Wild Purple Shoots
April 12, 2023
Guzhu Mountain, Changxing, Huzhou
Purple is not a common colour for green tea leaves, nor is it a common colour for anything else in the natural world. However, every Spring, the trees of Wild Purple Shoots 顾渚紫笋茶 produce light purple buds. The way that these purple buds stand out against both one’s expectations and the varied greens of the jungle around them has historically evoked some wonder.
Wild Purple Shoots grows in the remote jungles of the Guzhu Mountain Range in Changxing, Huzhou. This area is so difficult to get to that it is said that this ancient varietal of wild tea “comes down from the clouds”. Wild Purple Shoots was a favourite of Lu Yu, the highly-respected poet and self-taught scholar who authored what remains one of the most important texts on tea ever written, The Classic of Tea, around 780 AD. In this text, in regards to tea from Guzhu Mountain, (where he eventually settled to live and craft tea himself), Lu Yu wrote, very simply, that “purple is better than green.” During the Tang Dynasty, Wild Purple Shoots was a tribute to the emperor, however it took so long to carry this tea to him from high up in the tree-covered mountains where it grew that this practice eventually fell out of favour, and the tea was left in the appreciative hands of locals. On account of this, it remains a highly regarded, however somewhat forgotten, green tea.
Being forgotten has created a very special opportunity for this tea; it has allowed it to remain entirely unchanged by cultivation. It is astonishing to recognize that the Wild Purple Shoots we drink today will appear exactly as it would have during the Tang Dynasty. With the exception of Spring harvests, these trees continue to grow unwitnessed, as they always have, scattered between the rocks and towering bamboo of the higher altitudes in the Guzhu mountains, obscured by a mist that never clears. Each Spring their leaves are delicately harvested by hand while they are still their mesmerizing purple colour. They turn green while being roasted over charcoal, dispelling their coolness along with their unusual colour.
While untended by humans, the temperate microclimate of the dense valley these trees preside over maintains the ideal conditions for producing green tea. Tai Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in China, is nearby, lending extra moisture and coolness to the air, thus slowing the growth of the tea leaves. The soil on the mountains is made up mostly of granite and purple sandstone: mineral-rich and nutrient-scarce, which means the tea trees must extend their roots deeper into the earth for nourishment, making them more concentrated and robust.
This year’s harvest is particularly verdant. When dry, the tea leaves look deep green, offsetting the threads of purple buds and rich brown stems mixed in with them. It smells warm and sweet. Under water, it brightens up immediately into an enlivened blue-green. The way it reanimates in the gaiwan is particularly beautiful to watch. The mouthfeel is luxurious and fine-grained, delivering a nourishing tea that finishes very long, and very sweetly.
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|Steep time||10 - 90 sec|
|No. of infusions||5