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Recent Tasting Notes
This actually the much shortened and edited version I wrote earlier today:
AAAAARRRRRGGGHHH! Ok, I feel a little better. Yes, I am stressing out. The Cloud Minders are wearing me out. For the non-nerds that is a reference to an episode of the original series of Star Trek. It has to do with those who don’t do the work making all the decisions. I have been carrying 3 times the normal work load for too long. Yesterday, I find out I have to switch what I am working on because one of the Cloud Minders promised we would be done with another project April 1. It can’t happen but that is beside the point, I told deaf ears a month ago this would bite us in the butt. Then I come in today and find a different project on my desk marked ‘HOT! Good grief. I say all that to say this, thank you Teavivre for this wonderful tea. If not for this cup I might be curled up in a little ball in the corner and rocking. I did get to share a cup with a wonderful elderly lady who bakes cookies for the office every Wednesday. Today it was lemon sugar cookies. Oh, she thought the tea was lovely. Sorry for the ramble. It was necessary.
I’m a couple days behind. I ran this through five steeps again. This time I noticed something new. Well two things. First, I caught the sweet potato others mentioned. Second, by the 4th cup as the creaminess moves in, the malt disappears but only while the cup is really hot. There is a bit of earthiness while hot. The more the cup cools the more the malt returns. I am used to the cup changing with the temperture but this really changes. I love this tea.
I love pushing a new tea to see how far it will go. Using same leaf as yesterday. I know that grosses some of you out. Sorry. Today, the tea is still smooth, but now add really creamy. It is also lighter and sweeter. I don’t know if that is the nature of the fifth cup and beyond or because the leaf sat over night. Whatever the reason, it is delicious. Bumping up my rating.
Leaf and Brew
The dry leaf is beautiful with orange and gold throughout. The aroma images a barn filled with sweet hay. The wet leaf is a cool chocolate brown and the aroma is still hay but slightly rooibus. So glad Teavivre includes instructions on the package because I would have totally messed this up by overheating and over steeping. 85C for 2 minutes. The liquor is caramel chocolate in my cup.
Tasted with and without sweetener. Not a hint of bitterness or astringency. Very smooth. Still getting that sweet hay with a hint of rooibus but the main flavor I am getting from this is malted milk balls. Having read SimpliciTea’s malty thread I can now claim to know what that means. It lingers long and pleasant in the aftertaste. This is such a good example of it that I now realize I have experienced it before buried in lesser teas. This is nice. For fun I added a tiny bit of French vanilla creamer to it. It was good but totally unnecessary. Only had time for four cups this afternoon it will go further.
I have never had a black tea that would steep more than twice. This can be steeped many times, so I am impressed. It is familiar enough to serve to those whose experience is limited to the grocery store isle, yet is complex enough to delight the more discerning.
As homage to the great tradition of martial arts films which at a tender age first planted the seeds of my obsession with all things East Asian, I call this “Gongfu Madness”.
We got a second pouch of this pu-erh in our second round of samples. I suspect we were supposed to get the other pu-erh which TeaVivre offers, the rose scented one, and we got this one in error. But that is not a problem because I don’t know as either Liz or I would have cared for that one very much and we liked this one a lot.
To expand the tasting boundaries the second time around, I came up with another heretical steeping idea which is so crazy it just might be genius.
I got a my smallest tea pot (close to 2 cups) as well as my largest (close to ten cups).
I set the electric kettle to boiling, and dropped the toucha into the warmed small pot. For this process I did “rinse” the tea, because the steepings would be so short I needed the leaves to losen up.
Then, in quick succession I made five steepings and transferred them to the larger tea pot. That is to say, I combined them. The timing for the steeps was 5 seconds, 3 seconds, 3 seconds, 4 seconds and then 5 seconds.
My thinking? If the idea behind this long series of short steeps is to expose various profiles of the tea, if you combine them, you should get a deeply complex, multi-dimensional flavor matrix that is distinct both from any one steeping or from a single, long steeping of the combined 20 seconds.
And it seems to have worked!
This cup is all at once soft and loamy, bright and sweet, and yet still dry and dusty. The liqueur has a thick, almost broth like mouth feel and coats not only the tongue, but the whole mouth.
