Friday, October 9, 2009

Review: Grand Tea Baihao Yinzhen 2009 (White Down Silver Needle)

White Painting (Three Panels), 1951, Robert Rauschenberg
, via

As readers of my blog know, I am not much for white tea, because my palate is a bit too barbaric and longs for more robust, in-your-face teas. So I face the cup of Baihao Yinzhen, provided very kindly by Grand Tea, with a bit of caution. I am convinced that there's something here I am simply missing, and this is part of my ongoing quest to discover how to make a decent cup of white tea that I will actually enjoy. Wish me well.

Here is the description of the tea, found on the Grand Tea Web site:

First Harvest White Tea (白毫銀針) - Loose leaf

White Down Silver Needle (Baihao Yinzhen) is one of the finest white tea produced in the districts of Fujian province. This tea is delicate and has a subtle, fresh sweetness.

I'll direct you to the Web site, if you wish to read more about what they say of the tea's health and beauty benefits.

The Grand Tea Web site tells me to steep at around 71C or so, and for only a minute. Surprisingly short! I would have thought a longer steeping time would be more appropriate for such a low steeping temperature. Let's get into it, then.

I wonder, if tea trees were allowed to bloom, if they would take on the floral aroma of these leaves. Actually, they are really the buds of the tree: pointed needles with silver-gray hair over the olive-green flesh.

This tea is perfectly clear, with a liquor that is pale gold, without a cloud in the sky. I drink this from a JING Tea clear cup and saucer, which seems to highlight the clarity and shininess of the tea itself. Quite lovely. When I bring the tea to my nose, I find the aroma is quite faintly floral. The mouthfeel of the tea is pleasant enough. The tea's flavor is quite subtle: merest hints of flowers, a touch of pine, perhaps-- like a wisp of mist on a lake in the morning: faint, subtle enough to make me wonder if it's all in my imagination.

As is usual, while I'm drinking the first cup, the already-steeped tea in the pot continues to oxidize, with the complex chemical compounds combining and recombining, causing that second cup to be much more complex and nuanced than the first. And so it is, here. While the first cup left me grasping, the second cup's flavor came forward more directly. There's the slightest drying in the mouth and a good, throat-coating mouthfeel. The aroma is still too subtle for me to easily observe, except again for a hint of some kind of floral sweetness. People suggest it's the aroma of peony, but as I'm not too familiar with that scent, I'll pass on further description. And the flavor: mown hay, and the echo of some honeyed sweetness. Again, notably subtle. The tea's huigan, which means the sweet aftertaste, is enjoyable, because it kind of sneaks up on you and whacks you hard on the back of the head with a feather. Sweet, like a hot summertime meadow, remembered rather than being experienced directly.

I'm sorry my wife is not here to drink this tea, because she would tell you that it is refreshing and smooth, with an enjoyable lightness that seems designed for her delicate palate. Then she'd demand my cup and finish it for me.


Anonymous said...

I've had a similar experience with white tea myself. I'm afraid I don't have confidence right now that my palate is sensitive enough to appreciate white tea like it's reputed to be. But I suspect a lot of people want to drink it for its health benefits and that it's hard for most to enjoy for its flavor. --Teaternity