Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Bi Luo Chun

A Tea Leaf on the Wind

In the hierarchy of tea businesses, monthly tea subscription services are like man-buns.

Unless you have a really good reason for starting one—or your name is Toshiro Mifune—it is usually best not to. Since 2014, there has been a veritable surge of tea start-ups, and the route they’ve all chosen? You guessed it, the monthly subscription model. When I attended World Tea Expo that year, every new vendor present was either (a) trying to start one, or (b) “thinking” of starting one. And from a business perspective, it makes sense.

All a potential “monthly” vendor had to do was acquire enough wholesale product at cost in order to meet the demand of their current subscriber base. They could easily keep a tally of how much to purchase and when—i.e. once a month. This strategy kept costs low and overhead even. No gambling.

The problem?

With a glut of so many subscription services out there, and a dearth of people interested in tea, it’s hard to stand-out. A vendor would need to have a very unique angle to the strategy in order to stick out in the rough. And, no, custom blending doesn’t count. At least, not anymore.

So, when I was approached by Tea Runners in June of this year, one can understand why I went into the conversation skeptical. I was approached by Charlie Ritchie, and—just from the initial email—I already liked the guy. His tone was conversational, jovial, and it didn’t come across as a normal cut-‘n-paste e-mail job. Even it if was, I couldn’t tell, so . . . go him! That and his replies to my queries were prompt and polite.

Tea Vendor Etiquette Level: Wizard.

After the initial message, I did a little research. I, at least, wanted to give this li’l start-up the benefit of the doubt before I turned my nose up. I went to their bio and saw . . .

Left to Right: Charlie Ritchie and Jewel Staite. Image owned by Tea Runners.

Wait a minute . . .

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Bi Luo the Belt

White Tea Week, Day 1: “Bi Luo the Belt”

In late 2012, I was given a unique opportunity. Canton Tea Co. wanted me to guest blog for them, relating my personal experiences with Dan Cong oolongs. I did finally get around to said blog…oh…three months after they asked. Instead of using it for “just” a blog update, I was informed it would be used for something else.

They asked me if they could use said blog in the third week of a monthly subscription service they were launching. As payment, I got to test-run said service. Monthly tea subscriptions are a dime a dozen now, and there are some great ones out there. However, a year ago, the only game in town (of that magnitude) was 52Teas. Canton Tea Co.’s Tea Club was taking it a step further.

tea club

Each week, new and unique teas would be featured along with profiles, background info, and personal anecdotes. Even in my smidge of a capacity, I was happy to be a part of it, and I was able to experience some fabulous teas in the process. There was this Hawaiian white…oh my gawwww *cue drooling*…

Alas, all good things had to come to an end, and my trial run of the subscription ran out. I wish I could’ve monetarily renewed it, but I was poor at the time. Actually, make that all the time. Seems to be a recurring problem. Luckily, I was in no shortage of teas to try. However, one showed up that made me go, Damn it!

On Week 26, a White Bi Luo Chun appeared. White. Bi Luo. Chun. Until that week, I was only aware of three variations on that style of tea – a gold-tipped black, a Keemun, and the original green tea. A white tea of that style definitely made my neck hairs erect.

I made my best beggar eyes in Canton Tea’s general direction.

cutesy eyes

They appeased me…probably out of pity.

I won’t go into what Bi Luo Chun is, or what its precarious history amounts to. I covered that story quite vividly HERE. No, I made none of that up.

Bi Luo Chun green tea actually hails from Jiangsu province, China. This white variant hailed from Yunnan province, much like it’s gold-tipped sibling. However, unlike Golden Bi Luo, this looked like no “Green Snale Spring”. Bi Luo Chun usually looks like this:

Green Bi Luo

Photo Owned by Esgreen

Leaves rolled to look like snail shells, as per the name. These looked like, well, slugs maybe. (Green Slug Spring. Heh. That has a ring to it.)

IMAG1401

Okay, that’s not entirely fair, there is some wiggle room to the rolling of the leaves. I have come across some more anachronistic approaches to Bi Luo Chun rolling. Generally, though, they’re rolled pretty tightly.

All snark aside, the leaves did smell very pleasant, and as floral smelling as the description indicated. I caught a whiff of lotus and honeysuckle when I put nose to bag. Aside from the flowers, the scent also reminded me of rough wilderness – a common trait I find in Yunnan whites. It wasn’t quite as rough as rough as those…but close.

