Anji Baicha First Harvest 2023
March 25, 2023
Yinjiang Village, Anji, Huzhou, Zhejiang
First Harvest Green Tea, called 明前绿茶 in Chinese, is the most prestigious and precious harvest of green tea each year. Tea connoisseurs eagerly anticipate the arrival of these teas that lift us out of Winter. First Harvest teas offer a very special encounter with tea in its youth: with its intense greenness, and uplifting qualities.
Anji Biacha is a highly anticipated, highly appreciated Spring tea. The name “Anji Baicha” is obscuring: while in this case it refers to a green tea, “baicha” translates to “white tea.” It has been named this way because of its unusually colourless leaves: due to their lower chlorophyll and higher amino acid content, Anji Baicha leaves are a near-translucent, pale green. When dried, these pale, uniform leaves lay very flat like pine needles. Distinct to them is a dark, green vein which runs down the spine of each leaf, with fine arteries branching off of it. In water these flat, papery leaves behave in an unusual way: they unfold by spiraling open, from something flat to something multidimensional, gradually revealing their striking emerald markings. When these leaves are fully open and suspended in the gaiwan, they look like auspicious cranes.
Anji Baicha was the favourite tea of a legendary ruler of the Song Dynasty, Emperor Huizong. He was a gifted poet, painter, calligrapher, and very engaged with the tradition of tea. Huizong is still revered for his concentrated investments in the arts, and for his own work as an artist – he had a unique capacity to dedicate himself to very detailed, symbolic work while still acting effectively as Emperor. In 1107 Huizong authored a highly respected treatise on tea called Daguan Chalun. In it, he describes Baicha tea at length; he believed it to be very special amongst teas for its pale, delicate appearance, and noted that it grew sporadically on cliffs, and therefor resisted being domesticated by man. This tea, that Emperor Huizong so admired, remained a mysterious reference in his text for several centuries, until, in 1982, Baicha trees were discovered in the high mountains of Anji County.
Our Anji Baicha is from Yinjiang village of Anji County, a picturesque village surrounded by many lush, cresting mountains. The hills are covered with magnificent bamboo trees. Mrs. Qian, who is in her sixties, tends to our Anji Baicha in her tea garden, at 2600 ft up in the mountains. When prepared, this tea smells sweet and warm like hay, and has a soft, velvety texture in the mouth. For how pekid it is in colour, it still has a distinct “green” taste, and the fresh energy that accompanies it. Like spring, it is tender, and also intense.
Against the paperlike quality of Anji Baicha leaves, the fine, definitive vein that runs down each one of them appears very painterly. Noticing this encourages some speculation as to why this tea was such a favourite of the talented painter and poet, Emperor Huizong: indeed, Anji Baicha, in its spiraling open, seems to signal the pathways that connect discrete details to the context in which they hang. Anji Baicha is a Spring tea – it refreshes us and wakes us up to the world – and so, let’s surmise that, as one drinks it, they might notice their perspective moving between a focused attention to detail and an expansive awareness with renewed pleasure and ease.
This year’s harvest is thicker than last year. Although the liquor looks crystal clear it brews brothy and round. The aroma is more subdued – the tea seems to be entirely expressed in the texture it lends to the water.
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