promise to fair trade and the environment.

Guzhu Zisun (Purple Bamboo Shoot) brewing guidelines

5 grams (2 Tb) tea

12 oz 85°C (185ºF) water

3 min. first infusion

At least 4 infusions: 3, 3, 5, 8 minutes