Shop assistants of Wuyutai are happy with the sale of the first batches of Mingqian tea. Zou Hong / China Daily
A cold winter has delayed the marketing of Mingqian tea, the prime of Chinese green teas. But that is not entirely a bad thing, because the quality is expected to be higher.
"A relatively long winter will help the tea shrubs to accumulate more nutrition, and curb sicknesses and worms, therefore improving quality," says Huang Li, publicity manager at Wuyutai, a major chain tea store in Beijing.
On March 21, the tea store received the first batch of 2.5 kilograms of biluochun (emerald spring spiral) green tea from Suzhou's Xishan, West Hill. The tea was priced at a record high 5,800 yuan ($922) per 500 grams, but sold out soon after it arrived.
Longjing (dragon well) and biluochun are top Chinese green teas, especially due to the fact that they are picked only in spring, from late March to early May.
The first batch of Hangzhou's prized Xihu Longjing, for example, contains mostly tender buds, and very tender "one bud with one leaf", the first of spring.
Gong Xiangtao, manager of Yupin'ge Teahouse in Beijing says professional tea brewers like herself call the longjing one-bud tea lianxin (heart of lotus seed), because of its shape. One bud with one leaf is called "flag spear". When the tea grows to one bud with two leaves in early summer, it is called "bird tongue".
Mingqian biluochun, on the other hand, contains only tiny, tender buds. Zhang Lanlan, member of the tea buying department at Wuyutai, says the first batch of biluochun sold at the tea store has more than 70,000 buds per 500 grams.
"To collect fresh leaves for that 2.5 kg of Mingqian biluochun, more than 40 workers spent two days picking at our base in Suzhou," says Zhang.
In the recent years, Wuyutai has been selling the first batches of longjing and biluochun at record prices. This year, the 2.5 kg of biluochun costs 5,800 yuan ($922) per 500 grams, 200 yuan more than last year.