There are three important tea growing areas in Anhui Province. Perhaps the most famous is the UNESCO World Heritage site south of the Yangtze river “Huangshan” (Yellow Mountain). Here heavily forested slopes and 99 peaks attract tourists from all over the world. Lu An Gua Pian comes from the Dabie mountain range, north of the Yangtze river. Here the tea plants grow at altitudes of between 100 – 500 metres and the growing conditions are perfect.
Back in the Tang dynasty, in the first book to be written about tea, Lu Yu referred to Lu An Gua Pian as a superior tea, called “Sunflower Seed Slice”. Since then it has been known as Watermelon slice, and today is referred to as Melon Seed, which is most understandable when you look at the used, brewed leaves. Made from the cultivar “Da Guazi”, this tea is unusual in two respects. For one thing the plucking method is different to that of other green teas. Typically, a good Chinese green tea would come from the early Spring and would contain one or two leaves and a bud. For this tea, the tea pluckers wait until the second harvest of the year and take just two leaves, and no bud. The two leaves are plucked separately, and either the stalk stays on the bush or it is removed after plucking.
The production of the tea is also slightly different to that of other Chinese green teas. After a short withering period in the shade, the tea makers work in pairs to carry out the panning step of production. Working between two woks at different temperatures, and switching between the hotter and cooler wok up to 60 times, the tea makers use long brushes to move the leaves around, so that they twist and curl over upon themselves resulting in their beautiful long, slightly twisted shape.
After the panning stage the leaves are transferred to bamboo baskets that are placed over charcoal fires for a few seconds at time. Each time the baskets are lifted from the fire the leaves are shaken and turned before being placed back on the heat. The skill of the tea-makers who carry out this step up to 100 times is critical, as any hint of smoke would destroy the complex flavour of the tea.
This is a charming tea to brew (seeing how the leaves, shorn of any stem, plump up to reveal the melon seed shape is quite delightful) and a delicious tea to drink.