Posts Tagged ‘white tea’

This all started a year ago, and it’s all Greg’s fault.

By “a year ago”, I literally mean a year ago! Like, last August. And by “Greg”, I mean the dude behind Norbu Tea. One fateful day, in August of 2013, I noticed he had retweeted something interesting.

Untitled

Alas, I’d seen the update too late. They’d sold out of that batch of Japanese white tea in less than two months. I even wrote about said lament in an article on Taiwanese white tea. However, they did encourage me to check back in a year – when the new harvest came in.

And wait, I did. Like some kind of deranged tea stalker.

tea stalker

Over the course of the year, I checked the site at least once a week. Hitting refresh a few times before moving on. That fierce determination lulled a bit in the spring months, but this last July…all that stalking paid off. A new batch had come in! Same location, same growing months, different cultivar.

For those not in the tea “know”, the Japanese don’t usually deviate from producing green tea. In recent years, that’s been a-changin’ – what with increased production in Japanese black tea, oolong, and in some cases, heicha. All that said, white tea was still undiscovered territory.

The farmer that devised this stuff hails from Gokase Town, Nishiusuki District, Miyazaki Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. Say that five times fast. The region has had a healthy history of tea experimentation, particularly in oolong production. White tea, though, was a new venture. The farmer(s?) in question had only been at this style for two or three years.

The cultivar utilized for this batch was 100% Kanayamidori. From what I could find, it was registered in 1970 (source: My Japanese Green Tea), and is best known for producing very fragrant leaves. Ideal picking occurring in early-to-mid-May. The product I chose to buy was plucked around May 9th, and – according to Yuuki-Cha – was notably sweeter than later plucks. They had me at “sweet”.

Unlike Chinese white teas, these leaves were mostly un-tampered with. Plucked, withered and dried; no rolling that I could see, or at least not much. That and none of the leaves were “downy furs” young. They were youthful, yes, but more like toddlers in the leafy scheme of things. In appearance, they reminded me of Taiwanese white teas I’d tried. If I were a “Lay” tea person, I’d think these looked like lawn shavings. The aroma, though, would’ve dispelled that . It was note-for-note like Arya Pearl – a Darjeeling white of similar aesthetics – spicy on the nose with a grassy bend.

Japanese white tea leaves

There weren’t any brewing instructions to go by on the Yuuki-Cha page, so I had to work with prior white tea knowledge on this. I went with roughly 170F-ish water and a three minute steep – roughly 1 tsp. of leaves in a 6oz. steeper cup. It worked for everything on the light end of the tea spectrum.

The liquor brewed a bold (if pale) yellow with an aroma of straight…well…sweetness. Not like a flavored tea, more like a fruit of some sort, but I’d be hard-pressed to narrow it down. It was just fruit-sweet on the nose. Same with the taste; first sip and I was whistling. This was perhaps the sweetest white tea I’ve come across since an Ali Shan Taiwanese white, or a Makaibari Silver Tips. Nothing about this outright screamed, “Nippon!”, save for a smidge of nuttiness on the aftertaste.

Japanese white tea brewed

In baser terms, it was like a Taiwanese white tea seduced a Darjeeling white in a pachinko parlor, skipped town, and was greeted a year later with a bouncing baby Kanayamidori at its doorstep.

Worth the year-long wait? I’d say, “Mostly yes.”

old man waiting

White Tea Week, Day 7: “White Buds Pu-Erh”

Okay, technically, this is cheating. It’s not really a white tea. Hear me out.

Just yesterday, I covered aged white tea. The process for that is relatively simple. Find a cool, dry place to store it, keep it covered airtight…and forget about it for five years. Awesomeness can – and may – ensue. If pressed into a beengcha (tea cake), even better. Gives one something to work for. What I haven’t covered, though, is the difference between aged white tea and pu-erh made from white tea leaves.

Sheng (or raw) pu-erhs are made from tea leaves that have been wok (or pan) fired then sun-dried. After that, they’re either compressed into cakes or other shapes, and ferment naturally on their own. The other type of pu-erh – shou (or cooked) – goes through a more…impatient process. Machine-tumbling and wet-piling. Think of those like composting mulch, then you’ll get the idea.

wet-piling

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Cooked pu-erhs do take on some interesting characteristics once given a chance to age naturally after the initial compostumble-stuff. The gold medal, though, goes to the shengs. They’re my chosen form of pu-erh-ing. And we won’t even go into the larger family of heicha (dark tea), of which pu-erh is a part. Too much ground to cover.

(Sidenote: Yes, I’m skating over a lot of pu-erh knowledge for the sake of witticism. I’m no expert on the subject. Just a taster.)

The first “white tea” pu-erh I ever tried was almost entirely by accident. A local tearoom was carrying something they dubbed “Silver Needle” pu-erh. Back then, my weird tea radar was in its infancy. While I was eager to try it, I didn’t just stop my life in order to hunt it down. I waited a good week, at least.

