Harvest: Spring, 2011
Growing Area: Jenai Township, Nantou County, Taiwan
Elevation: +/-4,000 ft (1,200 M)
Varietal: Jin Xuan
Zhao Lu Bai Cha is an extraordinary Spring Harvest, 2011 white tea from Nantou County in the central part of Taiwan. The name Zhao Lu Bai Cha (朝露白茶) translates as “Morning Dew White Tea” in English. It is made from a tea cultivar known as Jin Xuan. This tea varietal is commonly used in Taiwan to produce a mildly fragrant oolong tea, or, more recently, the trend has been for producers to add a milk flavoring compound to enhance the cultivar’s naturally creamy/milky mouthfeel and slightly creamy flavor when processed as an oolong so it can be sold as “Milk Fragrance Oolong.” At this point, we do not sell any Jin Xuan oolong, but you can try this cultivar here as a smoked black tea, a green tea and now as this white tea.
The Jin Xuan plants were planted in the mid-1980’s and have grown into very healthy & robust specimens (see photo below for a close up of the thick, mature stems at the base of these bushes). They have been grown using strictly natural agricultural methods since this producer carries MOA certification. The age of the tea plants and the careful, natural cultivation methods employed have enabled these plants to grow to very healthy and hearty plants which, in turn, produce tea with excellent body and a more robust character than their younger counterparts.
White tea processing is not complicated, but it requires a lot of experience to do well. Essentially, the young, tender new growth buds and smaller leaves are hand picked and then are transported to the processing facility, where they are spread out on large mats to start the process of encouraging the water in the leaves to evaporate in a controlled process known as withering.
Withering is accomplished using a combination of exposure to sunlight and time in a climate/humidity controlled indoor facility before a final drying step using low heat ovens. In the case of this white tea, the tea master carefully controlled the withering process to achieve a result that preserves the very fresh, green appearance, aroma & flavor of the tea leaves. This process is fully dependent on his many years of experience making tea, his expertise in traditional Chinese tea processing methods and non-traditional innovations in processing methods like what he did to make this wonderful white tea.
The aroma of the dry leaf is remarkably fresh and clean with hints of green fruit (green plums?) and maybe just a touch of honeysuckle flower fragrance. This tea’s infused liquor is a beautiful, pale yellow-green with impeccable clarity, and it’s aroma is mild, green and vegetal with elements of the green fruit from the dry leaf. The infused liquor is soft, light and fresh in the mouth with an element in the flavor that reminds me a bit of under ripe honeydew melon and fresh sugar snap or snow peas.
Steeping this tea Gong-Fu style in a gaiwan works beautifully using 175-180°F water and a series of steeps that gradually increase in length. A more “Western” approach also yields very good results using 155-60°F water and a 6-12 minute steeping time. But, I highly recommend using a very informal “grandpa style” approach. Simply place a few pinches of the tea leaves in a highball glass, pour in 170-175°F water and let it steep until most of the leaves soften and begin to sink to the bottom. Either blow any leaves out of the way before drinking or simply drink the tea around them. Then, when you run out of water, just add more to the same batch of leaves. Keep enjoying and adding water until the flavor is gone. Note: if you have a “bombilla” (a straw with a filter on the end traditionally used to drink Yerba Mate in South America), I can’t recommend them highly enough when drinking white tea “grandpa style” like this.