I like white tea — in theory. It smells lovely and fruity and light. But most of the time when I brew it up, it’s kind of pale and underwhelming. I can’t help but think that I must be missing out on something, especially if I’m doing the whole “writing full length reviews of tea” thing.
I decided to try two different white teas — both of them the same variety, called silver needle — back-to-back to see if tasting them in quick succession would lead to me recognizing more of their nuances. Would I develop a greater appreciation for white tea? That was the test.
(Also, if you’re reading this, don’t believe what they say about white tea having less caffeine than green or black tea. Caffeine content in tea depends on a whole lot of factors. What I mean to say is that I’m writing this around 10 PM and I’m feeling a little wired.)
Anyways, let’s move on to the tea, shall we?
Imperial Grade Silver Needle White Tea of Jinggu
Our Autumn 2015 Imperial Grade Silver Needle White Tea was picked in the first week of March from the tender buds of Jinggu area “Da Bai Hao” varietal tea trees. The “Da Bai Hao” varietal is a natural hybrid of Assamica.
The leaf on this one is really distinctive. I know that silver needle tea is supposed to be long, thin, and needle-like, but these look like tea leaves on steroids! The buds are easily 1-1.5 inches long and covered in a fine fuzz.
Dry, they smelled like sweet hay, with notes of lychee. Wet, they smelled a bit smoky but still sweet and hay-like.
I decided to go gentle on the tea and used water heated only to 70°C. However, that wasn’t really the right choice; I got notes of hay, peaches, and maybe a little strawberry and fruit leather, but the tea was in general so mild and unassuming that I kept on going “I can’t really taste anything! I can’t really taste anything!”
The tea was pale not only in taste but also in colour. All of the steeps were generally a pale wheat/straw colour. Gentle, but not that striking.
I brewed the same variety of tea a few days later using water just off the boil, but that was pretty similar. A little hay, a little smoke. Maybe a deeper, richer scent. Oh, and the colour of the tea was a bit darker too, sort of a deeper straw shading into orange. But still, the flavour was kinda hiding around in the background rather than dancing on centre stage on my tongue.
I will need to play around with this a bit more to see how to get the best flavour out of it. More leaf? Longer steep times? Different gaiwan? So many variables.
Kenya Silver Needle White Tea
An incredibly sweet and floral tea with notes of sweetcorn and hay.
Sourced from Dafina Tea Traders, a specialist Kenyan tea wholesaler who searches Kenya for the very best and most unique Kenyan teas.
I will give What-Cha this: their comment about this silver needle tea having notes of sweet corn is accurate. It really does smell like an ear of corn! However, the leaf itself doesn’t look quite as impressive as the tea from Yunnan Sourcing. Where the former’s tea looked like leaf buds on steroids, What-Cha’s silver needle tea looks more like grass clippings: short, somewhat jagged, and a pale white-green.
I followed the instructions on the package to steep this in 80°C water rather than 70°C, and I think this temperature was the right call. The liquor was a slightly deeper colour, and also stronger in flavour.
Remember that whole thing about it smelling like corn? It tastes like corn, too! Like a fresh, sweet ear of corn, with maybe a pat of butter on the side — grainy, a bit rich, but still sweet. I was totally bowled over by this.
I’m really going to see how this tea stands up to higher tempertures. Will the grain/corn notes come out to play even further if I user hotter water? I’m really curious now.
I’m still not completely sold on white tea, but it was an interesting experience trying both back to back. I liked the What-Cha Kenyan silver needle more overall, but I definitely want to try experimenting with the parameters on both.