Bi Luo Chun and Mao Feng are pretty opposite each other in terms of flavor. Mao Feng is smooth, rich, and bright. Bi Luo Chun is subtle but with tang and a bit of bite. I spent five years in Huang Shan and became pretty familiar with sourcing it and, such as when I moved to Fujian, the sourcing of Bi Luo Chun was also quite different from the sourcing of Mao Feng.
Bi Luo Chun's region is much smaller. Huang Shan has the core region but then many outer regions spanning miles. Standing on the top of a particular peak you see nothing but nature-covered mountains surrounding you. On each of those mountains, you can be sure of our tea fields. Bi Luo Chun's core regions are surrounded by water and non-tea-growing villages. Standing on the top of Dong Ting you see exactly where the villages stop and things become a little more urban. Once you leave the mountains of Dong Ting there is no tea to be found. This makes sourcing Bi Luo Chun a little easier but also a little less adventurous as you keep going back to the same mountain instead of exploring many different ones.
Those of you who remember my Mao Feng Mondays will remember me going getting off the bus in Huang Shan, picking a mountain road randomly, and walking down it till I found an isolated village. That's how I found the Monkey Valley Mao Feng. This not also created more of an adventure feeling to sourcing trips but meant a lot more families were making tea and thus the range of teas was much wider. For Bi Luo Chun the area is much smaller so while there is still plenty of tea to be tasted, the range of flavors is smaller. This imparts because for Bi Luo Chun the making is very similar between houses.
In the Mao Feng regions, you had four main types of making. Machine-made, wood fire baked and stir-fried, charcoal baked and woodfire stir-fried, and fully traditional basket baked and wok stir-fried. (the last one is very rare) This along with the range of terroirs added to the range of flavors. For Bi Luo Chun though it's almost exclusively propane wok handmade. Bi Luo Chun cant be done by machine. The leaves are too small and what goes on within the work is too complicated with many different movements being needed. This means it has to be done by hand. Propane-powered works are in almost every household. Propane works take up much less space and the person cooking can control the heat; as opposed to the wood fire where the person cooking yells instructions to another worker feeding the flames. In my half-dozen-plus trips to the region, I have only seen three people use wood fire and one person use half propane and half electric. Propane works dominate the scene.
A final difference I have noticed is the people. The Dong Ting Mountains are tourist attractions. People come to hike the mountain, sit by the lake, and ride motorcycles around the island. This means the people who live on the mountain are much more used to strangers popping in. As I walked around the villages searching for tea I would see hikers chatting and taking pictures with tea makers with no plan to buy anything. This makes the people of Dong Ting more comfortable with chatting. In Huang Shan, the people in the village were often also very nice and friendly but sometimes seemed a little confused about why you are there.
That being said there are similarities too. First of all, both regions have beautiful terroir. As compared to places like Anxi and even to an extent Wuyi Shan, Huang Shan, and Dong Ting are both very bio-diverse locations. Huang Shan fiends are often small plots of land surrounded by dense forest, while the tea trees of dong things are broken up by trees and other bushes. Both Huang Shan and Dong Ting are green tea regions and therefore there is a similarity in brewing tea for guests. Tasting teas in an oolong region means taking the time to sit down and go through the gong fu brewing. For green teas, they just throw the tea in a glass and hand it to you. Sometimes they will sit down with you, but not always. I have often poked around, glass in hand, as the maker continued his work or tended to some other task like managing children. When they do sit with you, there is more of a feeling that they are having tea with you and not serving you since they will have a glass of tea.
Differences Between Sourcing Mao Feng and Bi Luo Chun
Posted by Dylan Conroy on