Russian Orthodox White Tea?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Roughly six months back, I got it in my head that I had to hunt down some Taiwanese white tea. At first, I wasn’t sure it existed, but I vaguely remembered seeing mentions of it on Upton Tea’s website. Being a sucker for white teas – especially those from odd growing regions – I felt it was time to acquire some. To the Upton site, I went, and…found nothing. Well, not completely true. I found the listing for a Taiwanese white tea, but the item was no longer available.

This led me on a rampant Google search. The first option to come up was Norbu Tea, one of my favorite go-to sites for weird, awesome teas. Like Upton, they had a listing, but the item (at the time) wasn’t available. Strike two.

It took me the better part of a day (give or take real life) to find any other mention of “Taiwan” and “white tea” in the same entry. I had no idea it was such an exclusive item. Taiwan was mainly known for oolongs, so I suppose it wasn’t that much of a surprise. Just disconcerting.

In my Google perusal, I got sidetracked searching for odd white teas in general. I came across a site I’d never seen before. It was the homepage for a secluded Russian Orthodox monastery located on Vashon Island. Don’t know where that is? Apparently, it’s right next door to Seattle. That’s okay, fair reader, I hadn’t heard of it, either.

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Monasteries that sell odd wares were not a new concept to me. I’ve imbibed my fair share of Trappist beers as proof. What was unique was that this particular group blended and roasted their own coffee. They even gained some notoriety due to a feud with Starbucks. The coffee giant sued them for using the trademarked term, “Christmas Blend”.

Really, Starbucks? Suing a Christian monastery for creating a Christmas Blend? For shame.

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Considering the blend is still on the Vashon Monks page, I guess they won that little tiff. But that’s not what attracted my attention. Listed in the right tab was “White Tea”. My natural assumption was that they somehow/someway grew their own tea!

I zapped them an e-mail inquiring about it. And never got a reply. Upon a revisit to their site, I understood why. They didn’t grow their own tea, they merely sold it; this one was…a Taiwanese white tea!!! My idiocy brought my tea quest full circle. The product they were offering was a light-roasted white. And for two ounces, it was a pricey sonuvacup.

A part of me wanted to wait for an opportune time to visit the monastery and buy it then. Several months would pass before I revisited that little inkling. Instead of planning a trip, I decided (once I was gainfully employed again) to simply purchase it. Two days later, I received it.

My first impulse was to tear open the bag and bask in the scents and sights. The leaves were dark brown with speckles of green, and the aroma was straight fruit with a roasty tinge on the back-whiff. I didn’t brew it up until a couple of days later.

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Given a typical Western-ish white tea treatment, the liquor brewed up fairly dark. The taste was roasted nuts on the forefront followed by smoky grapes. Pretty good but not great. Something told me that my approach needed changin’.

The next day, I treated it to a gongfu prep – like I would with any roasted oolong. Four-ish steeps at around forty seconds each. That sounded fair. The results were friggin’ magic. Same smoky-grapiness as before, only more pronounced. The roastiness was more understated and complimentary. No vegetal aftertaste came through, either. I never knew of a white tea that required a gongfu approach for perfection. Then again, I hadn’t heard of a Taiwanese roasted white tea.

A unique, orthodox tea from a unique Orthodox importer.

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For more information on this white tea, go HERE.

24 Comments

  1. Profile photo of thedevotea thedevotea says:

    Quite the adventure. You should have mentioned how you trekked there on foot, clad only in shorts. Wrestled bears, made your own raft out of stolen traffic cones and telephone wire, learn to speak in the obscure Russian dialect the monks used and solved the riddle carved in the door to gain entry. We would have believed you.

    1. True, if this had been a real “steep story”, it would’ve also involved lasers. Somehow.

    2. Profile photo of jackie jackie says:

      I would have believed you wrote the story @thedevotea – Stolen traffic cones and all.

    3. Profile photo of bram bram says:

      Sounds like nothing. Wait till he takes the bus…

  2. Cinnabar says:

    Vashon Island is directly across Puget Sound from my house. In fact I can see it right now, as I look out the window. I’ve been over there a couple of times, but I had no idea there was a Russian Orthodox monastery there. (Also, I’ve never tasted any white tea from Taiwan, but I might have to procure some.)

    1. Women are allowed to visit the monastery. There are specific rules and rites that have to be adhered to, though. (Monastic living and all.)

      Not sure if they sell their wares on the property proper.

    2. Profile photo of jackie jackie says:

      “I can see Vashon Island from my house.” Now, why does that comment somehow seem familiar? :P

      1. I heard a similar line on Star Trek: Enterprise…but that’s it.

        1. Profile photo of jackie jackie says:

          I was thinking more of the infamous “I can see Rusia from my house” comment by a certain politician.

          1. Profile photo of bram bram says:

            So Cinnabar is actually….. Creepy. ;)

  3. Profile photo of iheartteas iheartteas says:

    I am so excited you finally got the opportunity to try. Even better is the journey to find this tea. Both the story and the tea seem remarkable.

    Congratulations on being able to check one more off the “Lifetime To-Do List.” :)

    1. Profile photo of jackie jackie says:

      You know @iheartteas that’s awful though if Geoff ticks off these Lifetime To Do lists too quickly. We don’t want him to get done for a long time still : P

      1. @Jackie – The list is ever-growing, so the chances of me finishing in this lifetime are slim.

  4. Cliche as it sounds, tea is all about the journey.

    I think I heard that somewhere. Probably a movie.

  5. Profile photo of jackie jackie says:

    There, this is now my fourth reply on this blog post, clearly you got me hooked into it.
    I had heard of the monastery, probably because of the dispute. I’m glad you found your tea and it worked out well. I’m not a fan of white teas, so I don’t know..but I must say you make it sound very intriguing.

    1. Not a fan of white tea?! Oh well, more for me. :-)

  6. Profile photo of thedevotea thedevotea says:

    “The Journey Is The Reward”, Geoff. It’s a Buddhist saying.
    (Also the title an excellent book about the early days of Apple and what a twat Steve Jobs was.)

    1. I think I may have heard that saying in relation to the Buddha. Or the Tao. Not sure.

  7. Profile photo of xavier xavier says:

    So you got a Taiwanese tea from a Russian Orthodox monastery in the USA?
    If this is not globalisation at its best, I don’t know what it is.

    1. Exactly the point I wanted to get across! Thanks, @Xavier.

  8. Knew about this monastery selling coffee but not about the tea. BTW there are many Orthodox Monasteries in the U S. In the West (especially Alaska) Orthodoxy is over 200 years old and there are Native American Saints. Tea is usually served to visitors at most monasteries.

    1. Native American saints? I didn’t know that. How cool!

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