The term “Pekoe” in the name of this tea is a bit confusing for me. Usually, “Pekoe” refers, when combined with the word “Orange”, to a non-tippy type of broken black tea, from an obscure British/Dutch tea classification system.
The Yunnan Sourcing website says this tea is, “A robust white pekoe varietal green tea from Feng Qing area of Lincang.”
That implies that there is a Chinese tea varietal called “pekoe”?
Color me confused.
However, as soon as I taste this tea, I am far less confused. While it isn’t quite the green powerhouse that the Teng Chong Hui Long Zhai was, nor is it the mild mannered tea of either the Green Snail or the Cui Ming.
It charts a nice path right down the upper middle of the green teas I’ve tried, with very good vegetal pea/bean flavor, nice re-steepability, and a lengthy sweet after-taste. And a pleasantly zippy caffeine buzz. I could defintely drink the heck out of this one, whatever its pedigree.
There are a group of teas, or type of teas, which are classically called, “China’s 10 Famous Teas” (or sometimes 8 famous teas).
This classification goes back to before the communist revolution, at least late 1800s or early 1900s, maybe earlier.
The list slightly varies a bit from source to source, but it is usually about half green tea.
At the time, among those green teas, Lake Tai/Dongting Green Snail Spring from Suzhou, Jiangsu, was often considered the best of the best.
Suzhou is in the Central Eastern province, Jiangsu, near Shanghai.
This isn’t Lake Tai/Dongting Green Snail.
It is from Yunnan, which is a province in Southern China, bordering Myanmar, Laos, and Vientam.
The tea grown in the Jiangsu area tend to be on small leafed bushes. The tea grown in Yunnan area tend to be on big leafed, well, actual trees. Distinct varieties of tea are grown in each area, due to the differences in climate.
I haven’t had actual Bi Luo Chun from Jiangsu, so I can’t tell you how much this one resembles the other, but given the differences in regions, I don’t actually expect that this Yunnan Green Snail Bi Luo Chun tastes much like the real thing, from Jiangsu.
However, another distinguishing factor in “Green Snail” tea is how it is formed. As I mentioned, after the “Kill Green” step, green tea is usually formed into shapes which allow it to be stored without damaging the leaves.
In the case of “Green Snail” the tea is formed into a sort of double coil. First the leaf is rolled vertically, then it is rolled horizontally. The shape is said to resemble a snail which has been cooked and pulled out of its shell. Well, which you can see from the picture, it does. Yum.
While this tea may not be real “Bi Luo Chun” from Jiangsu, it is a very solid green tea.
I find with these assortments from Yunnan Sourcing, there is usually a couple exceptional teas, one unusual tea, and one that is just a solid, well priced example of the classification. A daily drinker, if you will.
This tea seems to be the daily drinker in this bunch. It is a super solid example of Yunnan green tea. Good clean flavor, forgiving of careless brewing, stands up to multiple brews, but doesn’t require it. I took it to my Mom’s house over the holiday and drank it every day.
First it’s a bit odd that it isn’t formed. Second, it is ridiculously light, almost a White Tea, or the ghost of a green tea.
Oh, but we haven’t talked about that yet.
White tea production is the simplest, the tea is picked, withered slightly, and dried. That’s pretty much it.
Green tea is slightly more complicated.
First, in general, white tea contains a slightly larger leaf to bud ratio than most White teas.
Second, after withering, the green tea undergoes something which is usually called “Kill Green”.
“Kill Green” refers to quickly heating the tea to stop the enzymatic action from changing the green color. Usually this is done, at a more rustic level, in something that looks a bit like a large wok, or at a more industrial level, in something that looks like a cross between a clothes dryer and a cement mixer. Alternatively, sometimes the tea is steamed, though this is more common in Japan.
After the “Kill Green” step, green tea is usually, (and I say usually, because obviously this tea has not,) formed into a some sort of shape that will prevent it from breaking in transport. A spear shape, or a roll, or a pearl shape, etc. There are different styles in different regions.
The tea is then dried at a low temperature.
This tea looks basically like White Peony (Bai Mudan) which has undergone a kill green step.
According to the Yunnan Sourcing this tea is grown from a specific varietal and picked very early in the spring.
It is super light in flavor, in almost every way the complete opposite of the robust late harvest Teng Chong Hui Long Zhai I drank yesterday. There is an earthy vegetal nutty character and a lingering sweetness. A bit of astringency in the middle steeps reminds you it is green tea, and not a white tea. But it has quite a nice, and subtle aftertaste.
I’m starting a new project in the new year. After spending the last few months drinking White Tea, I’m going to immerse myself in Green Tea for the next bit of time.
I started by ordering a Green Tea sampler from Yunnan Sourcing which includes Five 50g portions of various teas from Yunnan.
If you aren’t familiar with metric portioning, ordering teas in metric amounts can be a bit daunting, (but, frankly, ounces are way worse).
To make things easier, think about it like this. A typical teaspoon of tea is about 2g, which is a single British/American portion of single steep, broken tea.
But, you say, “Erik, you just ordered 250g of green tea, that’s 125 servings of tea. How on earth are you going to drink that?”
Well, let’s just say, I use more than 2g of tea per serving.
A typical amount used for a single serving of multi-steeped, whole leaf, Chinese tea is more like 5g (or 7g, if you’re really working it), which is really just 50 servings. A month and a half, if you only drink one batch of tea a day.
