This is a really intriguing tea to me.
Most white teas are either straight or flavored/sceneted versions of Silver Needle (Yin Zhen) or White Peony (Mu Dan). They are sweet and spicy, with some citrus notes coming out in a Bai Mu Dan. Other than that, I find the profiles to all be very similar, with only varying degrees of strength, quality, or staying power. As a result, I’m just not that into white teas. I love things that are complex and unexpected, and I love my teas to change and take me on a journey over multiple steepings. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but we’re talking about what’s in my cup here.
And then Verdant brought in this Songyang white. I’ve never heard of Songyang before. I’d also say “not even while I was living in China,” but that doesn’t say very much considering the folks in Qingdao didn’t care about white tea at all. The only other place I’ve even seen a Songyang white is at Adagio (Songyang Serenade Tea). They describe Songyang as " light in color, with a tender aroma and a sweet, refreshing taste. If you enjoy the subtle taste of white tea, we recommend you give Song Yang a try." To me, this description says, "this is an extremely light tasting tea. we don’t know what it tastes like and the flavor is obviously not interesting to us, so we’re just going to says it’s generically “sweet” and “refreshing. Even though it’s bland, we’re sure you’ll drink it because it’s white tea so it obviously has ‘health benefits.’” The description goes on more about how hard and expensive this is to process rather than taste.
I haven’t tried Adagio’s version of Songyang (it’s no longer on their website), but I can’t imagine anyone calling this version from Verdant tasteless or just generically “sweet” and “refreshing.” This tea is so different from any other white tea I’ve ever encountered, it’s something I’d recommend to others just to broaden your mind a bit.
The dry leaves are as pictured.. long tongues or little green, complete leaves that look like shards. The dry smell has hints of sparkling spive with some dry sweetgrass notes. There is a bright crisp note that really reminds me of a snappy Darjeeling (disclaimer, I rarely ever drink Darjeeling.. this just fits with my impressions of them so far.) Once steeped, the leaves are incredibly green! It’s a reminder that words like “green,” “white,” and “oolong” refer to how a tea is processed, not the color of the leaves. The smell of the steeped leaves is of steamed, fresh greens- brussel sprouts or baby asparagus- but still with a nice, light sweet and spiced blanket over the top. We spent quite awhile just sticking our noses in the steeped leaves, trying to figure out just what the intriguing aroma reminded us of..
The taste, as I mentioned above, must really be tasted to be believed! It’s so green and snappy in taste, like an uncooked sweet pea pod.. or like creamy, thick steamed edamame with some butter (at the same time, without being savory). The words that keep popping up all over my notes page are crisp, snappy, and clean. Later on, the consistancy remined me somehow of tea ice cream, and again that bright Darjeeling comparison.
What this tea makes me think of the most, however, is eating leaves. When I was younger, I would (stupidly, I know!) wander around the neighborhood, picking leaves off of the neighborss plants and eating them. I lived in Indonesia at the time; my mother would have a heart attack if she knew. Point being, those leaves all tasted so fresh and alive.. like there were crystals of bright green life buzzing around in them. This is what the tea liqour tastes like. It really makes me imagine that this is what true, virgin tea tastes like. The Priomordeal Tea- tea of the Garden of Eden… Tea. This must be what Emporer Shen Nong tasted when those tea leaves blew serendipitously into his little couldron of boiling water, the tea that cured him of his deadly poisonous ill.
That virgin, untouched, unprocessed taste is what intrigues me so and draws me to this tea, over and over, to try. It’s so crazy, so weirdly appealing, and for me is very true to what white tea processing is.
I tried this later with another friend with even shorter steepings (steeped in two glass pitchers), and suddenly some expected white tea flavors started popping up along with my TEA taste. Without warning, there was clove, sparkling sweet spice of pastries, or even of an almod croissant. Such a surprising tea. I will keep playing with the steeping times and methods to figure out just what causes one flavor to come out over another, and which method I prefer for what mood and setting.
If you’ve tried all the white teas, you haven’t tried anything like this yet. Give it a try- it is unlike anything else. A true taste of untouched tea.. crazy fun. I am having a good time figuring this out.
PS: Yes, this is one of Verdant’s few teas where steep time, etc is actually important (the other being Dan Cong and maybe Farmer’s Coop). Basically everything else is very forget/work-proof.. I take the tea, I put it in a cup, I add water, and I can just drink all day.
You could probably do this with any other white tea- Bai Mu Dan and Bai Hao Yin Zhen shoudl never get bitter, no matter how hard you try. But this is a very different white tea. Western style, I’d say two minutes or less. In fact, whether you’re doing it in a small glass pitcher (like I do so I can see that dancing leaves) or in a bigger pot, I’d recommend going by the smell of the tea the first few times. Just like green vegetables are done when they look done and most delicious, so too will this tea be done when it smells just right.
In a glass pitcher, I added the tea leaves (enough to cover the bottom, plus a tiny bit more), and then poured my boiling water onto the side of the glass until the water covered the leaves. Poured until the glass was 2/3rds-ish full. Let it steep for 15 or 20 seconds the first time.. basically, I swished the leaves around once, smelled them, swished again, smelled- and then poured off.
So if this tea seems bitter or overly sharp, I’d say back off on the steep time. These leaves have had the utter minimum in processing, so they are very unprotected from the hot water we pour on them to wake them up. Be gentle, and they should reward you with the fun flavors described above.