My understanding of Shou Mei is very limited. For a long time, I saw it as one of the least expensive tea in white tea genre, and a restaurant tea. A few months ago, I tried a 2005 white peony that was really interesting. This year, when my supplier sent me the new harvest Bai Hao Silver Needle, he said, “Now it’s time to taste last year’s silver needle again – you may find it even better than when it was new.” I will do it soon. But all these made me want to try some old Shou Mei.
So I got this 2009 Shou Mei. In the past, I always brewed Shou Mei the same way as I do with other white tea – small amount of tea, long steep. This time, I decided to use a “hybrid” method between the old brewing and gongfu brewing. I used leaves that filled about 1/5 -1/4 of the gaiwan, and brewed it for 1 minute for each of the first 3 infusions.
My overall impression is, this is the best Shou Mei I’ve ever had. The tea is floral, smooth, sweet, with a little hint of spiciness. Overall I feel it’s not picky at all. Shorter infusion or longer infusion will change the intensity of the flavor and number of infusions the tea can yield, but will not cause problems – as long as very hot water is used and the tea is not under-steeped. My tea started to get weaker in the 4th infusion, but still went a long way after that. I don’t know what will happen if higher leaf/water ratio is used. But I guess if the leaves fill half of the gaiwan, and infusion is controlled to be within 20-30 seconds, the tea will be great and will yield more infusions.
The tea tastes somewhat like Bai Hao Oolong (Oriental Beauty). People who love Oriental Beauty may consider letting their Shou Mei stay around for a couple of years. After all, Shou Mei is so much cheaper than Oriental Beauty!
So, if you have some old silver needle or white peony left in a corner of your tea cabinet (don’t we all have accidentally forgotten teas!), take it out, taste it and let us know what you think of it!