Lu’an Melon Seed tea (Lu An Gua Pian) is a baked, loose leaf green tea hailing from Lu’an City, Anhui Province in China. The tea is named after the distinctive flat and oval shape of the leaves, resembling a melon seed. This balanced, nutty, and somewhat starchy tea has been a staple in Chinese tea culture and is a mainstay on the lists of Famous Chinese Teas. It was even presented to Henry Kissinger as a special gift during his first visit to China in 1971.
The existence of Lu’an tea was first mentioned in ‘The Classic of Tea’, the first general knowledge book about tea written by tea master Lu Yu during the Tang dynasty approximately between 760CE and 762CE. The tea continued to grow in esteem and by the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) Lu’an Melon Seed tea was also perceived as a cure for sunstroke. By the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) it was one of the more popular, high-grade teas around and it was considered a ‘Gong Cha’ or “tribute tea” for the imperial family. It is said that Empress Dowager Cixi was a fan, drinking up to 26 cups a month in 1856.
What makes Lu’an Melon Seed tea unique is found in its production method. Rather than using ‘pure buds’ (young buds) for the tea, as is common for quality Chinese teas, Melon Seed tea prefers to use only the second leaf on the branch, removing the stems. This means that the leaves are harvested later than most other teas, usually near the end of April, after the buds have fully opened up into leaves.
After the leaves are picked, they are placed in a shaded room, allowing the surface moisture of the leaves to dry out. After, they are rolled into their familiar shape with a broom. Then the leaves are baked over wood-fired woks at a range of different temperatures stopping the oxidation process. The next step is known as ‘La Lao Huo’, or “hard roasting”, a process in which the leaves are roasted in big bamboo baskets over open charcoal fire, which gives the tea its rich and complex flavor.
As with other green teas Lu’an Melon Seed Tea boasts a number of health benefits due to its high levels of antioxidants and contains only trace levels of caffeine. Some of these benefits include improving heart health, helping with digestion, stress reduction, balancing blood glucose levels and more. As always, more research is needed into these health benefits so they should be taken with a grain of salt.