My coworker has found himself taken with the Ripe Pu-Erh Tea I have served him, so he took it upon himself to visit a local tea retailer and bring in a contribution to our growing workplace stash. Still maintaining he, “doesn’t know much about tea”!
I’m not quite sure how anyone could ask for a tea named “Maiden’s Ecstasy” with a straight face!
Anyway, lascivious name aside, this is a fine Pu-Erh tea, hay and forest floor flavors dominate the early steeps giving way to leather and wood in the later steeps. Aftertastes are menthol/camphor. It doesn’t have great length or complexity, but it is fairly reasonably priced and I don’t detect any real flaws. A very good every day ripe Pu-Erh, in other words.
Starting from the end, the tea is from “Jinngu” County in the Simao Prefecture of Yunnan Provice of China. The Simao Prefecture is also sometimes called “Pu’Er” and it is the heart of Puerh tea production in China.
This is a “White Tea”, meaning the buds and leaves are picked, briefly faded, then quickly dried.
It is made in the “Moonlight” style, which is a style of white tea made in Yunnan which is allowed to oxidize slightly more than is normal during the fading, expressing more of the fruit character of the tea.
In the more mountainous regions of Puerh, there are trees whose buds and leaves are higher in anthocyanins, it is believed in reaction to the elevation. These trees are called “Purple”. These tea trees are often used to make PuErh and Black Teas, but the anthocyanins contribute to making them rather on the bitter sides of those styles. (FYI, there are three distinct types of purple tea varietals in teas on the Yunnan Sourcing site, so it can be a bit confusing.)
Finally, it is “Wild Tree”, which means that the trees from which these buds and leaves are harvested grow outside of the commercial Puerh plantations. It is my understanding that this particular tea is only picked once a year and in a fairly small amount. It often sells out quickly on the Yunnan Sourcing site.
When you open the bag and smell the dry leaves, the aroma is amazing. Dried stonefruit and leather. Completely different from the mild floral or earthy perfume you might be used to from most white teas.
The wet tea is true to the dry aroma, as is the flavor of the steeped beverage. Dried stonefruit and earthy, leathery flavors. If you push it, and brew it hot, you will start to express a bit of the bitterness which can be present in other styles. It has a haunting length of flavor and the leaves, brewed carefully, last for many steeps.
If you like White tea, but are looking for a truly special tea with a little more zest and variety, this is a great one to try. Keep an eye out for it on the Yunnan Sourcing Instagram, Website, or Newsletter.
Nepali Green Pearl Tea from Rainbow Grocery in SF.
One of my coworkers has noticed that I am often making tea, and I sometimes share with him, so he brought in some he got at Rainbow Grocery, with the caveat, “I don’t know much about tea, but Nepali Tea seemed interesting.”
I found it interesting, as well. I didn’t know ANY green tea was made in Nepal or India. I thought it was all Black.
My initial impressions are that some care was taking with producing this tea. The dried tea is well formed and undamaged. After steeping I see that it is 1 bud, 1 leaf.
I brewed this with my usual Chinese Green tea gaiwan method.
6 grams of tea, water starting around 185 degrees F.
The first thing I notice is a smoky ham-like character. Not like a tea that has been smoked or contaminated with smoke as part of the kill green, but as character of the tea. A little greasy, with a thick soup in the first steeps, but quickly thinning.
The first steeps are super intense, but the flavor quickly fades as the brewing continues.
Unfortunately, the overall impression the tea leaves, after the initial flavor shock, is of an unpleasant lingering bitterness in the throat, which continues through the less intense later steeps.
Working my way through green teas, it seems I cannot resist the siren call of Oolong!
