I walk alone, in the University Park behind our house. The tall trees are a green cathedral, its vaulted ceiling filled with song from a hidden choir of birds. The warm, humid air is heavy with the incense of cut grass and cow parsley. Where the sun penetrates the dense canopy of branches, yellow butterflies cross the sunbeams. Everywhere, stirred by the breeze, a congregation of drifting cotton-cloud seeds. I whisper a prayer of thanks in this, His eternal Church.
This verdant little tea fits well with my mood, after my walk. A sample from TeaCuppa, this is listed as "Premium Organic", apparently from the Dongting region itself, near Taihu [Lake Tai]. Biluochun always reminds me of a beautiful painting of Taihu filling an entire wall of an old Chinese restaurant that Xiaomao and I used to enjoy when in Manchester.
The parents of a friend gave us a beautiful biluochun (bought from their home in Suzhou), which has always been the standard against all other of that type are compared. This is a tough standard, as it was a truly beautiful tea. Will this 2007 organic leaf reach those heady heights?
Caledonian Spring @ 70-80C in 9cl gaiwan; ~3-5g; 1 rinse
Observe for yourself. This is one of those teas that stopped the clocks and held my gaze with its very real beauty. It is pretty, even for biluochun, one of the most visually appealing teas to my taste. It is a mixture of whole, rich green twists and pure silver whole tips. It is a green-and-white treat.
My first indication that something might be amiss is the aroma of the leaves: it is not just smoke, but very distinctly the acrid smoke of cigarettes. Neither Xiaomao or I smoke, but we are intimately familiar with the aroma, and this is it. Is it the chahe? I removed some more leaves from the bag, placing them in the palm of my hand. Still I sense smoke. It is vegetal, and definitely part of the leaf-scent, but clearly smoke.
My heart still filled with hopes for this beautiful leaf, I introduce the leaf to the damp depths of the cleaned gaiwan, hoping for the signature biluochun aroma ("barbecued corn", as Xiaomao puts it), but there is none. I feel myself raise an eyebrow.
10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30s:
Something is most definitely amiss. The colour is that of lime cordial: a light jade. Where is the definition in the colour? What does this bode for the character of the tea? Suspicions are further aroused with an absence of beidixiang, though a lovely candy lengxiang quickly arrives. The lack of patience in the aroma could suggest similar in the flavour.
Courtesy of the tip-fur, it is a smooth brew, feeling very fine on the lips and tongue. The fore-flavour is the unmistakable fishiness of sencha. I raise my eyebrow once more. A note of smokiness, as noted in the dry leaves. The flavour is rapid in its progress to the throat, as if fleeing, ending in a gentle sweetcorn taste intertwined with that rather unwelcome fishy guest.
Amusingly, the lid-scent is that tell-tale scent of Chinese supermarkets the world over: the durian fruit - heavy and deadly, to those that know it.
Plenty of tips, but the mixture grade of basis leaves is larger and torn at the edges - is it machine picked? The leaves lack colour, being very pale.
A leaf that promised much, but ultimately did not reach my tough standards for biluochun. It appears truly beautiful, and yet carries neither the complexity of aroma nor the appealing progression of flavour that I have come to love in biluochun. I could not tell if this were biluochun were I drinking it "blind". It could be the mixture grade of larger, torn leaf that is letting this tea down, giving it a smokiness and fishiness where one would hope for signature biluochun. I praise the organic farming standards employed for this, but the result is not to my liking.
Concerned that my conclusions might be the result of chance, and eager to give this tea a fair showing, I spent a second session with this in my office, and reached a similar outcome.
Revisiting the 1960s Gaoligongshan shengpu, I have added further notes to the end of the review.
Following the original tasting, TeaCuppa were kind enough to send a second sample, this time sealed in an air-tight foil bag [many thanks].
The tea looks very similar, being larger-leaf than one might expect from a biluochun, but this time smells pungently of rich maofeng (much like another TeaCuppa tea, the 2005 Banzhang Maocha).
Brita-filtered water @ 75C in 9cl gaiwan; ~5g leaf; 1 rinse
7s, 12s, 18s, 30s+:
The soup is pale throughout. Initial infusions taste specifically of the rich, grape-like maofeng character that we noted in the aroma.
Lei passes through on her way to her laboratory, and quickly grabs a cup in passing: "This doesn't taste much like biluochun!"
The final infusion sees a touch of the rich, almost "barbecued corn" that one might expect from biluochun, but it remains low.
The overall character is decent, if quite timid. I directly compared this with some of the top-grade biluochun Lei recently brought back from her hometown, and the difference is quite pronounced.