There are ten teas grown and produced in China that are considered the best — their top ten. Liu An Gua Pian is one of them. A green tea of high regard. One of its most important distinctions is that the leaves are baked, not pan-fried like teas such as Long Jing (Dragonwell).
|This tea puts on quite a show, so get out that glass teapot or cup.|
Here’s one of those tea names full of information. “Liu An” is the name of the city where this tea is produced. (The best Liu An Gua Pian is from the Qiyun mountain in Jinzai county, which is governed by Liu An city.) “Gua Pian” is shortened from the original name of “Gua Zi Pian” (sunflower seed) and as such is usually misinterpreted in a literal fashion as “melon piece” (Chinese languages have a lot of imagery to them), but the original name actual referred to the shape of the dried leaves, which is like a sunflower seed, a popular snack in tea houses.
Speaking of those leaves, they are all plucked full, not as buds. In fact, there are no stems or buds in this tea. Pluckers are careful to pluck one bud with two leaves, but then the buds and very tender leaves are removed (a tedious process done by hand, as is the rest of the processing) and sometimes used to make another famous tea, Emerald Eyebrow. Only the first, second and third tea leaves are used.
The processing steps:
- Sheng Guo (生锅) which kills the enzyme in a wok
- Shu Guo（熟锅) which makes the shape in another wok
- Mao Huo (毛火) which dries the tea by baking it above the charcoal
- Xiao Huo (小火) which bakes the tea again above the charcoal with slow fire
- Lao Huo (老火) which is the most important step, requiring two people to carry the basket containing tea up and down over high temperature charcoal at least 60 times and then trim the tea shape to improve its extremely fresh flavor and aroma
When this is all done, the tea is sorted, winnowed to remove broken tea leaf pieces, and then graded. The raw leaves have a toasted smell, which is a sign of a processing job well done. (A fresh smell indicates that the baking was not done properly.)
The finished Gua Pian tea has a strong aroma and a refreshing and sweet aftertaste, a rarity among green teas. This super clean freshness, plus the special floral aroma, beautiful initial sweetness, total lack of bitterness, and long-lingering sweetness make it a great Summer tea.
This tea can be difficult to obtain even in China, but we have it here. Try either the 2010 version or the 2011 version. Each is sure to please. Steep in a glass cup or teapot to get that visual show of the tight stick-shaped leaves unfolding.