Spring is a time to enjoy the natural freshness of a new season and the perfect time to sip a fresh cup of tea. The emerald spring spiral, better known as Biluochun tea, is budding throughout the East Hill Mountain area in Dongshan County within the Taihu Lake region of Suzhou, China. As the tea picking season has just begun, locals and visitors are encouraged to assist with the plucking, signaling the beginning of the Biluochun Tea Culture and Tourism Festival.
Travelers who want to join in on the tea picking process can visit a number of tea plantations within the Taihu Lake region and experience the entire process from bud to glass. A popular destination is Rain Flower Resort (Rain Flower Scenic Region, Dongshan Town, Wuzhong District, Suzhou City) which offers a program for approximately US$30 that includes an entrance fee, tea picking, tea roasting, and a presentation of Biluochun tea. Visitors wishing to attend the Biluochun Tea Culture and Tourism Festival can partake in the celebration of the harvest, watch folk art performances, and munch on traditional treats.
Biluochun literally translates to “Green Snail Spring,” getting its name from its green color and its snail look. It has been popular since the Ming Dynasty and has a history of more than 1,000 years. Biluochun is one of the most famous green teas in China and one of the top 10 Chinese teas. The tea quality is divided into seven levels, with the first level, Supreme I, representing the best quality because it contains the smallest Biluochun leaves, and known for its five outstanding characteristics: unique spiral shape, rich floral aroma, sweet fruity taste, showy white hairs, and early cropping. Its impeccable taste and smell is derived from the ideal mountain soil and fruit trees that grow within the plantation. The green tea, touted for its healing powers, has such a gentle, sweet taste that the tea leaves can actually be eaten after infusion.
Biluochun’s exclusiveness comes from the hand-picking harvest method and hands-on process used to prepare the leaves. While most green teas use three parts of the tea plant when harvested — the bud and the two leaves that follow — Biluochun only uses two parts of the leaf — the bud and the first leaf. This makes this tea very precious and limits production as more tea leaves are needed to harvest and brew a single cup. The top parts of the tea plant, the bud and the first leaf, are considered the “freshest” parts of the plant and produce a more desirable and delicate tea. After the leaves are hand-picked, the leaves are thrown into a large heated wok-shaped pan. Then, the pan is heated to 120°C (248°F) and the tea leaves are roasted to remove any moisture, mixed by hand for approximately 45 minutes. Once roasted and cooled, approximately 4 kg (8.8 lbs) of fresh tea will equal 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of drinking tea.
The traditional method of brewing Biluochun tea is a detailed three-step process, with a quick guide as follows:
- Preheat the glass by filling it halfway with water that has been boiled to a temperature of 80°C (176°F). Tilt the cup slightly so that the water creeps up the side, and then rotate it so the inside gets wet on all sides. Then, pour the water out.
- Refill the glass with hot water until it is approximately 80 to 90% full, and then add one to two teaspoons of Biluochun leaves. The leaves will sink to the bottom, leaving the tiny white hairs at the top. Let the tea steep for one to two minutes, and then enjoy.
- As the tea is finished, refill the glass with hot water at the same temperature as before, and let it steep for three minutes each time. Three to five infusions can be enjoyed from each serving of leaves. With each additional brew, the leaves will open up further, slightly changing the taste.