It was exquisite. And since then, I had three or four others that met similar approval. Most of these were five-year or ten-year teas. What I was really curious about was how a white bud pu-erh held up somewhere closer to infancy. By a twist of fate, a White Buds Sheng Pu-erh (2011) was hidden among the Taiwanese whites I received from Norbu Tea.

white buds

Image mooched from Norbu Tea

The leaves were definitely white buds to the core. All light green needles, young forest green leaves leaves, and fuzzy excellence with a smell that could best be described as…uh…sheng-y. There were more needles than straight-up leaves, though, which was a plus. Subtler than most other raw pu-erhs, I really couldn’t make out much other than grass, wilderness, wood, and a smidge of something almost stonefruity. It reminded me of straight-up White Peony that’d been in storage for a couple of years.

chunk

For brewing, I boiled water and approached it like any other sheng pu-erh. Gongfool-style, all the way. I took a hefty enough chunk to fill a teaspoon, and placed it in a 6oz. gaiwan. Three successive infusions were a good enough judge of character, each one at about thirty-to-forty seconds.

Over the course of three infusions, the needled leaves had broken apart and infused to varying degrees of yellow. The first infusion was obviously the lightest, but the other two were around the same shade of pale gold. The real difference between the three lay in the flavor.

Each one had the citrus and grass lean in common. But the further down the white rabbit hole I went, the bolder the profile became. Lemons, forest, and hay were the dominant nuanced notes on display. Smoke was a trait that showed up in the underpinning. Not that I minded.

infusions

Even after three years of aging, the white tea profile still dominated the flavorscape of this still-young pu-erh. Some wine notes were emerging, but only in the aftertaste. Given another three years of resting on its pressed-leaf laurels, I’m sure more fermented characteristics would emerge. As for now, it was like a white tea that could take a pu-erh punishment. I’ll drink to that.

*****

And that, folks, is the end of White Tea Week. What did I learn? Well, nothing I didn’t already know. White tea is awesome. It got me started on the road to orthodox tea appreciation, and it still holds the crown.

What did I benefit from seven days’ worth of white tea blogging? My teeth have never been whiter. I was fighting a cold/flu-plague, but it seems to have retreated thanks to all the antiviral badassery from the teas. And lastly, my outlook has never been whiter. Er, I mean brighter!

In the end, it’s nice to know what’s out there. I’m reassured that so many countries are playing with the tea type.  After all, I’m only getting started.

Image copyright Oleg Kozlov – iStockphoto.com

Image copyright Oleg Kozlov – iStockphoto.com

White Tea Week, Day 6: “White Tea Cakes – Old versus New”

Well…this was a first.

Being contacted by companies is not a new experience for me. For some reason, tea vendors look at my quixotic li’l corner of the Internet and say, “Hey, we’d be a nice fit here.” I, then, twizzle my nonexistent mustache and go to work. Can’t say anyone had ever contacted me based on other posts I’d written, though.

Conceptteas had done just that. One of their co-founders had taken the initiative, after seeing my feature on JalamTeas Nan Nuo pu-erh. A good piece, if I do say so myself – humbly. Not only did they find my tea site, but they also sought my contact information from my other website. I should – perhaps – link those two together better. I don’t make it easy to get in touch with me. Old hermit habits.

This newer Swedish-Chinese company (yes, you read that right) focused mostly on white teas – Silver Needle, White Peony, and white tea cakes, to be precise. Fuding, Fujian province-produced teas in specific. Also available were pomelo-scented black tea and Bai Lin Gong Fu. Wait a minute. Let’s rewind a moment. White tea. Cakes?!

Eddie Izzard sprang to mind again.

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They had two on hand that particularly caught my eye. One was a newborn 2013 cake made from – by the looks of it – White Peony leaves, and an older version dating back to 2009. My gears were already turning. I had, back in my review days, compared a white tea and a 20-year-aged version of it – a Shou Mei pairing. However, I had yet to compare two white tea cakes! of differing ages.

Old Willis/New Willis

Less than two weeks later, I had the teas for palate-related playtime. I expected only slivers from the white tea cakes, and from the ’09, that’s exactly what I got. Just enough to experiment with – all I needed. The full cake looks like this:

Aged white tea cake (2009 autumn)

To my surprise, for the 2013 sample…they sent the entire cake.

Look at it. Simply behold its majesty.

white tea cake!

I almost wanted to gnaw a piece off of it with my teeth. It even smelled fresh, spry and ready for munching.

Er…I mean…

The ’09 cake and 2013 cake didn’t really differ in visual presentation. Both looked like White Peony leaves and silver buds that’d been compressed until ready. Young, downy fur still existed on the old cake, as well as the new. The only real difference in appearance was the greater presence of browner leafy pieces in the old, which was to be expected. Also, the old seemed more settled into the cake compression than its younger counterpart, like it found a very comfy couch to nap on.

Comfortable Couch

Real differences didn’t emerge until I put my nose to either samples. Where the 2013 smelled fresh, young and ready for college, the old had a more distinguished “air” about it. Not exactly “get-off-my-lawn!” old, but definitely a more regal fragrance – woodsier.

cake comparison

For brewing, Conceptteas recommended 90-95 degrees Celcius for water temperature and a three-minute steep. The amount of tea leaves per 8oz. serving – 3-to-5 grams. Oh, Celcius, my old nemesis, we meet again. For us ‘Mericans, that’s about 203F – fresh off the boil. Just what I wanted to hear. When I brewed this, it was late…and I was tired.