I wish I had a 20 cup pot (or a teensy 1 cup pot) so I could try what 10 steepings tastes like.
See, this is why I don’t like tuocha.
These are so perfectly made that they may actually be too perfect. The one I just steeped, despite some attention with a chopstick, didn’t actually open up on the first steep.
The resultant cup is still just fine, but I simply find loose pu-erh to be much easier to work with for short steep times.
The third cup is showing a bit of fade. A perfectly good cup, but it suggests I should not go for a fourth.
And this has always been my gripe with the tuocha teas. When I buy pu-erh that’s loose, I can frequently get upwards of a dozen steeps out of it, but tuochas rarely get past three.
The second steeping has lost that glimmer of sweetness.
But let’s face it, as much as such a thing is an unexpected and enjoyable quirk in a pu-erh, you aren’t exactly going to fault the cup when it isn’t there, are you?
This cup is just as dark and full flavored, just a bit more peaty and less molasses.
You know, a cup of pu-erh.
Full disclosure: This review is based on a free sample provided to me by the distributor. If you suspect me of being the sort of person who can be bribed with free tea, now would be the time to disregard my opinions.
For a start, these are the most perfect looking tuocha I’ve ever seen. Perfect half spheres with a dimple, expertly wrapped in moisture wicking fabric paper. If you are into the aesthetics of your tea drinking, these are well worth looking at.
There is an enticing and unexpected sweetness to the smell of the dry leaf.
I’m always amazed at how quickly pu-erh steeps. 90 seconds and I have a cup that looks like coffee. Regular readers will know that I don’t go in for this business of “rinsing” pu erh teas. Given how fast it steeps it just seems to me like you’re throwing away the first good cup in the name of tradition.
The aroma off the cup is a reassuring swirling of damp soil, cave rock and rainy days.
But the flavor on the tongue brings that unexpected hint of sweetness again. Like someone was storing barrels of molasses in that cave, or perhaps the paper wrappers for the tuocha had been painted with caramel. But don’t worry. This isn’t like drinking vanilla strawberry roiboos or something. This is a soft, round, hint of a suggestion. Not even a wink and a nod, more like a knowing glance, at sweetness.
I tend to find the second and third steepings of a pu-erh to be the best, so I’ll be getting back to you shortly, I suspect.
I did not realize there was an organic version of this one available. That may explain why this non-organic version is my third favorite white tea. Top honors goes to Teavivre’s organic Silver Needle. Oh my that one is so good. Second favorite is Concept Teas White Peony. The difference between this and the Concept Teas version is the latter is far more fragrant and more developed in flavor. It is a noticeable difference. However, now realizing there is another higher level White Peony by Teavivre this may require further investigation!
Totally unrelated – while sipping this and typing the note I grabbed a generic fudge striped shortbread cookie. When I picked up the cup again for a moment I could have sworn this was puerh. The cocoa brought out all these wonderful earthy notes. Seriously you need to try it. Like you need an excuse to nibble on cookies.
7:00 PM and this is my first cup of the day! I have been outside enjoying the sun all afternoon. It was around 70 and gorgeous, even built a fire in the pit and roasted hot dogs.
Kind of stuck on this tea lately. Moving on will be a little easier since a new box of Teavivre samples just arrived today. It only took 9 days to get here from China! Amazing.
Two days ago we had highs in the low 80’s. This morning it is 31. Spring come back. Oh well, the sun is shining and my head ache is gone.
I noticed I have not recorded a lot of tea drinking in the last week. I’ve had a lot of fast food tea and some Starbucks frappechino, but in general I’ve just been too busy.
My intent this morning was to have this make-shift gong fu style. That only works if you are awake and you only put a little water over the leaf. I poured my usual 12oz. Oops. So looks like mug style for me. No additives which is rare for me, and I don’t miss ’em, which is even more rare. This is a really nice Bai MuDan.
I know most of you want a tea with ‘Grrrr!’ first thing in the morning. Not me. I like to ease into the day. I have been craving this one for a few days and I finally get to set down with it.
The scent of the wet leaf this morning reminds me of lazy summer afternoons breaking beans with mom and dad under the shade tree. I hated breaking beans back then, but somehow recapturing that moment in time brings me great pleasure as I sip today. I am also getting light cucumber notes. Not as intense as silver needle but still a beautiful white.
