Que She / Zhu Ye Qing (Bamboo Tips) is a very special tea and we are thrilled to have such a wonderful version of it this year. For 2021 we are particularly excited to offer a style of this ‘leaf’ that we haven’t seen in many years. At Tea Trekker we are very fond of tea from Sichuan Province, and this is one of our favorite Pre-Qing Ming green teas. It is also one of the earliest teas plucked in all of China at the beginning of each new tea year. Due to the terroir of the Sichuan Basin, the environment warms early and the earth is very fertile. Also the sunshine is tempered by the almost-constant fog that hugs the Basin, providing a perfect amount of ‘Clouds & Mist‘, the precipitation phenomenon that tea bushes love.
Que She / Zhu Ye Qing is a gorgeous tea. Look carefully at this smooth, slightly curved bud, some with tiny side leaves – it is a marvel of tea plucking expertise and careful manufacture. A very proficient tea picker will only be able to pluck about a kilo and a half per day, and that means they can carry it in a colorful small silk sack rather than a heavy, lopsided tea basket! Manufacture is also challenging because the buds have a very high moisture content that needs to be reduced fairly soon after harvest, and the buds are quite easy to scorch, under-dry, or over-dry. This type of carefully-rendered, hand-crafted tea is becoming rare in ‘go-go-go’ China today. It is easy to see why this tea has so many nicknames: ‘Sparrow’s Tongue’, ‘Bird’s Beak’, ‘Bird Tongue’, ‘Sword Leaf’, are just a few of the monikers that this beautiful and delicious tea has been given over the decades.
Our offering this year is a slightly larger pluck than we have offered for a decade or more. We have been wanting to source this micro-lot of the harvest, because it is what we first tasted and learned about regarding leaf from these small gardens in the early 2000’s when we were on our initial visit to this special tea-growing region of Sichuan Province. Today it is extremely difficult to obtain this particular size pluck, as the window for obtaining it is small (2-3 days) and the demand is incredibly high.
2021 is an excellent year for this tea, taste-wise, due to the slightly earlier start to the season (compared to the last several years) so if you are not familiar with this amazing tea, this could be a great year to ‘discover’ Que She / Zhu Ye Qing (or re-discover it!). In 2019 we had two different lots of this tea during the season, and they were both of the style that is predominate in terms of exported Que She / Zhu Ye Qing: extremely slender buds that rehydrate quickly and whose flavor can often ‘bolt’, showing more astringency than desired. While still of the classic shape, Tea Trekker’s 2020 sourcing was plumper, and responded to proper steeping with much more pleasant and reliable results. This year’s (2021) harvest is in this style (which we prefer). In terms of overall taste, Bamboo Tips tea offerings are always similar, but the visual profile can vary considerably and the nuance of flavor can be shockingly dissimilar.
In the cup, the liquor has a sweet / mildly astringent flavor reminiscent of spring’s delicate, fresh bamboo shoots and asparagus. These qualities, coupled with the vibrant vegetal aroma and freshness of its early plucking time, gives the tea backbone and structure, like a fine Riesling or old-school Sauvignon Blanc bottling would have. The taste of the tea flirts with the palate and is a sheer delight. Our 2021 harvest, being of this larger, more plump style, has more depth of flavor (maturity of the leaf prior to being plucked) and is much less apt to show any astringency, which in many years and sub-seasons can be quite annoying.
We are very fond of the sweetness and fresh taste that our Bamboo Tips show, but not a big fan of the tendency to bitterness that so often is a negative aspect of this tea in general. So imagine our joy last year when we discovered that one of our trusted sources was able to source and offer this special version of one of our favorite and memorable teas to us for the first time.
This year (2021) Tea Trekker’s Que She / Zhu Ye Qing can be steeped light (both in quantity of leaf used and/or time-in-the-water) in which case the liquid tea will have a subtle but wonderfully pure flavor. If you prefer more of the vegetal flavor for which this tea may be known (depending on which style you have had before) then use the traditional amount as noted in our Steeping Instructions, and steep for the classic two minutes to achieve an incredible cup of Que She / Zhu Ye Qing. Being a pluck of just the buds, this tea is particularly sensitive to both the temperature and the length of time used for steeping it. It takes a bit of patience and experimentation every year (actually every batch) to confirm the exact technique that is appropriate in order to bring out the absolute best in each micro lot of this tea. It is well worth the effort, though, as this is one of China’s true tea gifts to the world, and a tea that should be checked off of every tea enthusiast’s life list. Follow our recommendations in the Steeping Instructions and modify those to your taste as you become familiar with it, and off you go…
Que She / Zhu Ye Qing is a modern-era tea but it is already a classic. Bamboo Tips is the most famous of the teas made on Emei Shan, which is one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains. Here, tea grows in the cool, thin air of high elevation and is surrounded by vast expanses of bamboo forest. In these forests, nourishing moisture (known as clouds & mist) develops and rises up from the valley in the early morning and evening hours. Being in the southwest quadrant of the Sichuan Basin, this area is famous for being among the first places that tea was cultivated (Emei Shan) and also for having a spectacularly tea-friendly environment. Incredibly dedicated monks and tea scholars have been striving for decades to show this region’s terroir through the unique teas that thrive here.
When we visited this remote tea growing area on one of our early tea-sourcing trips we rode a cable car from the top of the mountain down through a pristine bamboo forest. The silence of the forest was serene, punctuated only by bird songs, insect calls, and the gentle sound of the movement of giant bamboo. The scenery here is stunning and the forest is a study in the graceful movement of many species of giant bamboo growing in the wild.
At our destination we were treated to a lunch in which every dish contained bamboo, either as a main ingredient or important flavor component. We were served the style of Que She / Zhu Ye Qing (Bamboo Tips) that we now have this year, as an after-dinner tea, and it was the perfect finish to such a grand meal. With its sweet, rich flavor that is so reminiscent of freshly-harvested bamboo shoot, and being from the same location, the terroir aspect of this combination really shined.
This mid-day adventure remains as one of our fondest memories of China.