The jiaogulan plants grow at an elevation of 1,000m on the sunny southern slopes of the Qin Ling Mountains, surrounded by idyllic forests. Optimal climatic conditions including variable weather and thin air at 1,000m elevation allow the jiaogulan to flourish. The plants are encouraged to mature slowly and absorb the nutrients from the humus and phosphorus-rich soil, which are needed to produce highly aromatic leaves.
Jiaogulan is traditionally harvested twice per year in China: the spring harvest in April, and the autumn harvest in November. The first harvest yields particularly aromatic, delicate leaves that are superior to those of the autumnal harvest in terms of quality.
Our jiaogulan is carefully harvested by hand in April, then placed in withering troughs. This step is pivotal in determining whether the first-class raw materials will become a first-class final product. The farmers very carefully lay out the leaves in a thin layer and flip them over at regular intervals to ensure that the leaves wither uniformly. An uneven piling of leaves during the withering process without rotation would lead to the concentration of warmth and vapour and in turn brown, unappetising leaves.
After withering, the leaves are heated according to traditional Chinese preparation methods (青鍋 Qing Gu = fixing/kill-green). In contrast to other Chinese herbs, jiaogulan is not roasted in pans, but rather quickly steamed. This stage reflects the farmers' experience, as they expertly judge the timing and proportions required for steaming.
In the next stage, the plants are dried in the open air on bamboo sieves, then rolled. Rolling gives the jiaogulan its characteristic crimped and curly appearance and helps to bring out the aromatic essential oils contained in the leaves and stems. After another drying phase indoors, the jiaogulan is finally sorted into different quality grades.