I asked the folks at Glenburn to give me a call when they had their first flush and Moonshine available and just got word a few days ago that they have stocked their California warehouse. I had the option of air freight from India quite a while ago but this way was a lot cheaper and I was bogged with samples anyway. I guess they had already officially sold out of this one for online orders but were happy to sell me half a pound over the phone alongside the First Flush, new crop Orthodox Khongea Assam, and last autumn’s Darjeeling Oolong that I was really surprised by in the samples I tried a few months ago. Supposedly the Moonshine is superior since it employs more effort and time in plucking and production so I went ahead and bought the minimum wholesale quantity despite not having tasted it before. I ought to know better than this after being inundated with pounds and pounds of low-end Darjeelings from similar wholesale orders in the past that I really wish I nabbed samples of before sticking myself with lackluster or borderline bad quality tea. Fortunately everything I’ve gotten from Glenburn Tea Direct has been fairly tasty – even the CTC Assam and Signature Blend are decent and drinkable – and this is supposed to be their cream-of-the-crop top tier tea. Turns out it’s definitely worth the price and I’m glad I got what I did, though I personally prefer some of their easier to procure offerings.
Right off the bat when opening one of the nicely parsed and sealed 1/4lb mylar bags, I have a hard time calling this an oolong. Just smelling the dry fragrance that pushes out before I even get a look at the leaves makes me think “White Tea” and when I do get a look at the leaves I think “White Tea” with more conviction. Downy green one- to two-leaves and a bud leaf sets with a preponderance of white hair and snappy fresh green vegetal fragrance. Certainly smells like a Darjeeling or Nilgiri White Tea… The leaves are curled in a way that makes me think some light rolling or tossing occurred but you can tell they were either not rested at warm ambient temperature long enough for significant oxidation, the oxidative enzymes were denatured before browning could occur, or they were just simply really light-handed with the leaves so no obvious bruising occurred. Inspecting the infused leaves could support any of these. There are some broken leaves but the margins are not tattered at all even in partial leaves and the only browning I can find is coloration on the mid-veins and attached stems. Even though the leaf mass is a mixture of leaf sizes it is obvious that this is from shipping and packing damage rather than early production or irregularity in harvest. The leaves all appear to be from a very careful two-leaf and longer bud harvest. They are nice enough to mark on the bags when this harvest occurred, by the way – this batch was picked on March 9th, 2012 and surface-shipped. Where this departs from White Teas is in its leaf density; while very voluminous compared to most intact leaves from Darjeeling, it has the same relative density as a Bai Hao Oolong rather than a Bai Mu Dan. One teaspoon fairly consistently (odd for a tea of mixed bud sets and separate buds/leaves) comes out to 0.85g and one tablespoon comes out to just over 2.5g. Apart from that, I’d say this is differentiated from a white by only a very light rolling – there’s certainly some oxidation at play here but no more than a protracted wither would cause. Definitely not a green nor a hard-wither tea.
Dry Fragrance is vegetal and somewhat toasty. Out of the bag it’s got this sweet, dried leaf or grape skin fragrance mixed with cucumber and a touch of honeysuckle. In a warm gaiwan cucumber shares dominance with uncut Cantaloupe or Crane Melon with accents of baked wheat bread and breaded fried shrimp (somehow in a good way…).
Wet leaf aroma is tangy & musty. Very much like a wine cellar. Wood, moist granite, moss, uncut Meyer Lemon, and citron. There’s this initial oily vaporous tendril that seemed to hit me from the lid of my gaiwan I initially took as a hint of peppermint syrup, but it lacked the sweetness and intensity such a name would confer so I’m a bit reluctant to include it here. However, as it’s the very fist note I jotted down and did so with immediate confidence I guess I’d better mention it even if I don’t really feel it meshes after taking other things in.
I used a very large mass of water to try and maintain temperature as much as possible in my kettle but wound up reheating just a bit for the last couple infusions. All of these were prepared in rapid sequence and each decanted into a cha hai lineup so I could get them out as fast as possible and taste them against each-other before cooling.
Used 4g per 125mL in a heavy glazed ceramic gaiwan. No rinse but I preheated really well and sealed the leaves in the warm gaiwan with the lid on for a little over a minute to help release dry fragrance. Every infusion was brewed with water at 85C in the kettle and the cup remained hot to the touch before each brew.
White grape juice, honeydew melon, cotton candy liquor aroma. Light gold yellow with great transparency and a ton of suspended little hairs in spite of pouring through a very fine mesh strainer. Pervasive cotton candy and vanilla nose cause these to remain forefront of flavor character in spite of little to no supporting taste to accompany them (predominantly a lack of sweetness). Full body. Cotton dryness in rear of mouth gives way to light pinching astringency in throat. Very light in potency/intensity. Sweet impression in nose but not really sweet at all on tongue. Refreshing mouthwatering effect up front produces a fair amount of saliva but isn’t thick in texture as I’m used to. Light and a tad bit crisp like cucumber (with skin).
2) 1min 30sec
Eucalyptus and Buddha’s Hand Citrus peel in liquor aroma. Slightly deeper yellow. Pleasant light acidity strikes the center of the tongue – Citron, Kumquat, Buddha’s Hand citrus impression. Faint initial cucumber aftertaste gives way to a delayed thick but brief star jasmine vaporous aftertaste that arrives with the throat-based astringency. When taken as a draught the flavor is more fluid and consistent than the staccato series of impressions above from sipping or slurping. Comes off very much like patchouli oil with a vaporous and somewhat drying effect throughout the mouth.
