Enjoying a Taiwan Green Tea
Taiwan is well known for its oolong tea, but tea makers here also produce delightful green and black teas. There is a Taiwan green tea I really enjoy and drink almost daily, especially when the weather is hot. (* See Note below.) It is called BiLuoChuan (碧螺春, literal translation "Green Snail Spring") and produced by Mr. Ong, a 3rd generation tea farmer/maker in the SanXia (三峽, literal translation "Three Canyons") region of Northern Taiwan.
Taiwan's two main green teas - BiLuoChuan and LongJin (龍井, literal translation "Dragon Well") - are both found in the Sanxia region, even though production of LongJin now seems largely discontinued. Tea makers in Taiwan first began producing green teas after 1949 when General Chiang Kai Shek's army and other followers evacuated from "mainland" China to Taiwan and were nostalgic for the taste of green tea back home. Tea makers in SanXia adapted their tea making process to meet this new demand, but the results somewhat differ from its Chinese counterpart. Taiwan's green teas also differ significantly from Japanese green teas.
Taiwan's BiLuoChuan is made with the sub-variety ChinXinGanZai (青心柑仔, literal translation "Blue Heart Citrus Variety") which possesses not surprisingly a tangerine like fragrance. The bud is large with a significant amount of downy hairs. The pluck standard is tender bud with one young leaf, but plucking two leaves is acceptable and now seems to be considered standard. The harvested tea leaves undergo withering before being pan-fried, rolled, and dried into long curly strips. The finished product is quite colorful - dried downy hairs of the tender buds look white against the various shades of green.
Taiwan's BiLuoChuan is not shaped into recognizable snail shapes like Chinese BiLuoChuan. There is also difference in the flavor profile due to the type of tea plant used.
Compared with Japanese green teas, the differences can be attributed to (1) the type of tea plant, (2) withering (BiLuoChuan undergoes some withering while Japanese green teas generally do not), and (3) the heating or de-enzyming method (BiLuoChuan is pan-fried while Japanese green teas generally undergo steaming). My general impression is that BiLuoChuan's flavor is more gentle compared with the stronger and bitter taste of Japanese green teas.
I enjoy BiLuoChuan for its green tea health benefits and because its flavor is unique even amongst Taiwan teas. When you first sip the tea, the flavor is reminiscent of sugar-cane, then it transforms into a fruity tangerine fragrance. In general BiLuoChuan has a notable "bitterness," but this particular one does not. The tea-maker Mr. Ong uses "bitterness" as a major criterion to grade his tea's quality. In his higher-priced BiLuoChuan, not only is bitterness not detectable (even when steeped with boiling water), the overall flavor takes on a rather subtle and elegant character. At first I actually liked the bitterness and stronger notes of the lower-priced teas better, but as time passes I am enjoying the subtle flavor and better able to appreciate the artistry in Mr. Ong's tea-making.
I feel fortunate every time I enjoy a cup of Mr. Ong's BiLuoChuan.
* Note: According to Chinese medicine, green tea is considered "cold," and therefore has a cooling effect on the body. Therefore drinking green tea is quite helpful when the weather is hot or when your body is in a state of excessive "heat."