Looking at my phone, I saw a message from Annie Xiang, complete with an introduction or her experiences and passion for tea. She was pivoting from a career in tax accounting to the wilderness of tea leaves as we met over many infusions of tea at a local tea house. From that first conversation, I was excited to see her eyes light up in excitement over the stories of her upbringing and relationship with tea.
The second time we met over tea was as a group with friends. I had the chance to taste teas such as the Colorful Peony and was impressed! Most recently, I tried the Girl Village Raw Pu’er, and it struck me as a sweet and mellow sheng that would make for a great introduction into the type for the uninitiated.
The Chicago tea community is a small but growing one, and I’m more than happy to celebrate the launch of another thoughtful presence in the city. In the solitude of my apartment, I sit ready to taste through four of Volition Tea’s offerings. While these were gifted, I look forward to providing my sincere reflections no matter the experience. Let’s dive into one of the green teas!
WHAT IS LU’AN GUA PIAN?
The Da Bie Mountains, which surround the city of Lu’An in Anhui Province, provide the source for Lu’An Gua Pian tea. In a world that often favors pre-Qing Ming and first plucked green teas, it is a break from the norm. Instead of using the buds and youngest leaves, this tea exclusively features leaves. As for the name, some attribute the name to the shape of the leaves, which resembles melon seeds, while others attribute it to the fragrances released during processing. Others even argue that the name is far older than the records reveal and that it was originally Gua Zi Pian (meaning “sunflower seeds”), which was abbreviated to Gua Pian over time. Since the leaves need to be more mature, it’s best to find a later harvest date, such as the end of April. As tea leaves maturate they bring on additional proteins, sugars, and starches that should bring about a warm sweetness.
After the leaves are picked and withered, the baking is completed in three different woks. This allows both the tea to be shaped as well as halt the enzymatic process in the leaf.
Once baking is complete, it is charcoal-dried before the unique flash-roasting. This ‘pulling of the fire’ features leaves piled atop large bamboo baskets, placed quickly over a very hot fire. The leaves are taken off, mixed in the basket, and placed quickly again upwards of 50-70 times. The leaves mustn’t get scorched or burned, otherwise, they will yield a smoked flavor! The result when well-executed brings baked warmth, light fruit sensations, and resilience to hotter water temperatures. Let’s take a look at the Lu’an Gua Pian specifically sourced by Annie!
“For four generations my family has worked in our tea garden and made Lu’an Melon Peel Tea. The tea plants grow wild between rocks, where the impeccable ecosystem provides all of the needed protection and nutrition without the use of pesticides or fertilizer. Melon Peel demands the most complex crafting among all green teas. The tea leaves are first plucked without buds, which require closer monitoring to ensure the leaves have grown just enough but not too much that would compromise quality. The tea leaves then go through three drying periods at gradually higher temperatures. Experience and extreme attention to detail are required to protect the leaves from burning. The result is a plump emerald green leaf in the shape of a sliced melon peel. To us, Lu’an Melon Peel is not just a tea, but is an art and a legacy.”
– Xi Wei Hai
Season: April 10, 2021 (Spring)
Cultivar: Dong Shi Sun
Origin: Lu’an, Anhui, China – Xi Wei Hai
Picking/Processing: 1st leaf, three rounds of drying, bud-less
My Brewing Parameters
Leaf to Water Ratio – 3g for 100 mL
Starting Temp – 80°C
Infusion time(s) – 15 sec. +5
Eyes Dry: Mellow green swords curled, wavy ridges
Nose Dry: Toasted cashews, Flower stems, Kale
Nose Wet: Salted greens
Eyes Liquor: Yellow-green core with a slight blue ring
Mouth Texture: Medium-bodied, wholesome, and slightly drying
Mouth Taste: Floral, water-chestnut, earthy
Nose Cup: Sweet pear, sunny
Mouth Finish: Thick and matte presence on the mouth, soft
Eyes Wet: Soft Ocado-green
Body Sensation: Uplifting and energizing
Lu’an Melon Peel is a great way to ease into the world of green tea. Being pan-fried, there’s a mellow roasted quality that tones down any bitterness and brings about a nice, clean cup. It’s well-rounded with little surprise, and the resiliency these leaves offer means it brews well in a mug, glass, or gaiwan. Feel free to taste this tea yourself or as part of the Delicate + Refreshing Tea Gift Set!