Friday, April 17, 2009

REVIEW: Tea Gschwendner, South India White Oothu

Tea Gschwendner, South India White Oothu.

Exotic, intriguing, evocative, and a good bargain.

White teas are becoming so trendy that the other day I saw a white tea meat rub at my local grocery store. And when your product has become a meat rub, you know a tipping point for market penetration has been reached.
"Hey, Bernice, this pork rub has white tea in it!"
"But I don't eat pork."
"Buy it anyway! You think it's any good on bacon?"
Yep. Anyway, white tea is popular because it has all the unprocessed antioxidants and has been marketed as a health product. But I'm here to contemplate the tea experience-- flavor, aroma, and what these leaves can do.

Tea Gschwender, as we all know, has built up a lot of trust among their clients, because they deliver a very consistent product, with intelligent tasters. I love them because they have all these wonderful single-estate teas that have such individual and interesting flavor profiles. This is one of them, and its aroma and taste set my scent-memory pinging.


The South India White Oothu is described thus on the Tea Gschwendner Web site:
Forty miles from the southern tip of the subcontinent and isolated within a pristine tropical rainforest, Oothu was the first tea garden in India to adopt Biodynamic tea cultivation. This White Tea offering is partially oxidized, showing splendid colors of green, russet and pale brown. In the cup, a delightful and pungent earthiness awaits with nutty undertones. A smooth affair, with an intensity rarely seen in a White Tea.

The Oothu organic tea estate is quite new-- only about 10 years old. It was developed in the rainforests of Kerala state, in India, by Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation on a site chosen specifically for the cultivation of pollution-free organic tea. It's out in the middle of prehistoric forests, far away from any industry or population, and isolated from the rest of the country by the Western Ghats, a mountain range that is noted for being one of the world's hottest biodiversity hotspots, with 5000 different kinds of unique plants and hundreds of species animals not seen elsewhere. The Oothu estate won't use any chemical pesticides or fertilizers, relying on vermiculture and natural fertilizing instead. Additionally, the Ghats contain an enormous watershed, which pours into the entire subcontinent. Indeed, Oothu means, "spring of water," as a testimony to the fresh water that feeds the the tea harvest. Oothu Estate is owned by the Singampatti group of estates, which specialize in organic, Fair Trade teas.


The filtered water needs to come to a boil, then be brought way down to 70C. This cooling off does take rather a while. Once at proper temperature, I used 2 cups of water with 4 heaping teaspoons of tea, because this was not at all dense. Waiting allowed me to write a bit about the tea.


I can attest to the multichromatic tea leaves: pale, spring green leaves mix with autumn brown and olive green, and the appearance is very lovely. I did not see any whole leaves. There is quite a lot of small, broken leaf mixed with the more intact pieces. There are no buds that I can see, but some stems.

As the description states, this is a lightly oxidized tea-- which surprises me, because I had always thought that the main characteristic of a "white" tea is its lack of oxidization. If it's been oxidized, what makes it a "white" tea at all?


The appearance of the liquor is a rich amber, not at all green, and nicely transparent. This tea works very strongly on the part of my brain that evokes place memory. It makes me think of the scent of historic wood houses, and log cabins, and crushed leaves underfoot in Autumn.

It is very unlike other white teas I've had before. Oothu white tea seems almost like a restrained cousin to a pu-erh: dry, scented very much like cedar, and hints of the thick smell of moist, black dirt. It's slightly sweet and needs no accompaniment.

There is an aftertaste that lingers on for quite a while: with that cedar scent.


I have no idea what the second cup tastes like, because my wife drank it! She said, "It tastes very Asian, like nori and green tea." Well, there you have it!


This tea very easily can provide a second steeping. I steeped again at 70C, but this time for only maybe 15-30 seconds. The flavors were very complete, and the second steeping helped me identify just what that smell was evoking in my memory: walking in Abraham Lincoln's log cabin in Springfield, Illinois. Strange, how a bunch of steeped leaves that came from the prehistoric rainforests of southern India can make me remember so many things, no?

A very nice tea. Thank you, Tea Gschwendner, for bringing it halfway across the world to us.


Bryan said...

I love how organized your blog is! Thanks for following me. Being primarily a pu'er drinker, I've been venturing into oolongs lately. I see you were interested in pu'er and how to brew it? If you'd like an initial beginners crash course and maybe some pointers in the right direction feel free to e-mail me at iamtherobot [at] gmail [dot] com. Sorry about the odd format of that, just trying to escape a smaller amount of spam.

Unknown said...

Bryan: Thank you so much for your comment! Yes, I would definitely be interested in the crash course in pu-erh, because I can see it'll be the Next Big Thing I feel compelled to learn everything about. The few experience I've had with it have really whetted my appetite for more.

One of the amazing things is how much wonderful information there is out there on the Intertubes. All the individual people, like yourself, experimenting and learning together. Did you read the Cha Dao Web site article by corax, which was about the effect of the Internet on the burgeoning tea culture in the States? Great reading, and I'll be posting more on that subject in future.

I look forward to getting to know you better. Cheers!

Unknown said...

You know, coming back to this tea a little while later, I'm struck again by how woody and earthy the smell is. For a white tea, this is definitely quite unusual, and it's very enjoyable.

Unknown said...

Received some of this in the mail from a fellow tea lover to try, and was looking for more information. Great post and I love your blog name too!

Unknown said...

Loucindy: I'm glad the blog helped you, and certainly that Ootho White is an intriguing addition to the constellation of white teas available out there. It's not a tea I can drink in huge amounts, so I don't buy 100g+ bags anymore. But it's quite nice in small doses, and it has the beauty of being strong and sharp enough that it overcomes the boredom I ordinarily have with white teas.

So, you're a reader of Proust? In my horrid ignorance, I admit I've never read him. Sorry! What would you suggest as a starter tome, and what would be the best approach to his writing? In other words, what do you love so much about him that you write your blog, and how can I get into this interest, as well?

Unknown said...

Let's see...I have long been fascinated with the idea of Proust and why he is so polarizing. (I started out as an English major and ended up a psychology major, so it's fascinating to me on both levels.) Proust's topics are all intriguing to me--time, space, memory, and emotions.

I had intended to read a volume or two a year, but extraordinary circumstances led me to suspend after the first volume--for now. I'll get back to it soon.

Proust is definitely not for everyone. And other than a collection of short stories, he only wrote In Search of Lost Time. But the reason I love Proust (I didn't know I would until about halfway through the first book) is that he approached the novel in such a unique way.

It might seem pretentious to go on for pages about a cookie, but that's not really the point. He was relating the story on an intense character level not just attempting to move the story along. I love that his work is more about each page than getting to the end of a chapter.

I seem to be adopting a Proustian style response here. Anyway, thanks so much for asking. :)