– Bi Lo Chun is a very famous and expensive green tea from Jiangsu Province, that looks like a tiny snail in silhouette. –
However, there are many other tea-growing regions of China that use the ‘bi lo chun’ nomenclature to express another tea’s overall appearance and to emphasis the small bud-size used to manufacture the tea. We reserve the use of the name Bi Lo Chun ( Green Snail Spring) for green tea made in Jiangsu Province. For other teas made with a bi lo chun-style appearance we always insert the word ‘style’ to avoid confusion and to suggest something that is in the spirit of the original but is not the original.
This spectacular Keemun Bi Lo Chun-style tea is leaf from the Qimen area that is manufactured into a black tea, and is made from a new cultivar that has only been in production since the turn of this century. Tea historians well know that the Qimen region and its gardens were originally recognized for and became famous because of their fabulous green teas. As with many tea-growing regions in China, over time black, white, and oolong teas have become both popular and economically important, so they have been added to the repertoire of teas in those areas in which they can be successfully manufactured. Once in a blue moon a region in China becomes foundational for the manufacture of a tea that is not the historical green tea of the place. Qimen is one such place. Black teas have been the important tea manufacture there for a long time, and there has been much experimentation tried with the cultivars used there, and subsequent improvement in the finished tea. Keemun Bi Lo Chun-style tea is one great example of this phenomenon, and we are fortunate to have it.
Our 2021 Keemun Bi Lo Chun-Style black tea is a very early-season, tiny leaf pluck of just the bud and either one or two leaves. It is elegant and small in size as is Keemun Hao Ya A, and equally concentrated in flavor, though quite different in style, being much ’rounder’ and softer, without the distinctive ‘raisin-y’ flavor that traditional Keemun black teas are known for expressing.
Redolent of the chocolate and cacao flavors that several premium eastern/coastal China Wu Yi black teas possess, this is an unusual flavor profile that has been incorporated into the normal Keemun ‘winey-ness’. So the result is a complex tea flavor of grape skins, chocolate, honey, a little biscuit, and malt. It is very smooth and not astringent.
Unlike most teas from Qimen, this tea also ages well, so if you can manage to keep some stored carefully for several years you will be pleasantly surprised. This aspect of the manufacture shows the strong influence of the further-eastern China element of the leaf, rather than the classic Keemun profile. Personally we hope to be able to put some of this tea aside every year for the future. The largest batch of this leaf that we have ever been able to source was from the 2015 harvest, which sold through in late 2017, and we did not source any of the 2018, because we weren’t all that impressed with the 2018 harvest and all the tea from 2015-2017 was already sold on the domestic market (a very recent change in demand). We snatched up as much of the 2019 harvest as we could, as it had much of the character and finesse of the 2015, and we thought that it would only get better for the next several years as it aged (and it has!). For those of you who were lucky enough to have (and now remember) the 2015, it was considerably more tippy, but tippy teas do not always age well.
Now we are fortunate to offer the new 2021 harvest, which, along with several other China and Himalaya teas, should be a ‘vintage’ year: very good to drink now in its dry, youthful phase; but also well-suited to resting & ageing for at least several more years of exciting enjoyment. We feel that the optimal period for this tea will be from autumn 2021 through to spring of 2023. This 2021 pluck is gorgeous and tastes exactly as we always hope for this tea. It has just the ‘right’ amount of tip, and is a beautiful, expert manufacture.
The aroma allows a sneak preview of its flavor characteristics, but it is really drinking the tea that shows its amazing flavor! This is, after all, a large part of the reason for rolling the leaf into the ‘snail’ shape – the surface area of the leaf is reduced and the inevitable diminution of flavor by time is delayed.
Best drunk neat, this delicious tea will also be very tasty with the addition of a little dairy /or sweetener.
TIP: Try steeping it short and then re-steeping the leaf a second, longer time.
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