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.
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.
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:
To my surprise, for the 2013 sample…they sent the entire cake.
Look at it. Simply behold its majesty.
I almost wanted to gnaw a piece off of it with my teeth. It even smelled fresh, spry and ready for munching.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.