Muscat grape juice liquor aroma. Slightly lighter yellow color like first infusion. Much more mouthwatering and less astringent, though it still presents as a prickling/pinching in the rear base of the tongue into the throat. Buddha’s Hand or Bergamot citrus peel, eucalyptus bark, cottonwood bark, white grape skin, and star jasmine. Still a sort of vaporous aromatic oil impression throughout mouth when taken as a drought, but I would associate it more in terms of a light menthol relative [White Sage] now rather than patchouli.
4) 2min 30sec
More muted muscat grape juice liquor aroma has a hint of wet table grape cluster musty-crisp aroma mixed in. Color a tad deeper, intermediate between first/third and second infusions – a nice light gold or very pale honey color (or half honey and half water mixture). Flavor and texture like third infusion, but a little lighter body. Slight acidic tang at center of the tongue is a little more distinctly woody now – like the taste from biting a stem from a cluster of table grapes. Hint of rose petal now in aromatic oil expression following a draught or big gulp.
Same color, less discernible aroma. Reminiscent of the smell or taste of the air walking near Chardonnay in French Oak barrels. Actually, this infusion is incredibly similar to a drier, less buttery Chardonnay in general. Lighter body, but it works well with the light crispness that has opened up away from the basic cucumber and citrus of earlier infusions. Hint of menthol and citrus oil in aftertaste but only just a touch. The afteraroma is very much like the smell of hiking up to a freshwater seep on a hot day in a denser oak woodland or stand of madrone. Ferns, moistened dry leaves and grasses, watercress, and a woody note that’s making me think of the over story oaks, madrone, or larger manzanita but really could be just as easily likened to bran (like Grape Nuts cereal). This fifth infusion is very tasty and almost worth scrapping earlier infusions just to get to it, making me rethink my initial distrust of the brewing recommendation from the manufacturers (or perhaps I ought to say Plantation Managers or tasting team, as this is being sold by the family running the farm). Darned tasty.
Flavor intensity hasn’t slackened, actually only opened up a bit. However, I want to test the other brewing parameters before I become waterlogged so I’m cutting this round here.
For the longer, more dilute round I’m using 1.88g in the same 125mL gaiwan. 85C across the board again but starting right off the bat with the scary-long 5min infusion. Hmm, a full 5 minutes with something that looks so green is sending off all kinds of bells and whistles in my head so I’m just setting my timer and looking away, trying not to fidget over the notion of severe overstepping when I was getting astringency at 1 minute. Still cooler water than I use for many oolongs or even sheng cha… I’m trying to look at these leaves like mao cha for right now.
Wet leaf aroma is very different here and smacks of lemon grass. I definitely get the citrus impression right off the bat under this preparation. With fewer leaves in the cup it also looks more like Mao Feng green tea but with just a slight orange cast to the stems.
Liquor aroma is more heady floral and a tad musty (wet table grape clusters again). Smells a lot like walking past a closed flower shop or greenhouse without going inside… After it has rained and the sun is starting to warm up the ground.
Color is about the same as the first and third infusions at higher concentration and shorter steep time… Maybe a bit paler. Looks like a gold-platinum blend for jewelry.
Wow. Way smoother and just as full bodied. Pretty mouthwatering. Lemon grass similarity in the flavor but not so much in citrus as the natural sweetness. Not much compared to many teas out there, but way more with this longer steep than with the shorter ones. There is still that back-of-tongue and into the throat astringency pucker but it’s a bit lighter and is balanced out more. There’s still a bit of citrus but it’s mostly relegated to the aroma and nose with only a light citrus oil (Buddha’s Hand, again) in the mouth. There’s that aromatic oil prickliness through the mouth after a swig like before, but it’s very light and pleasant.
Under these guidelines this tea is very much a midway in flavor between the two teas I used as a volumetric dose reference earlier. Halfway between Bai Mu Dan and Bai Hao Oolong with just a touch of white grape and carnation I associate with Darjeelings. Really nice balance without the potential abrasiveness particularly green First Flush Darjeelings can display at times.
Second infusion under the same parameters is just as flavorful and wonderful as the first. Tad less astringency in the throat, a bit less mouthwatering, and more kumquat citrus-fruity.
Simply due to the effect of making me do a double-take on brewing parameters this tea meets the qualifications of hitting the 90’s under my highly subjective scoring scheme. On top of that it’s really tasty and super drinkable (good tasting doesn’t equate capability to slug down a mug, but this is nice either way). However, in spite of it being approachable, tasty, thought-provoking, and even dynamic from cup to cup I have a hard time pushing the rating on this. It’s mildness had a great balance with the body it displays, just like a Jun Shan Yin Zhen that managed to slip into the 90’s so I can’t just say it’s a matter of low flavor “volume”… I just kind of feel the range of character isn’t great enough to justify rating this in the upper echelons of tea quality. It’s pretty difficult to pick a ton of discernible characters out of any of the infusions under either brewing approach. I love how evocative of certain places it can be and it’s frickin’ yummy but it’s not even my favorite from Glenburn. To get up to 85 or above I’d want to be able to pick out at least twice the number of characteristics I’m getting here. Definitely worth trying, though… Or buying a kilo or two next time it’s available.