Anyway, this is a very nice tea, though not a green tea for wall flowers.
It has a nice early vegetal aroma, chewy but not overwhelming bitterness, and a very long lasting sweet aftertaste. Appetite building! A bit like a slightly less assertive Raw (Sheng) Pu-Erh. Oh, and a pretty zippy caffeine content! Scott from Yunnan Sourcing says it is a good morning tea, and I agree.
When posting the previous Yunnan White Teas, online tea acquaintances @unytea.store suggested that I would be remiss to skip trying some White Tea from Fuding, Fujian, the home of white tea. Fortunately, @yunnan_sourcing sells a few types of Fujianese white tea. This is a fun “Aged Fuding Shou Mei White Tea Dragon Ball”. Dragon Balls are 7g single serving compressed tea balls. In this particular case, these are handmade by the Yunnan Sourcing’s proprietor’s In-Laws. He even saves a portion of the money he makes on them and gives it to his in-laws every year in their Red Envelopes! Nice! Anyway, Shou Mei White tea contains more leaf than the pure bud white teas, and this particular white tea is aged for several years before being formed into Dragon Balls. Aged white tea is prized for it’s mellow, sweet character and easiness on the stomach. This tea is particularly sweetly floral and reminds me a bit of the of the honeyed flavor of chamomile tea. That is, until the buzz kicks in. I also got a pair of slightly nicer tea cups, of a more traditional size and shape. You should stop by my desk around 10am, and I’ll share. #Fuding #WhiteTea #Dragonball #YunnanSourcing #tasseography #Cha #Tea #TeaFriends
Sometimes I look at other #teafriends’ gaiwan photos and think, “Erik, you’re underdosing.” Then I up the leaves a bit, and whoops, buzzing away.
This is a return to the @yunnan_sourcing Ai Lao Mountain Jade Needle. I’ve finally got the water temp where it should be for this fairly delicate tea, and am finding it pleasantly complex. If you like Chinese green teas, this is a good gateway White Tea. Less subtle than most white teas, but more delicate than some greens. Incredible length of flavor and a surprising capacity for multiple steeps.
Fine, I needed a more reliable culinary thermometer, anyway. Just in time for Thanksgiving. Better tasting green and white teas are just a bonus.
“But, Erik, I can’t afford an expensive digital thermometer to prevent me from giving my family salmonella poisoning on Thanksgiving and improve my tea game. Can you give me some other hints, at least about tea?” First, don’t pre-stuff your turkey, the interior cavity doesn’t get hot enough to kill bacteria. (Actually, my best advice is to not stuff the turkey at all, but to cook the stuffing separately.) Second, OK, at about 50 feet above sea level, in a 71 degree office, it took 5 minutes and 30 seconds for the 3 1/2 cups of water in my boiler to drop from rolling boil to 185F, an appropriate temperature for white or green tea. Also, at sea level, 195 is the water temperature which is considered a “simmer”. That is, steaming with few small bubbles. So, if you can judge a simmer, a little bit lower than that is the water temp you want for green/white tea. Your mileage may vary.
Jingmai Sun-Dried “Three Aroma” Bai Mu Dan White Tea, Spring 2018 via @yunnan_sourcing.
Another White tea which mixes leaf and buds. One that even more than yesterday’s illustrates the fragile nature of white tea. And why, when you see it in the bulk bin at rainbow grocery, it’s just a pile of broken leaves.
According to the Yunnan Sourcing site, this is called “Three Aroma” because the smell of the dry leaves, the wet leaves, and the tea in the cup are very distinct and different. The smell of the leaves is tobacco/dried fruit. The wet leaves are grassy/vegetal. And the tea itself a bit minty/floral.
It’s funny, because just yesterday I was thinking how white tea was so very much about aroma, and what you got in the cup was indicated by the smell of the leaves. Live and learn.
This is a more assertive tea than the bud-only white teas, with a pleasant and lightening buzz. Subtle sweetness and good length of flavor. The dried fruit flavors show again in the after taste. Really haunting, finding myself thinking about it long after I finished the last of the tea.
Though, I think I steeped it a bit too hot.
Fine, another tea accessory you need is an accurate thermometer, so you don’t overcook your white and green teas. Or get one of them fancy water boilers that allow you to pick the temperature your water is heated to.
First, temperature is super important with white teas. They really need to be brewed around 180F or you risk overexpressing cooked, vegetal flavors in the teas. The bud only teas are a little more forgiving, but the bud-leaf teas should be handled carefully. I am going back through a second time, paying more attention, and will update my notes on the blog.
The other thing that is hard to judge at first is amount. Since loose leaf white tea isn’t usually rolled or formed, by volume, you need to use more than compressed teas. Takes a bit to get the hang of how much to use, unless you are using a scale.
White teas are pretty subtle. This was my first time drinking fresh brewed white teas. Given the simplicity of the processing, I was very curious about this expression of tea flavors.
They probably will never be my favorite teas, but, brewed carefully, they are quite interesting and complex, while being understated and elegant at the same time. The opposite end of the spectrum from ripe Pu-Erh.
For the record, my favorites (in no particular order) were the Ai Lao Mountain Jade Needle, Silver Needles of Feng Qing, and Jingmai Three Aroma Bai Mu Dan.
Now I just have a bunch more white tea to drink. Anyone? Bueller? I hear it’s a nice day for a… white tea party. Come on!