Something else I am noticing that I never paid attention to before – you know how shu often has that wonderful horse tack flavor? In this I can sense inklings or the beginnings of how such a flavor develops. It is buried under the hay, the grass, and the broken beans.
White tea may be subtle but it is deep.
Ok, so yesterday I was sipping the organic silver needle and loving it, but I thought to myself, I’m not sure I can tell the difference between it and the white peony. I didn’t want to do a side by side comparison as they both re-steep way too many times for me to try. Instead I am doing a back to back 2 day comparison.
Immediately, I notice some big differences. First off the leaf of the organic silver needle is made of perfect looking buds of uniform size. The white peony is a lot more random shreddings of various sizes and shapes with some buds. The scent of sweet hay, while steeping, filled the room with the OSN. The WP I really didn’t notice while brewing. A grassy hay scent did develop as the wet leaf cooled in the press waiting for the next steep. Both steeped 2 minutes for the first cup. Each produces a very light, slightly yellow, liquor. The WP is a little darker.
I am a self-confessing Splenda junkie. I resisted the urge at the beginning with both first cups. The OSN produced a complex cup even without additives. The WP seemed flat in comparison. Once I added sweetener the WP also produced the cucumber melon notes I caught in the OSN. There is some difference in the complexity, and this has more of a grassy hay taste, but this is still a really good cup. My use of sweetener evens the playing field quite a bit and explains, to me at least, why I wasn’t sure I could tell the difference between them.
My experience with white tea beyond these two is limited to bagged versions such as Twinings and Stash, among others. Both of the Teavivre versions easily blow all of these out of the water. Compared one to the other, the organic silver needle seems the clear winner, all things being equal, especially if you don’t use sweetener. Keep in mind though, there is a substantial price difference between the two. The white peony is a really good and economical tea choice that is a big improvement over bagged.
Still loving this. I went another 3 cups today with yesterday’s leaf. Even after 8 cups it could have gone more. The last six months are destroying decades of my ideas about tea. I was perfectly happy buying cardboard boxes of tea. That is changing. Bagged tea = 1 ok steep. Grocery store loose leaf, probably 2 slightly more interesting steeps. A better quality loose I can drink off the same leaves all day, or like this tea for two days and each cup is different. Woo Hoo!
Teavivre’s website is easy to navigate, full of information and, to me, is frustration free. There is a good range of teas without being overwhelming. Each tea has pictures of leaf and brew. There is a summary tab and a more info tab that includes a map of where the tea is grown. The prices seem about right and there is free shipping with a $30 purchase.
Delivery from China took about 2 weeks. Shipment well protected. Inside the box the outermost pouches were bubble wrapped! Each tea came in a heavy resealable pouch. Nice. The pouch label includes ingredients, origin, production date, shelf life, brewing instructions, plus manufacturer and distributor info. The information is specific to the tea inside – not a, one size fits all, label. Inside the pouch each sample was individually wrapped. I am impressed with the attention to detail. It speaks volumes of the quality and care level at Teavivre.
Leaf And Brew:
The dry leaf is a mix of white and green colors and yes I can see the white fuzz. It smells like tobacco, maybe a light cigar wrapper – a really good smell. The wet leaf is more of a sweet dried grass. I followed the instructions and steeped the first cup for 90 seconds – longer on later cups. The brew is a light yellow. More amber in the cup.
I did not use sweetener on the first cup. I tasted cucumber. I have never caught that in a tea before and it tastes way better than it sounds. This is followed by the slightest peppery note. At the back of the sip is a mild grassiness that lingers in the aftertaste with a natural touch of sweetness. An interesting mix of flavors. Next cup, because I am a barbarian, I added a bit of sweetener. This brought the sweet grassiness up a notch and dropped the cucumber down a bit but all the flavors were present and were experienced in the same order as before. The third, fourth, and fifth cups the cucumber is gone the drink is more inline with what my preconceived idea of a white tea tastes like, but better. I did not know white tea could steep this many times. It was still going strong when I quit.
Conclusion / Rating:
This is my first loose white. This tea is pleasant and interesting. Each cup is full of different flavors. As my previous experience is with bagged versions, I am basing my score on my own enjoyment level and not on any comparisons.