Following the brewing temp wasn’t a problem. Cutting off the exact grams needed? Not so easy. I guestimated. Tea brewing is an art.

The first difference I noticed between the liquors was the color. As expected, the color for the ’09 white was considerably darker than the ’13. One was brass while the other was still on the side of yellow. The second – and even more obvious – was the aroma. Where the new still smelled like a white tea – all fresh-cut lemongrass and wilderness – the older one smelled like an aged oolong. There was a strange, roasty quality to the ’09 that I couldn’t quite pinpoint by nose alone. It reminded me vaguely of Da Hong Pao.

cake comparison 2

The 2013 was exquisite on first sip, giving off all the trademark white tea taster notes and then some. Melons: Check. Grass: Check. Citrus tickle: Check. But there was also something else at play, a bit of a medicinal quality rearing its head. Not unlike a young sheng pu-erh learning to flap its fermented wings.

The ’09, though.

No other way to put it. I was transported. Generals boomed orders from the mountain tops in Mandarin bravado. Buddhist chants echoed in the distance. Giant, serpentine dragons blanketed the sky in fire.

Okay, maybe a little far-fetched.

Discord

Put in more earthly terms, this did what many an aged oolong had done to me on first sip. It wasn’t always just about the taste with those teas. Sometimes it was about the experience. On first sip with this aged white, I was tea drunk. Instantly. A toasty quality introduced iself, followed closely by a fungal/fermented lean at the base, the climb to the top note culminated in a fruity sensation, and the trail-off was an exercise in bliss.

In short, the best white tea I’ve ever had. I mean, yes, I’ve had a lot of perfect white teas – five this week, actually – and this raised the bar. It was already a pretty freakin’ high bar! The 2013 white tea cake was on its way there. The 2009 was already there on the hill, banner held high.

This all came to pass on what was a very stressful day. I was almost late to work this morning because of a plumber’s van blocking my garage. I spilled tea on my work station, drenching my paperwork in Oriental Beauty. I was operating on only about five hours of sleep. And, yet, it was all worth it. Because it all led to this; this moment. This…blissful…moment.

I have nothing else to add. The 2013 is a gifted youngster. The ’09 is Stephen freakin’ Hawking with superpowers.

mighty stephen hawking

I’m out.

White Tea Week, Day 4: “I Dream of Doke for a Day”

The Doke tea estate is a small garden situated in the northeastern state of Bihar, India. In 1998, Rajiv Lochan – of Lochan Tea – got the best of all retirement presents. His own tea garden to do with as he wished. Best. Retirement. Ever.

Doke

Since then, the li’l-garden-that-could has become one of the more experimental gardens in India. In fact, in conversations with two of the Lochan children, who also work for the garden, talks have emerged of playing around with smoked tea…which always has me excited.

I first heard about this estate when a certain e-“steamed” blog colleague ranted and raved about a Bai Mu Dan-style white tea he discovered. Upon hearing that the region it hailed from was neither in Darjeeling or Assam, my curiosity was already peaked.

Curious George

After making some beggar-eyes at Tea Trade Jackie, I was able to acquire Doke Tea’s 2012 Silver Needle. I found it to be a very serviceable white tea, reminding me quite a bit of a Darjeeling white in overall character. It was somewhat spicy, lightly grassy, with a hint of melon and something else. All in all, rather memorable. As was the Doke Rolling Thunder Oolong.

Fast-forward to 2013, and I began hearing across-the-board praise for the new batch of second flush Doke teas. Particularly, the Silver Needle. The same blog colleague even went so far as to declare it his favorite tea in the history of Ever. (My words, not his.) Doke Tea must’ve had ears against the Internet walls. Before I knew it, there was a package at my door with a sample of the new Silver Needle, as well as Doke’s other wares.

Doke teas

First off, let me say that this tea was a gorgeous site to behold. The Doke Silver Needle of a year ago was nowhere near as refined-looking as this. The rolled leaves were light green, plump, evenly shaped throughout, and possessed the downy hairs associated with its tea type. The aroma was spry, like salted lemons, and possessed something that reminded me of a muscatel Darjeeling by way of a Yunnan Silver Needle white.

IMAG1339

For the first brewing, I went with 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves in a 6oz. gaiwan of 175-ishF water, steeped for three minutes.

The liquor brewed to a very pale yellow with a faint, wilderness/wheaty aroma crossed with melons. On taste, it was all Silver Needle all the way – in the best possible ways. This was even better than most Fujian-made Silver Needles I’d come across. So many things at work on taste: A hint of lemon, melon, grass, leaf, a shot of maple, I don’t even know where to start. It was quite nuanced.

Silver Needle

A second infusion at about 185F turned up a yellow-amber liquor with a bit more vegetal nose. The taste, though, changed quite a bit – picking up some aromatic high-altitude oolong notes. No astringency or spinaching to speak of, though. Like a white peony, only with a bit more…awesome.

I dared a third infusion at just under a boil (190F), per the recommendations of the e-”steamed” tea compatriot. The soup was straight amber, and the nose was…strangely smoky. Oh, dear God, I burnt the tea, I thought. Quite the contrary, actually. This was my favorite steep yet with bold notes of apricot and a distant memory of peaches. Plus, there was a cinnamon-like lean toward the finish.

