A Tea Addict's Journal


September 28, 2008 · 3 Comments

On the rocky cliff of the Jade Snail Peak of the East Mountain in Dongting, there are a few wild tea trees. Every year, locals would carry bamboo baskets to pick the leaves for daily use, and have done so for decades with nothing uncommon. One year during the Kangxi period, they went again at the usual time, but this year there were more leaves than usual, and the bamboo baskets were overfilled, so they had to carry some leaves in their arms. The leaves, because of the body heat, started to emit a strong aroma, and the tea pickers all said “xia sha ren aroma”. “Xia sha ren” is the local dialect of the Wu region, and so the tea came to be named as such.* Thereafter, every year when it was time to harvest the tea, the locals all take a bath and go en masse, and instead of carrying them in bamboo baskets, they carry it by bare hands in their bosom. A local called Zhu Yuanzheng was especially skilled in the ways of making this tea, and tea coming from his family is renowed as particularly good, selling for 3 taels of silver per jin. In 1699, when the imperial tour arrived at Lake Tai, (an official) Song bought this tea as a tribute. The emperor Kangxi thought the name is not very elegant, and thus changed it to Biluochun (Jade Snail Spring). Thereafter, local officials always bought it as tribute, and people who sell it often use fake tea to fill as real. After Yuanzheng died, the method of making the tea was lost and even the real Biluochun was no longer as good.

* Xi sha ren almost literally means “very frightening — to the point of death”

The above story is taken from an early 18th century text — some random jottings of a scholar who was talking about various subjects. A few interesting tidbits for the tea drinkers among us — the fact that biluochun was, in fact, slightly pre-fermented before kill green, that the trees were wild, that it was really quite expensive (3 taels of silver was a lot of money) and that there was already fake tea running around back in 1700.

Food for thought.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • MANDARINstea // September 28, 2008 at 8:24 pm | Reply

    ….i am dying for more! Thanks for sharing such great research ; ) T
    sorry to miss you both, still working on the X Project (Sunday 8:15pm @ the studio)

  • lewperin // September 29, 2008 at 1:47 pm | Reply

    biluochun was, in fact, slightly pre-fermented before kill green

    This is so interesting! I seem to be running into information often these days – usually from you! – showing that lots of tea in the old days was oxidized somewhat before killgreen. But none of the texts I’ve seen quoted seem to say that this oxidation was an explicit goal. This is pretty puzzling, even when you realize that oxygen wasn’t discovered until the 18th century.

    Oolong dates back to some time in the Ming, I think. Are there very old texts about oolong, I wonder?

  • MarshalN // September 29, 2008 at 4:41 pm | Reply

    I’m not sure if there are old texts about oolong, but I can just imagine that this Zhu Yuanzheng guy was particularly good at it because he figured out how to wilt the leaves properly — much like tea makers in Taiwan or Fujian nowadays have various ways of making sure the tea was properly oxidized before kill green. He never passed on those skills, and now we have perfectly green biluochun…

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