During my tea trek in April 2016, I had the pleasure of visiting Jinzai county, the core production area of the famous Liu An Sunflower Seeds green tea in Liu An, Anhui province of China. Liu An Gua Pian has very unusual style and character, and has extraordinary production process unlike any other. It's one of the top ten famous Chinese teas and was a tribute tea for centuries.
I arrived at a traditional Gua Pian producing town. It sits by a lake surrounded by misty mountains. The famous bat cave tea garden that produces the most reputable Gua Pian lies in the high mountains just at the other side of the lake. I sat at a local shop drinking the tea. The locals use a tall glass, 200 degree water, and drink tea directly from the glass. It had an aromatic and rich flavor, just like what I had remembered of a good Gua Pian. I hiked to the villages in the high mountains and picked fresh tea leaves with the farmers. I also visited a manufacturing facility, observing and learning how the great Gua Pian is produced.
This tea is named after the production region of Liu An, Anhui province, China. The dry leaves resembles the shape of sunflower seeds, thus the name "Gua Pian". Liu An Gua Pian has three distinguishing traits that set it apart from other green teas. While other green teas incorporate buds and one or two young leaves, only the single mature leaves are plucked for this tea, leaving the buds and stems on the tea plant. Therefore, Gua Pian is not prized for the earlier harvest or tender buds and leaves. On the contrary, the best leaves are picked around Guyu season, in late April when the second and third leaves grow to the preferable size.
The production of the tea is impressive and extraordinary, unlike any other green tea. I was especially amazed at how the tea leaves were processed over a raging fire to become a delicious and rich tea. After the tea leaves are taken out of the firing wok, tea makers place the leaves on a barrel-shaped bamboo basket over an 80-100 degree charcoal fire, slowly baking until the leaves are about 80% dry. This step is called La Mao Huo, or “the initial firing”, an important step in forming the aroma and taste of the tea. Sometimes this baking step is repeated twice. The last firing step is called La Lao Huo, or “the raging fire”. After the initial firing, the tea leaves are placed on a drum shaped basket that is carried over the charcoal fire for a few seconds and then taken away to cool down for several seconds. This on-and-off fire roasting is repeated more than a hundred times, until the tea leaves have shrunken and are almost completely dry. This last step finishes the tea, creating a beautiful appearance and a rich, deep taste. This is especially hard work and requires years of training and great care, and I noticed that the tea workers’ hands are usually black and burned.
This tea has a bright and clean green color and a unique flavor profile due to its picking standard, and its firing and roasting process. It provides an intense and crisp floral aroma, a rich complex flavor, and a light vegetal sweetness with no grassiness or bitter aftertaste. A great tea you don’t want to miss!