To that I say…I dunno what to say. Kinda floored here. I got more steeps out of it after that, bringing the tally to five. Each at three minutes or more.

As luck would have it, I found some of the ol’ 2012 Doke Silver Needle second flush in a random tin while looking for an oolong. This gave me a splendid opportunity to taste and compare the two years; see how far the Lochan technique had come in just twelve months.

side-by-side

Visually, the differences in the leave cutting and rolling were night and day. The 2012 leaves were small, pine-like needles – dark green in appearance with a very spry aroma. Whereas 2013 needles were large, plump, downy-furred and brimming with a pungent, melon-like aroma. It made me wonder if Doke HQ changed their cut-’n-roll techniques or went with a different cultivar.

When brewed, the liquor for the 2012 was considerably darker, more amber-ish, while the 2013 maintained a subtle yellow palette in the cup. Taste-wise, they both conveyed a citrusy, herbaceous and melon-like delivery. The 2013 just tasted more refined, more reassured – perfumy, elegant and vibrant.

Doke liquor

Like I said, night and day. But a perfect day for both.

I can only dream of what 2014 will bring.

EDIT: It would appear the Lochan Tea site is all sold out of the 2013 Doke Silver Needle, but fear not! If you’re in the U.S., you can fetch it at Butiki Teas HERE. And if you want to compare/contrast with the 2012 Doke Silver Needle, you can pick that up at The Devotea USA HERE.

White Tea Week, Day 3: “When You Wish Upon a Taiwanese White Tea

Back in the Fall, I saw a retweet from Greg “Norbu Tea” Glancy that just about put me into cardiac arrest.

Japanese White Tea

Japanese. White Tea. Oh. My. G-word.

I saw mention of something like this existing on (of all places) Wikipedia a year prior. Not sure how such a mention got there. I think one of the Wiki article writers planted it there to screw with my mind. Yes, my mind – personally! The article has since been updated/edited, but at the time, I went on a research binge to find out more.

Queries turned up nothing…until Greg’s retweet. Unfortunately, the tweet from the company in question was dated for back in August. I checked the site, and the Japanese white tea was gone. It’d sold out in days after its mention.

In true tea-fanboy fashion, I repeatedly contacted the vendor, and gave my best beggar-eyes. No luck. They were fresh out. Not even test-samples. I made…uh…”ridiculous offers” to even smell a bag that had housed the white tea leaves.

crack

Nothin’.

After a day or two of pouting, I returned to business as usual. Another round of Japanese white wouldn’t be available until May of the next year. I’d just have to live with it. But how?

Oh yeah.

I thought back to the entirety of the year, and to the teas I’d tried. Then I thought back to Greg and Norbu Tea. There was a type of white tea from another Asian isle that was hard to find – two actually! – and I’d sipped ‘em both.

Tsou-Vayiyana Nano Alishan High Mountain White Tea

This white tea from Ali Shan (my favorite Taiwanese mountain), was from the Qing Xing cultivar. I tried it completely by happenstance at World Tea Expo at the Tsou-Vayiyana booth Norbu Greg was working at. The taste blew my mind. Alas, I didn’t have more time to concentrate on it, seeing as I was already well beyond tea drunk at the time. However, I did give it a proper treatment at home a few months later.

The dry leaves looked like…well…dry leaves.

Ali Shan

Not much else to say there. The smell, though, was pure wilderness with a slight tickle of lemon on the back-whiff. This may sound sacrilegious, but it reminded me of an American-grown white tea I tried. Same lemon-leafy fragrance finish.

I used roughly 3 grams of leaves, placed ‘em in a 6oz. gaiwan, and used 175F water for the brewing. Then I waited for about three minutes. And…prayed I didn’t screw it up. I didn’t have a lot of this stuff to go around.

Ali Shan again

The liquor came out practically clear with a smidge of yellow. At first, I thought I’d brewed it wrong. Was the temperature wrong? Should I have gone higher? Was the infusion time too short? But then I smelled it. Lemons and flowers wafted from the cup. Score! On taste, it was exactly how I thought it would, based on the aroma. Lemons, citrus, flowers, and…autumn dominated the cup.

I tried a second infusion at five minutes, but that appeared to be too long – given its more leafy kick. That said, when done right, it hit all the right white tea marks. And then some.

There was something missing, though. Oh yes, I needed to compare it another white tea from the same country, but a different region/cultivar because…well…it’s me. I gave Greg my best beggar eyes, and got this.

Zhao Lu

For some reason, the bag made me feel alarmingly inadequate.

Norbu Tea Zhao Lu Bai Cha

This hefty bag o’ leaves stemmed from Nantou county, Taiwan, and were from the Jin Xuan cultivar. The tea plant type was usually used for oolongs and occasionally black teas – rarely white teas. It was also – blessed be – a white tea that Norbu Tea personally carried. I remember missing the last batch by a matter of days.

The leaves for this white tea looked like…well…leaves again. Forest green, plucked whole and dried leaves. No other nuance to the appearance besides that.

Zhao Lu, too

As for aroma, there was more to talk about there. I whiffed straight olive leaf, mint and sage. Very little processing, but a whole lot of natural awesomeness to potentially bestow. I was starting to see a pattern to these Taiwanese whites.