IMAG1404

On taste, it’s a Chinese white through-and-through with an herbal front that transitions to a slightly grassy but mostly floral middle, and trails off nicely into a feeling of old forest. It doesn’t have a melon-ish lean like some good Chinese whites, but makes up for it with a slight citrus tickle on the aftertaste. All in all, it had a lot in common with Yue Guang Bai, another Yunnan white, but with a better flavor delivery.  I, frankly, enjoyed it over its Jiangsu-produced green tea sibling.

Don’t believe me? Well, try it for yourself. Or you can take your opinion and “Bi Luo” off. You know I had to use that pun at least once.

fozzie-bear

Defending a Discerning Palate

Source: Cute Overload. Submitter: Maureen K.

Source: Cute Overload. Submitter: Maureen K.

A few nights back, I had a dream where I was asked by a vendor in Darjeeling to review some of their products. The box that came in the mail was huge; there were at least fifty 100g bags in it, along with other various Indian-ish tea apparati. The first bag I took out was by some estate I’d never heard of. When I tore it open, a foul, earthy smell invaded my nostrils – like poorly cooked puerh only worse. On the inside, instead of leaves, I found beige furballs and brown clumps.

I was known to be an experimental drinker, but even this weirded me out. The ingredients listed on the package mentioned squirrel, venison, animal droppings, and molded leaves. With a shrug, I brewed it up…and tasted the worst muck that ever befell my tongue. Yes, even worse than overbrewed genmaicha or anything with copious amounts of lavender. I woke up after the first taste.

And that was my first tea nightmare ever.

What does that have to do with discerning palates? Probably nothing; possibly everything. What it did do was finally compel me to make a more legitimate response to a blog post by fellow “Beast of Brewdom”, Ken (aka. Lahikmajoe) – a collaboration with another Twitizen, Radhika/Levis517. The dilemma that was posed was how the social celebration of tea was lost the moment people ascribed pomp and circumstance to it, plus the cost therein – i.e. snobbery.

Source: Yunnan Sourcing

Source: Yunnan Sourcing

At first, I was completely on board with Radhika’s well-versed argument in the post. In developing a fancy-schmancy culture around something so simple as dead-‘n-dried leaves in hot water, some of the inclusivity is lost. I will fully admit that I sometimes take a ridiculous amount of pride in having a favorite pu-erh mountain. (It’s Nan Nuo Shan, by the way.) But does it really matter if there’s no one to share this joy with over a cup of Nan Nuo sheng?

You’re damn right, it does.

When I first started this nerdy persuit – and, yes, it is nerdy – I was mainly sticking to the teabag fringes with the likes of cheap Moroccan Mint or a blueberry-flavored white. Heck, when I worked nights, my beverage of choice was a bag o’ Stash Orange Spiced Black in a paper coffee cup, boiled to s**t, and mixed with sugar and French vanilla creamer. Why? Because it tasted like an orange creamsicle. Sophiscated? Not in the slightest.

As my tastes changed, so did my leanings. I started off hating pu-erh, then I had some of the aged stuff. Darjeeling was a name I met with derision, now I can’t resist its earthspice aroma. Oolongs used to tasted like roasted, metal feet but now impart a sense of peace I haven’t felt in any other beverage. Japanese green teas hinted at a world populated by spinach that spewed fire, now it embodies vegetal sweetness personified. And none of that would’ve happened had I not heightened my brow a bit.

A funny thing, though. As snooty as my tea tastes became, my approach hadn’t. I never considered myself better than the average teabagger at Starbucks. Nor did I cringe (too much) when someone mentioned their favorite tea flavor was “cheesecake”. Granted, I do wince a bit when my brother takes a Lipton over a Golden Bi Luo, but I don’t throw a huff about it. Much.

In short, yes, tea snobbery is alive and well. It is as drowned in ritual as any fancy ball…but it’s a party everyone is invited to. The tea folks I’ve met are like Quakers; they’ll extol the virtues of the leaf, welcome you to the fray, but they won’t force you to join, or turn a nose up at you if you don’t. None of the social importance is lost on us. We want to talk about tea with non-tea drinkers, preferably over a cup of tea. I mean, it’s a beverage that’s been around for millennia, how could we not geek out over it?

What I’m trying to say is, I would like what’s in my cup to taste good. I would like it to have a story to tell. And, lastly, I would like to tell it to someone. I think that’s what this little blog of mine (and every other tea blog) is about. So, come on in; I’ll warm the kettle. Pick a tea. A good tea.

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