When I am looking over my tea collection, I often find that I am in the mood for this tea. I discovered it in the dim sum houses of Hong Kong, and even though it is a cheaper cousin of Bai Mu Dan, I enjoy its distinctiveness – soft and rich with flavours that suggest apricots, honey and chestnuts. This tea coats the mouth with a lingering sweetness. My tea manual refers to the understated vegetal quality of “steamed squash”, but I can’t pinpoint that yet.
Because it is light and fluffy, I fill half of my gaiwan with the leaf and then infuse for 15 seconds at only 160 degrees because it is such a delicate leaf. In fact, it crumbles to dust quite easily just from shaking the tin. A subsequent 3 or 4 infusions are longer in duration to get the necessary strength.
I have difficulty telling the difference between Bai Mu Dan and Shou Mei, if (in this case) the Shou Mei includes downy tips. In fact, I am not convinced yet that this isn’t a low-grade Bai Mu Dan. I note the low ratio of buds to leaves, and the dark overall colour of the leaves (leaves that have grown too long are dark and gangly). For Shou Mei, I understand that the pluck is a grouping of three or four large leaves with no bud. The Chinese on the box says 白牡丹壽眉, while the English simply says Shou Mei. Perhaps it is a blend of Shou Mei and Bai Mu Dan as the Chinese printing would suggest. Whichever it is, it’s always nice to find such a satisfying inexpensive tea.