A small confession: Before this official trial run, I actually dipped into it several times. I mean, wouldn’t you if you had that much white tea to play with? I did it delicately, I boiled the heck out of it, I treated it like a green tea, I took it for long walks on the beach, we woke up in Vegas…then everything got blurry. Point being, this tea held up to some pretty unusual punishment on my part. But it was time to give it a more clinical whirl.

madman

The brewing instructions were thankfully lax. Norbu Tea recommended “grandpa style” – leaves put at the bottom of a cup, 160F water, and a ten-to-twelve-minute steep. I went with a 6oz. steeper cup instead, opting for something more – shall we say – proper. It’s nice to know there’s a white tea out there you can totally forget about while you’re taking a shower.

The liquor brewed pale yellow – as expected for any tea worth its weight in “white”. A fragrance of lemony herbs emanated from the cup with a subtle sweetness on the end. As for taste, I don’t know where to start. On the one hand, it was as herbaceous as a White Peony, on the other it was melons and muscatel – like a Darjeeling white. Somewhere in the middle, tropical fruit notes happened. Not sure how, but they were there.

As luck would have it, I received the perfect chalice in which to grandpa-style the heck out of this white tea. And it was in the shape of Chewbacca. The results were unsophisticated, tea-geeking bliss.

Chewie

Later that week, I finally went about trying the Ali Shan white and Zao Lu Bai Cha back-to-back. The results were…conflicting. No, not bad. Just…oh hell, it was like judging a mud-wrestling competition – no matter who lost, everybody wins.

The Ali Shan white had a darker liquor and a more robust flavor. Sweetness began on the initial sip before dissolving at the top note, to be replaced by a caramelized almond sensation – wrapped in lemons. The Zhao Lu Bai Cha went down a more subtle and floral road. It retained its sweetness throughout, sure, but remained – how should I put it? – fluttery. Which one was a favorite?

Hard to say.

back-to-back

If you ‘re no stranger to this blog, you know what I did next. I mixed them and blended both of the leaves for a second brew. Just for s**ts and giggles. Fusing both liquors turned up a magical cup of melon-on-lemon action. Brewing the blend by the pint just turned up straight lemons! As opposed to…uh…bi-curious lemons? Where was I going with this?

Oh yeah, I love both of these teas. I love them both together. Taiwanese white tea should be more of a thing than it currently is. Formosa oolongs are great for every other time, but Formosa whites keep me from taking a nap in the late afternoon. And taste damn good, to boot.

With goodness like this, I can cope with waiting another year for a Japanese white tea. For someone so full of lament, I have it pretty good. Yes, I’m bragging – Taiwan pint held high – in ode to granted wishes.

I apologize for nothing

White Tea Week, Day 2: “The Whites of Nepal’s Eyes”

Back in June, again at World Tea Expo, I had the pleasure of meeting the proprietors of the new company, Nepali Tea Traders.

Nepali Tea Traders

I first sought them out when I noticed they had Nepalese oolongs and a Nepalese pu-erh among their wares. I found both iterations of old Chinese tea formulas  beyond acceptable. Particularly the Wild Yeti oolong…because…YETI!!!

A brief recap: Nepali Tea Traders is a U.S.-based outfit that specializes in importing teas from Nepal. (Obvious enough.) However, their particular focus is on Nepal’s Ilam region, specifically the farming collective-owned tea factory – Sandakphu. Teas purchased through NTT help benefit the workers and their families in the region.

I think I got that right.

Nepalese white teas weren’t exactly new ground for me. I covered a couple of ‘em HERE (in a fictional vein). But there was one experiment I wanted to try with the Himalayan variants that I didn’t have the opportunity to before. Drinking them all side-by-side.

One night in the Fall, I decided to do just that. These were the results:

Three white teas

Ama Dablam White Tea

On first impression, I noticed the very pretty, light green, downy-fur-covered leaves. I was instantly reminded of the Darjeeling estate Arya’s Pearl white tea. The aroma was like olive leaf with a hint of spice.

The liquor infused extremely pale – like, Silver Needle pale – with a subtle aroma of melons and herbs. Taste-wise, it was like a White Peony by way of a jalapeno popper. The latter metaphoric comparison was due to the spice and fruit I detected – as well as the grape-like finish. A very beguiling liquor.

Sandakphu White Tea

This one had a VERY muscatel, spicy smell with a hint of wildness, similar to a Yunnan province Chinese white. The overall sensory experience, though, I likened to the Darjeeling estate Risheehat’s Silver Tips white tea.

The infusion brewed to the darkest liquor of the three, a very obvious yellow. Not much of an aroma to speak of. On taste? It was woody, nutty, and an alternating flavor of lemons and sage on the finish.

Dhulagiri White Tea

Appearance-wise, this looked like a White Peony/Silver Needle hybrid. However, the smell (and look) was that of a green tea – particularly reminiscent of Mao Feng, except the shape of the leaf-rolling was definitely Himalayan. It also gave off a very grassy fragrance with a trail-whiff of artichoke hearts.

A three-minute infusion resulted in greener liquor as opposed to the usual white tea yellow. The aroma was still very green tea-ish, a lot like a Chinese Clouds and Mist green – one I despise. The taste, however, was a relieving sensation of butter, cooked veggies, and an undefinable sweetness on the end.

