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!"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.
"But I don't eat pork."
"Buy it anyway! You think it's any good on bacon?"
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.
ABOUT THE TERROIR
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.
THE SECOND CUP
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!
AND A SECOND STEEPING
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.