Suzhou: Bi Luo Chun
Suzhou's Bi Luo Chun tea has long been one of China's best loved teas. For over a thousand years scholarly connoisseurs and popular surveys have consistently ranked this green tea among the country's finest, and many visitors to Suzhou leave a little space in their luggage to take a tin home. It has a rich but mild flavor - even slightly sweet - without the least harsh or bitter taste. Peach, apricot, and plum trees are often planted among the tea bushes, and locals claim Bi Luo Chun's delicious flavor is absorbed from the sweet scent of these flowering fruit trees. It also has a distinctive shape - the small leaves are tightly curled up. This odd shape gave the tea its name. Originally a wild tea, the peasants who picked it called "Buddha Moves the Heart" in admiration of its delicious taste. When the great Emperor Kangxi was inspecting Jiangsu, he tried the tea and thought the name was rather tacky and not worthy of such a fine tea, and renamed it Bi Luo Chun. "Bi" is the a type of green jade, reflecting the tea's beautiful color, "Luo" is a snail, which the curled dried leaves resemble, and "Chun" is spring, when the leaves are picked.
It's grown outside of Suzhou, in the hills along the shores of Tai Hu Lake. The mists and fog from the lake keep the tea bushes moist all year long, and the area has fertile soil, excellent for growing tea. Bi Luo Chun's excellent quality is not only the result of a good environment, but also painstaking harvest and preparation. It's often called China's "artisinal tea" since its picking and preparation require skilled workers. The leaves are picked when they are young and tender, just coming out of their buds, in late March or early April. They must be quite short, and the pickers need to pick carefully and slowly to get each individual leaf. Once the leaves have collected, the best ones are carefully selected to be dried and sold.
Yixing: Yang Xian Tea
Better known as the home of some of China's best teapots, the town of Yixing near Wuxi also produces its own excellent green tea. It's called Yang Xian tea, after an ancient name for the area. It has a light and mellow taste with just a touch of bitterness, and brews a very light colored tea. Yang Xian tea has been grown for over 2,000 years, making it one of China's oldest teas. It has long been renowned for its excellent quality, and was often sent to the capital for the use of the imperial family. It's picked early in spring, when the leaves are long and thin, but still very fresh and tender. The dry leaves are flat and pointed, with sharp edges, looking almost like tiny spear blades.
Nanjing: Yuhua Tea
Yu Hua (Rain Flower) tea is Nanjing's local tea, and also a favorite throughout China. It has a light and elegant flavor, with a hint of sweetness. The dark green leaves are long and round with a sharp point, much like small pine needles. Yu Hua tea was the favorite morning tea when Nanjing was the capital of the Eastern Jin Dynasty, almost 1,600 years ago, and has remained popular since then. It takes its poetic name from the Rain Flower Terrace area of southern Nanjing, where it was first grown.