While I liked all of them, my clear favorite was the Ama Dablam. For some reason, it was the most white tea-ish to me. Aside from the spice, everything about it screamed, “Pay attention to my subtleties!” Like a mystery woman with a name you can’t pronounce. So glad I had the opportunity to do this. Brings an old tear to the whites of my eyes.

eyeballing tea

White Tea Week, Day 1: “Bi Luo the Belt”

In late 2012, I was given a unique opportunity. Canton Tea Co. wanted me to guest blog for them, relating my personal experiences with Dan Cong oolongs. I did finally get around to said blog…oh…three months after they asked. Instead of using it for “just” a blog update, I was informed it would be used for something else.

They asked me if they could use said blog in the third week of a monthly subscription service they were launching. As payment, I got to test-run said service. Monthly tea subscriptions are a dime a dozen now, and there are some great ones out there. However, a year ago, the only game in town (of that magnitude) was 52Teas. Canton Tea Co.’s Tea Club was taking it a step further.

tea club

Each week, new and unique teas would be featured along with profiles, background info, and personal anecdotes. Even in my smidge of a capacity, I was happy to be a part of it, and I was able to experience some fabulous teas in the process. There was this Hawaiian white…oh my gawwww *cue drooling*…

Alas, all good things had to come to an end, and my trial run of the subscription ran out. I wish I could’ve monetarily renewed it, but I was poor at the time. Actually, make that all the time. Seems to be a recurring problem. Luckily, I was in no shortage of teas to try. However, one showed up that made me go, Damn it!

On Week 26, a White Bi Luo Chun appeared. White. Bi Luo. Chun. Until that week, I was only aware of three variations on that style of tea – a gold-tipped black, a Keemun, and the original green tea. A white tea of that style definitely made my neck hairs erect.

I made my best beggar eyes in Canton Tea’s general direction.

cutesy eyes

They appeased me…probably out of pity.

I won’t go into what Bi Luo Chun is, or what its precarious history amounts to. I covered that story quite vividly HERE. No, I made none of that up.

Bi Luo Chun green tea actually hails from Jiangsu province, China. This white variant hailed from Yunnan province, much like it’s gold-tipped sibling. However, unlike Golden Bi Luo, this looked like no “Green Snale Spring”. Bi Luo Chun usually looks like this:

Green Bi Luo

Photo Owned by Esgreen

Leaves rolled to look like snail shells, as per the name. These looked like, well, slugs maybe. (Green Slug Spring. Heh. That has a ring to it.)

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Okay, that’s not entirely fair, there is some wiggle room to the rolling of the leaves. I have come across some more anachronistic approaches to Bi Luo Chun rolling. Generally, though, they’re rolled pretty tightly.

All snark aside, the leaves did smell very pleasant, and as floral smelling as the description indicated. I caught a whiff of lotus and honeysuckle when I put nose to bag. Aside from the flowers, the scent also reminded me of rough wilderness – a common trait I find in Yunnan whites. It wasn’t quite as rough as rough as those…but close.

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On taste, it’s a Chinese white through-and-through with an herbal front that transitions to a slightly grassy but mostly floral middle, and trails off nicely into a feeling of old forest. It doesn’t have a melon-ish lean like some good Chinese whites, but makes up for it with a slight citrus tickle on the aftertaste. All in all, it had a lot in common with Yue Guang Bai, another Yunnan white, but with a better flavor delivery.  I, frankly, enjoyed it over its Jiangsu-produced green tea sibling.

Don’t believe me? Well, try it for yourself. Or you can take your opinion and “Bi Luo” off. You know I had to use that pun at least once.

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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.

This was originally going to be an entry on some crappy blends I concocted over the last month or so, but the focus has changed in light of some recent events. I won’t go into detail as to what those are, nor will I post links that illustrate the example. However, I will give a Cliff’s notes version:

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Some stuff was written, some stuff was responded to, and some other stuff was further elaborated upon. End result: Pitchforks and torches raised. And – and as far as I’m concerned – with good reason. The problem? Both sides of the fence aren’t directly talking to each other. A dialogue doesn’t appear to exist.

Am I going to give advice on how to properly handle such situations? Heck no. I don’t know a damn thing about diffusing conflicts or tact. But I do know a thing or two about humility and balance. (It’s a Libra thing.) As such, I’m going to compare said crappy blends to some socially awkward tact moments I’ve been involved in.

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Insecurity and the Wild White Mountain

I love Greek Mountain tea. When I can find it in Greek or Mediterranean delis, it is a permanent staple in my tea shelf. What I’d always wanted to do, though, was blend it with something – anything, really. I found a likely candidate in the form of Ya Bao – tea buds from a Camellia varietal other than the tea plant. They were hearty and yielded a strong brew.

What occurred to me after trying them was how closely they resembled the bulbs of the Sideritis plant (i.e. the Greek Mountain shrub in question). With the help of David over at Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance, I was able to give the blending a go. I wanted it to be perfect.

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I mixed the herbs (half and half) in a bowl, then we brewed a strong batch of the stuff. The flavor came out slightly rough, lemony, hay-like, herbaceous, and floral. In short, I liked it. The measurements weren’t perfect, but overall, a good start. I kept asking David, repeatedly, if he liked it.

