Hello tea friends!
I received my tea club parcel a couple of weeks ago and have been airing the cakes out as they were sent in plastic bags. I’m told it’s best to air them out so they have been in a clean cupboard now for roughly 15 days. This is my first White2Tea order but I plan on keeping my subscription, especially now that I have a job and am earning a steady wage. Hopefully that will mean I can buy a lot more interesting teas to try.
Speaking of interesting, this months club samples consist of two small cakes. One cake is black and the other is a raw Puer. They have something in common, they both come from the same farm and location in Mengsong and were picked this year in 2016. The only difference between the two is how they were processed.
The 50g cakes came clearly labelled and came with a very informative letter which disclosed the following information below.
2016 Mengsong Raw Puer– This tea was processed with traditional raw Puer processing. Picked, withered, fried in a wok for the kill green (sha qing) phase, rolled (rou nian), and then sun dried. It’s a fairly direct tea, made from younger bush material. It has a lingering sweet aftertaste and will taste extremely fresh, having just been processed only a couple of months prior to being sent.
2016 Mengsong Black Tea – This tea was picked and then fully oxidized, resulting in the dark colour. Imagine a yellow banana being bruised, how quickly it turns brown – the tea leaves are bruised and left to oxidize prior to being dried. The processing used for this tea was traditional Yunnan Dianhong style processing, which means that this tea was sun dried after oxidization. (Most modern Dianhong is dried via a heated room or a machine, rather than sun dried). The fragrance off of the leaves is a big medicinal, with a smooth soup and light sweetness.
White2Tea have also recommended to brew the teas individually first before doing a side by side comparison.
It all sounds extremely exciting, I don’t believe I have tried the same tea crop that’s been processed into different teas before. The club letter mentioned that this is an educational opportunity to compare the differences of what the processing does to tea and I am really looking forward to trying them.
I’ve considered which one to start with and I think I will try the Raw Puer first as it’s the most delicate of the two and I like to start with weakest first.
Unwrapping this cake reveals some amazing large leaves and silver tips that shine and reflect like stars. I love looking at the cake, for Puer I believe the larger the leaves, the better. At least that accords to my personal taste most of the time.
The cake as a whole smells subtly sweet with wood and fresh earth notes. Very soft but fresh also.
Steeping Parameters: 5-7g tea, 220ml teapot vessel, boiling water.
Pre rinse – 20 seconds.
First Steep – 30 seconds
The colour is light yellow and bares a fresh sweet grass scent that is very soft.
Flavour is sweet and creamy though subtle with grass and floral tones. Very easy to drink and very fresh. A touch of dryness in the after taste but not much. Further sips bring out a little bitterness.
Second Steep – 45 seconds
An increase in everything, it’s sweet yet bitter but still creamy. Floral notes that resemble sweetpea are mixed with fresh grass and damp wood. I am surprised by how quickly this steep has thickened in flavour.
*Quick break since I have become tea drunk already*
Third Steep – 30 seconds
This steep is much better, stronger than the first but toned down from the second. It’s thick and sweet and creamy all in one and it dances around my mouth for along after taste. Bitter in the right places and slightly dry. Grass and sweetpea tones remain but the damp wood has toned down.
This one actually reminds me of an Oolong in this steep, I remember having a Japanese Oolong that was similar.
Fourth Steep – 60 seconds
Some bitterness is present but the sweetness still thickens the tea soup and leads to a lingering aftertaste. Despite an increase in the bitterness it’s still fairly smooth and creamy, though not as much as the previous steeps. Also the dryness in the aftertaste has increased significantly.
Fifth Steep – 80 seconds
Another increase in bitterness, so much so it’s outshining some of the sweetness. I would say the bitterness even gives this a sort of musty clay like flavour at this point. The smoothness has gone and so has most of the cream.
Conclusion: I have changed my steeping parameters in terms of time than I usually would, purely because of the tea. I felt the second steep was too strong and it was changed at that point to attune with the tea to try and get the best elements from it. It’s a sort of trial and error situation that occurred, but in the end I believe I did it justice and it lived up to it’s curious and impressive nature.
This teas main attributes are it’s smoothness and freshness which made for a very pleasant drink. My only negative comment would be that I was hoping for a few more steeps before it reached this level of bitterness. However, for such a young tea it did surpass my expectations. I’m torn between ageing this tea further or finishing it this year. I suppose time will tell with that question.
I don’t often have black tea that is compressed into a cake, and some past experiences have been trial and error with an emphasis on the error. Sometimes they just don’t want to break up and as a result taste bland and weak. I am not put off black tea cakes but I am wary of them, they can either be wonderful or a failure with little in between.
In appearance this cake contains many golden tips that have a super shine, they remind me of a Tigers Eye stone. The dark leaves scattered around also look whole and sizeable. Comparing the two cakes side by side show similar size leaves and silver/golden tips ratio, so it is believable that they come from the same farm and from the same crop.
The raw cake has a mild, smoked wood scent.
Steeping Parameters: 5-7g tea, 220ml teapot vessel, boiling water.
Pre rinse – 20 seconds. (Purely to help the cake break up)
First Steep – 1 minute
The tea is red brown in colour and bares a sweet malt and wood scent.
In flavour the first few sips taste similar to it’s steeped scent, the malt is sweet but fresh and fairly light with some dry wood in the after taste. Despite the complex nature of the tea it’s smooth in this steep. Further sips reveal some soft smoke.
Second Steep – 2 minutes
More malt and more smoke in this steep, though on the whole it remains smooth and velvety. It’s a medium strength in this steep but even so it’s a light medium because it’s so smooth and easy to drink. Perhaps an increase in dryness which is moderate at this stage but even so the flavour makes up for it. Also because of the increase of strength the sweetness of it reminds me of brown sugar.
Third Steep – 3 minutes
Even softer than the first steep at this point, though the sweet malt still lingers to dance upon my tongue once more. I wish to say more about it but I’m struggling, there is no wood or smoke present, perhaps the last thing I can say is that the dryness has increased substantially.
Conclusion: It mentioned that this black tea was made using the Dianhong processing method and I can see many similarities between this tea cake and Dianhong in terms of flavour. Personally I am a lover of Dianhong and often keep it in stock so it was good news for me to have something like this that I can show some familiarity with. However, a Dianhong in cake form is a new one for me; though I have had it in tuo like buds before which I suppose is similar to a cake. Either way this tea was divine and I was upset to have finished it so quickly. I am not sure what this tea gained from being in cake form over loose leaf but it doesn’t really matter, the result is wonderful.
Comparison Thoughts: Both cakes had similar characteristics, not only in appearance but also in taste. Both versions were smooth and relatively sweet and both mimicked each other in quality. If I wasn’t told then I would not have known they were from the same crop.
I think I preferred the black tea over the puer, the full oxidization has made a great difference of character and complexity. The puer was nice but was also more bitter which did not work fully in it’s favour throughout the later steeps. Overall though they were both very nice, it just came down to preference.
Well it was an interesting experience and a heck of an introduction to the White2Tea club. It’s amazing the difference that tea processing can do, yet it’s also amazing at the similarities that remain despite the differences. So what has this experience taught me? It’s hard to pin point exactly what I gained, but I do believe it helps to understand the processing a little better. To think that the same leaf can be so different with just a few changes of process.
I will leave it there, my mouth is malty and dry and I feel rather happy despite my strange day. Plus I think the tea drunk fairy has struck again! Thank you to White2Tea for giving the club such an adventure.
Happy Steeping Everyone!