There are different types of Oolong, but the most well known is called Tie Guanyin, also sometimes called Iron Goddess of Mercy. According to one of the legends of this type of tea’s origins, a humble tea farmer in Anxi County, Fujian, China, noticed a local temple had fallen into disrepair. He took it upon himself to clean it up, sweep it out, and then offer some incense to the goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. Shortly thereafter, the Goddess appeared to him in a dream. She told him that in the cave behind her temple a treasure awaited that he needed to share with others. When he investigated, he found the shoot of a tea tree. He planted the shoot in his field and nurtured it, the tea it produced was amazing! He gave cuttings of the tree to his neighbors far and wide. When all the tea trees came to fruition, they began selling it under the name “Tie Guanyin” to honor the goddess.
Whenever I’ve seen “Iron Goddess of Mercy” tea on a restaurant menu, I order it, I mean, who could resist such a name?
This is a darkly roasted Tie Guanyin. The base of the flavors and smells are similar to dark roasted grain, a bit like a dark beer or Japanese roasted barley tea. On top of that are layers of sweetness and orchid fragrance which perfume the tea pot and cup. The fragrance/taste of the tea is long lasting and haunting, but the perfume is not overpowering. Super elegant and incredibly well balanced.
Another sample which came along with an order from King Tea Mall.
As I mentioned before the Chinese region of Yunnan borders Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar in a sort of indistinct mountainous area. Tea trees grow naturally in the neighboring areas of of all three countries.
As I understand it, John King, the proprietor of King Tea Mall tried some teas in small villages of Laos near Burma and became entranced with the potential of the tea trees there.
Usually, when we say “tea trees”, calling them “trees” is being generous. Most are kind of bushy and spindly, not getting much taller than a man. In commercial tea producing areas, it doesn’t make much sense to let them get too big, it just makes them harder to harvest.
In these areas of Laos, some of these tea trees have been growing wild, apparently for years or decades.
John has some great pictures of the workers climbing trees like squirrels to harvest the tender shoots and leaves of these enormous tea trees.
I’ll let him describe the tea.
“That is a flavor I have never tasted before. Though there is near the south border of YI WU tea region in China, but the taste is far different. Also different from teas from other regions in Yunnan.
“Ever the bitterness turns out in the beginning or sweetness which comes from aftertaste are obvious like a weather I experienced these days in that tea sourcing trip. The sun was shining brightly. Soon a group of cloud dropped by and brought a sudden rainfall. Meanwhile, the sun was still shining from higher sky. When the cloud passed by minutes later, sky turned back to normal as before.
“Rich taste with complex. The mouth feeling varies when tea liquid passes into throat.”
I can’t do any better than that, but I will say the later steeps of this tea exhibit some great fruit flavors that I believe will only be enhanced as it ages.
Usually, the term “Puerh” is reserved solely for tea made in Yunnan, China. Others can be called “Dark Tea”, but they aren’t Puerh.
John brought in tea harvesters and processors from Yunnan, did the early stages of tea processing in Laos. Then moved the tea to Menhai, Yunnan, where the processing was completed. So, at the very least it is Laotian Tea processed in Puerh Style.
I mentioned when I ordered a couple teas from Yin Xiang Hua Xia Tea, they sent along a few samples. One was this mysterious entity, marked only in Chinese characters.
The single serving Chicklet/Tile shape intrigued me, but I couldn’t find anything very similar on their website.
Opening the package, it seemed like a white tea of some sort.
I sent a note off the the tea company asking what it was, but went ahead and brewed it at the slightly lower temps I use for white tea.
When I tasted it, I was pretty sure it was a white tea, as it reminded me strongly of Fujianese Bai Mudan or White Peony type tea.
It was quite tasty and surprisingly zippy, with the typical tasting notes you’d give a white tea. Light body, floral, yet earthy/minty flavors. Good length of aftertaste and a bit more re-steepability than you would expect from even a Bai Mudan.
I did eventually hear back from the company and find out the tea is what they call Songya Mudan from 2012. Songya Mudan is a classification of Fujianese white tea with fewer buds than Bai Mudan.