Later that week, I brewed up another pot to share with my brother. Same thing, I asked him repeatedly if he liked it. He said he did, but he wasn’t as ecstatic about it as I had hoped. This gave me pause.

Social Comparison

Over the summer, I tried to take on a new “blogging style” – emphasizing fiction over form. Most of the entries were well thought out, but they didn’t receive the fanfare I had hoped for. After all the planning I went through to make the change, I had expended more resounding positive feedback. In my disappointment, I heatedly tossed the style aside and returned to business as usual.

What I should have considered – once my passions had cleared – was that I didn’t give it enough time or room to evolve. In this way, it was like blending. The first try is rarely perfect; one has to tinker with the recipe. Had I fostered it better, it could’ve grown into something. Seeking out feedback prior to ousting the project would’ve helped, too.

Hindsight and all that.

Accidents, Smoke and Overreaction

On an underwhelming day in November, I reached for a canister that housed some Darjeeling I wanted to finish. Risheehat Vintage Spring – a delightful first flush from 2011. What I realized far too late was that the canister also housed some Lapsang Souchong. The poor li’l bag o’ Darjeeling smelled like campfire. For a split second, I lamented.

But I recovered rather quickly with a, Smoked Darjeeling?! AWESOME!

I brewed the sucker up. It tasted like muscatel and spice with a hint of smoke. Each serendipitous sip was exquisite. What did I do after? I emptied the Darjeeling into the canister, and placed the Lapsang Souchong in a filter bag. It was a ghetto version of what the Chinese did with jasmine flowers and green tea. Then I waited a week.

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One week turned into two because…well…I forgot about it. After the second week, I took the canister out and gave the contents a sniff. Smoke and wine. Holy wow! It was ready for another brew-up. The muscatel and spice were still there, but the smoky finish was even more pronounced. Not overpowering, however. The balance was near-perfect.

Social Comparison

Recently, I posted a link to the “novel” I had worked on in November. It was rough; I knew it was rough. That and I knew I was inviting criticism when I posted it. Only a few people chimed in, but those that did seemed to like where it was going. One, however, didn’t. I won’t mention names, but they found that it was rather pointless and lacking in emotion.

I was pissed.

To say I overreacted to the criticism would be an understatement. Only after a few weeks of fomenting can I truly say that I could’ve handled that better. The points the responder highlighted were good ones – if poorly presented. Had I given myself time to process the information like a professional, I would’ve seen that.

Just like with the smoked Darjeeling. At first, I thought the accidental smoking-scenting was a bad thing. Yet it led to one of my greatest sipping experiences. All because I gave myself pause.

Happy accidents.

Leonard’s Open Dialogue

I wasn’t expecting anything for Christmas, let alone tea. But right on Christmas Eve, a splendid little package was waiting for me from Canton Tea Co.’s  Tea Club. Instead of being a single origin tea, or a pre-made blend, it was an ounce of Assam and various smaller herbal packages. Licorice root, coconut flakes, cocoa nibs, cinnamon, orange peel, etc. It was a create-your-own-blend care packages.

Simply. Awesome. (Or “Assam”. Heh. Heh. Ahem…)

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to tinker with the blending kit until well after Christmas. The blend I had in mind was something that tasted like a chocolate orange – only…tea-ish. For the first try, I used a tablespoon of Assam, a teaspoon of orange, a teaspoon of cocoa nibs and a dash of cinnamon. All intended for a 16-ounce brew.

I steeped the contents for four minutes and drafted my brother as a taste-testing guinea pig. Moment of truth: The blend looked lovely, but it smelled…off. I couldn’t quite place it. We both gave it a sip and winced a little.

My brother voiced my thoughts, “It tastes like tomato basil.”

Well, shite.

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The next day, I attempted a phase two. Instead of adhering to exact measurements, I used a hefty amount of Assam – sprinkling orange, cocoa nibs, and licorice root conservatively. The result was far better than the first attempt, but other than a citrus front and an astringently malty finish, it still didn’t taste like a chocolate orange. While not the intended result, I still gave it a pass. Even if it was still missing something.

I named the blend Leonard.

Social Comparison

Some years ago – early on in my reviewing days – I was called upon to review a very old sheng pu-erh. At the time, my pu-erh palate was not yet developed. Nor did I know what “gongfu” was. I brewed it Western-style…and tasted straight dirt. I hated it. I wrote about how much I hated it, sparing no hyperboles.

The vendor responded to the negative review – not angrily or defensively, merely with suggestions on how to brew it. That opened up a dialogue that is still in existence today. Said vendor and I still have a professional relationship of sorts. All because – cliché as it sounds – cooler heads prevailed.

I’m not idealistic enough to say that folks in the tea community at large will always get along. We are nowhere near that utopian. If people are involved, there will always be disagreements. Guaranteed. What can be avoided, however, is seething rhetoric. What we say can affect the outcome of a conflict, no matter how small. How one reacts to a situation dictates the future of that relationship .

As the venerable Bill and Ted once said, “Be excellent to each other…”

And tea party on, dudes.

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Thanks to my cuz, Ryan Norman, for the the last-minute Photoshop awesomeness.

