瓜子 (guazi) or “Melon Seed” is the name of an online used-car selling platform.
It’s an example of how brand conventions have evolved in China beyond fruits (Apple, Blackberry) to the names of dried food commodities (Xiaomi, Sesame, etc.) It’s also an example of a shift from branded physical products to services.
Actually, the subject of this month’s Strainer is not a tech startup or a financial service. It’s not even the humble melon seed itself (a fine Autumn snack); it’s a variety of green tea that is also named 瓜片 (gua pian).
This green tea hails from one our nearest-neighbour province; Anhui. And the full name of the tea reveals its specific origin; 六安 (Lu’an) city. For a while, I felt quite cross about the Romanisation of this tea. The number 六 is one of the first Chinese characters anyone learns. So, to see it written as “lu”, not the “liu” we know and love from Pinyin, looked like a pretty dumb mistake. Americans do something similar with the French word “lieutenant” (and the British something even worse). Lazy tongues, lazy transcription, I thought.
But I was wrong. This isn’t bad Pinyin; it’s actually an accurate representation of the “literary reading” of the Chinese character 六. Chinese has fewer variations in pronunciation of old characters than Japanese, but some anomalies do exist. And here is one!
OK. Back to the tea. And here I have another beef with the name. "Melon seed" is certainly a nice name for an attractive green tea, but it would probably better describe the short, glossy buds of Sichuan’s 竹叶青茶 (zhu ye qing cha) than it does these pretty matt green leaves.
Nevermind. Despite the un-seed-like length, there’s a pleasing uniformity to this Lu An Gua Pian, which continues as the leaves unfurl, like tall scrolls. They actually look like a plate of long clams (the ones which spit at you in Auchan) for the first few minutes. The greenness is the opposite of yellow, a similar shade to Japanese greens. It persists hours into steeping. Having absorbed water, these large leaves resemble small green bats’ wings.
The mouth taste is at its most appealing in early infusions. Later cups can taste like spring-onion-infused cooking oil! When first introduced to water, there’s a creaminess similar to fellow Anhui green tea 黄山毛峰 [Huangshan maofeng]. The umami flavours are prominent only in the first few sips, and it’s the "vegetal" character that dominates after that. Many compare the taste of Japanese greens with seaweed or spinach. Some of those analogies would be valid here. I’ve recalled baked beans in the flavor of mao fengs, but "beans" aren’t really a feature of this tea.
This is my current everyday green. It hasn’t yet rocked my world. But I’m settling into it comfortably. In fact, I’m looking forward to spending more time pondering a region of China famous for its "yellow" mountains, white gabled buildings and baked green teas.