It’s important to note that the main classifications of white tea are based mostly on the ratio of buds to leaves, Silver Needle, White Peony, etc., and that they aren’t exactly related to quality of the tea. Instead, the amount of bud in the tea will affect the character of the brewed tea. In general, the more buds, the more subtle the flavor, the more leaves, the more white tea will taste like the flavors you normally associate with tea. There can be very good (and very bad) teas in any of these classifications, so it is more important to find an importer you trust, and whose taste matches yours, than to decide based solely on Silver Needle vs White Peony vs whatever. Also, Silver Needle teas, because of the increased labor involved with picking more buds per gram of tea, will be more expensive.
There’s an interesting saying that the Chinese have about White Teas:
“一年茶、三年药、七年宝” or “First Year it’s Tea, In the Third Year it’s Medicine, after Seven Years it’s Treasure”
So, finding out Yin xiang hua xia tea, had sent me not just a sample, but an actual “treasure” was quite a surprise!
As regards the medicinal claims for white tea, I will say while drinking so much White Tea through December and January, I was rarely ill, while those around me in the office fell prey repeatedly to colds and flus.
Another point of interest, because the leafier versions of White Tea are so fragile, it actually makes sense to buy it in cakes. The last time I ordered White Tea from China, it was opened and inspected by US Customs. I think unpacking and squeezing the white tea bags was among their priorities, so my tea arrived pretty crushed. If I had, instead, ordered white tea cakes, it might not have been as damaged.
I believe I’ve mentioned before, there is a classic list of “China’s 10 Famous Teas”. There’s a bit of waffling about some of the 4-6 Green Teas usually on the list, but one that is always on, and almost always first, is Long Jing Dragonwell from Hangzhou in China’s Zhejiang province.
I’ve had a bit of a love/hate/fear relationship with Dragon Well tea.
I drank it almost exclusively for several years, accidentally super overdosed one time, and now am a bit nervous about trying it again.
The problem with highly regarded, highly produced, highly desired, and often expensive Chinese teas, is, you run the risk that the producers will use chemicals or you will actually not get what you asked for.
Like the fact that far more Olive Oil is sold as Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil than could possibly be produced in Italy, more tea is sold as “Long Jing Dragonwell” than could possibly be produced in that Chinese province. Most often it is simply green tea from another region made in the style of Dragon Well.
I sort of suspect the tea I had such an adverse reaction to may not have been actual Dragon Well and may have been treated with chemicals.
In any case, that is not this Dragon Well.
You can see the typical flattened spear shape and lighter olive green color.
Brewed well with water this tea expresses a wonderful nutty taste, chestnut is the flavor used to describe what it evokes, but I get a little bit of coconut. It has a rich broth, lingering flavor, and re-steepability beyond what you would expect from a green tea. There is a little bit of tannic sensation in the later steeps, but no bitterness at all.
I brewed it in a Gaiwan, though it is more typical to brew Dragon Well Tea in a pitcher or glass, refilling with water as you go along.
I’m glad I overcame my reluctance and renewed my acquaintance with Dragon Well, one of China’s Top Teas.
So, one of the fun things about writing about tea on instagram is that there is a pretty active community of tea drinkers and tea marketers.
As I mentioned before, it’s not that unusual to post about a type of tea and have someone message you and say, “If you liked their Baihaoyinzhen, you need to try my Baihaoyinzhen!” Which is pretty fun.
And that is exactly what happened here.
I had posted about the Yunnan Sourcing (@yunnan_sourcing) Fuding “Bai Hao Yin Zhen” Silver Needles White Tea and another user, @yinxianghuaxiatea, immediately messaged me telling I needed to try their White Tea from Fuding.
I was kind of finishing up with White Tea by this point, but I thought, “Why Not?” Plus, they had some other pretty tempting teas listed on their Instagram Account.
Anyway, if you are looking for a very good Fuding White Tea, you should think about ordering from Yin Xiang Hua Xia Tea, as this is about the best White Tea of this type I’ve tried. Amazingly clean taste, great re-steepability, and a length of aftertaste that just won’t quit. Not to mention a nice zippy buzz.
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.