I had an epiphany last week…and I abhor it.

While in the middle of filing some tax papers at a temp agency gig, I was attempting to outline my CheatoWriMo project. Motivation was proving hard to muster. The idea of compiling and collating old blogs and stories seemed boring. An odd realization to come by while compiling and collating. If the prospect of preparing such a yarn didn’t appeal to me, how was it going to appeal to a reader? Then something hit me square in the brain – a surge of epic proportions.

It occurred to me that there were two novel ideas I had that I put on mothballs – one was called Brunch with Phantoms, the other was Love at Second Sight. Coupled with those was an idea from awhile back retelling the events from my blog – “The Sex Tea Saga” – in a fictitious manner. None of them had enough material in them to warrent their own novels. But together…

And with that revelation, my CheatoWriMo project became a lot harder. Instead of compiling and repurposing previously written material, I was now going to have to start from scratch. Oh, yippee. The “evolved”/new premise was thus:

 Raymond Elkins is a 25-year-old recent college grad with a life he thought he wanted. Everything was going according to “plan”, until one evening the unthinkable happened. He botched his anniversary with his girlfriend…by not getting it up.

Distraught, the twentysomething consults friends, family and the Internet for suggestions. This eventually leads him to an unassuming leaf found in some male enhancement products – tea. What begins, at first, as a quest for better sex leads him down a surreal and magical road – one wrought with danger and daring-do.

He must dodge vengeful goddesses, succubi,  snake-people, sentient birds and wizards bent on ending his accidental quest. And all he has to guide him are a talking cat, a low-rent psychic, an ill-tempered gnome, and an undead Scottish botanist. Where this journey may lead him, no one can know. But he just might find true love, a good cup of tea, and save the world while he’s at it.

Yeah, I know, it’s bats**t crazy, and starting it was like pulling teeth. I was actually beginning a legitimate NaNoWriMo novel now – albeit very delayed. It also didn’t help that there were distractions along the way. All tea-related.

Friday afternoon, a package was waiting for me when I returned from running errands. It was from Butiki Teas, and I muffled a squeal of delight as a courtesy to the neighbors. One particular tea in the fray demanded immediate attention – a Japanese pu-erh. You heard right, and – no – I didn’t know such a thing existed, either.

Apparently, those wacky Japanese in Shizuoka prefecture were playing around with new styles of fermented tea. I already knew of two, and even tried one last year (which I liked quite a bit). This was a different beast altogether. I can’t even fathom the process that created it. Appearance-wise, it looked like a typical Japanese kocha (black tea), but the aroma was far different – coffee, chestnuts, soy sauce, plums and…er, awesome?

According to the Butiki Teas bio, this was a tea that was fermented for two-to-three days – artificially – with/in a brown rice culture. In other words, a wacky Japanese take on the Menghai shou (or cooked) method of aging pu-erh. To be frank, this smelled a lot better than most cooked pu-erhs I’ve tried. Normally, I can’t stand the stuff. New teas, however? Totally my thing.

There was only one snag; I did not want to share this alone. So, I gave ol’ David of PDX Tea a shout and wondered if he wanted to partake as well. It didn’t take long to get an affirmative. That and he also had better brewing equipment for such an experiment than I did. We prepped it like the Butiki site recommended – 1.5 tsps., boiling water, four-minute wait.

I can’t even being to describe how this tasted. It was part barley, part coffee, part roasted oolong, part Korean black, and all delicious. It was probably one of the more unusual teas I’ve tried all year, and – boy – I’d had some doozies. The cocoa-ish aftertaste lasted well after the sip. A part of me wanted to acquire “moar!” just so I could age it myself for a few years. But, honestly, I don’t have that kind of patience.

Some pu-erh purists out there might be thinking that it can’t be called pu-erh if it doesn’t hail from Yunnan province, China. And they have a point. Technically, this would be a heicha, I suppose. I would call it “Japuerh”, but that sounds kinda racist.

The second tea-related distraction from my writing responsibilities was something I found out right after David and I finished copious amounts of oolong. His Alliance space and Charity Chalmers (of Chariteas fame) were hosting a Portland tea meet-up, and the emphasis was on aged teas. How could I not go?

Besides my own donations to the cause, highlights for my palate were a Yue Guang Bai white sheng pu-erh cake and a Bai Liang bamboo basket-woven pu-erh cake. Both were zesty, earthy, floral, winy and all around Entish. Yes, that’s a good thing. Mrs. Chariteas seemed to know her rare teas, and I made a mental note to visit her shop at some point in the near future.

Saturday, I finally got started on A Steep Story (the new title for the novel). Reliving some of those past, embarrassing events was mildly uncomfortable. Some say you aren’t writing anything worthwhile unless your soul bleeds. I’m not sure I buy that. I would hardly call what I put to paper Voltaire levels of excellence…but it’s a start.

A…very…small…start.

While this is technically playing by NaNoWriMo rules (i.e. starting from scratch), there’s still a hint of CheatoWriMo as well. I didn’t get started until about nine days in, so I’m giving myself nine days in December to continue. Beyond, if I have to. I’ll be damned if I’m not going to do this Little Nemo-meets-Scott Pilgrim yarn justice.