Gua Pian Green Tea has always held such a strong impression with us. Many green teas really do benefit from their subtlety. They’re almost shy. Take Mao Feng Green Tea, for example. Although Mao Feng is a green tea, it doesn’t really jump out and yell. But, every time we drink Mao Feng, it’s almost like we get to know here a little more.
Gua Pian Green Tea comes right out and tells you who she is. And she is not shy about it.
Most teas come from the bud and the first two leaves at the tips of tea bush’s branches. These buds and tender leaves are the youngest parts of the plant. And as we move further down the branch, the leaves get older, thicker, and tougher. Their stems go from a soft and tender green to a tough and fibrous brown. So, the bud and first two leaves at the tips of the branches is where we’re focused when plucking most teas. And those older, thick leaves tend to start around the fifth leaf down. Meaning that there is some magic in between the traditional pluck and the bitter fifth leaf. This magic zone is where the leaves live that we use to make Gua Pian Green Tea.
The third leaf, sitting cutely in this magic in-between zone, is where we source Gua Pian. A cultivar called “Anhui #3 Xio Ye Zhong” provides the flavor that has impressed us the most. Why the name? Scientists developed this cultivar in a province called Anhui. Xiao means small (pronounced Shyaow, almost like “ow” preceded by a “sh-y” sound. Shyow? Shiao? Shiau? Something like that. Ye means leaf (pronouced yeh), and zhong means bush (pronounced “jong”). A slightly more mature and developed flavor and aroma characterizes this tea.
The dry leaf is remarkable. First off, they exhibit a dark jungle green that is really unique. But, furthermore, they exhbit a very unique shape that is almost cylindrical. Tea masters use wooden brooms to roll these leaves on hot woks. They quickly toss the leaves, over and over again. After each tossing, the leaves curl into their famous shape. After this quick firing, tea masters toss the leaves over lit charcoal to dry them out.
This complex process, beginning with older leaves, moving through quick repeated brushings on the pan and aggressively roasted dry yields a very unique green tea. The butteriness of Gua Pian, along with the toughness and patience and the leaves, make it inimitable. Because, it edges toward the umami savoriness of Japanese green teas, but still offers the mellow sweetness that defines high end Chinese green teas. Furthermore, the surface of these leaves are also tougher than Japanese green teas. The repeated pan-firing and drying toasts up the surface of the leaves. Whereas Japanese green teas tend to really suffer once the water goes above about 170*F, Gua Pian can hold higher temperatures and still yield a mellow cup.