Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bai Mu Dan (white peony) from Tea Village

ready for the pool!

I finally made it back to closest beach to here, to Pattaya, and to Tea Village, that tea shop I was raving about way back when.


There's more I might say about Pattaya but I only ever see a hotel pool there, nothing to do with the unconventional nightlife alternatives.

Really there is more to Pattaya than first meets the eye, like this great local tea shop.

I bought a few teas this time, and they even gave me extra samples at the shop, so I'll have more teas to talk about (I'm actually getting a bit behind; could be worse).

The first tea I'll cover in this post is Bai Mu Dan, also known as white peony, one of two types of white teas (see Tea Village vendor information here).  The other type of white tea is silver needle, made only from tea buds, while this tea type is made from both tea buds and leaves.  White tea is known for being the least processed of all the tea types (with a bit more in my last blog post on tea processing, related to what yellow tea is).

I really wanted to just say what I thought of the tea, and include no research in this post, but it crosses my mind to comment on relative degree of oxidation (natural enough, right?).  My understanding is that white tea is the least processed but not the least oxidized because unlike with green tea the withering process (and oxidation) isn't stopped right away by a heating step.  In one of the first entries of a search of this subject, oxidation of white teas, one author says the opposite, and a comment corrects her to express essentially what I've just said (comment cited here, not the article--odd to do that):

Tea leaves indeed begin to wilt and oxidize as soon as they are picked, and this process is stopped by heating. In the case of Chinese teas, this usually means pan roasting, while in the case of Japanese teas, it usually means steaming.  Now white teas are *not* heated immediately after picking. They are instead picked and then left to wither for 1-3 days before they are heated. They are thus not the least oxidized of teas.

But then everyone knows that, right?  As for the parts about less processing tying to more caffeine or more antioxidants (healthier tea) who really knows; lots more out there to read to try and find out.  On to what this tea is like instead.

Review section

The smell of the tea is very fragrant and very sweet, perhaps in the fruit and floral range.

beautiful!  to me, at least

first infusion

The tea has a light, sweet flavor, very bright and fresh.  Predominant tastes are floral and fruit, with a bit of sweetness, maybe honey.  From there I'm having trouble separating which floral components, even which fruit.  The taste experience goes back to my childhood but I want to claim one element is similar to yellow watermelon.  I suppose other melon fruits could be related but I don't like most melons--about the only fruit I don't like--and I do like the tea, so who knows, maybe it's not that.

Second infusion I brewed longer to see how that changed results,  since it's common to see that advised for white teas.  The character of a tea can change over infusions so really separating out the two effects would require making the tea again.

I did this on purpose this time (really!) since sometimes it seems a light-brewed tea can actually help subtle elements stand out, or maybe that just seems so to me.  Brewing longer allows a white tea to reach a more conventional flavor strength but some subtlety might get lost, so in the end the best way is subjective, however you like.  As far as me not knowing which flowers the tea tasted like that's just about me not being good at identifying that.

second infusion

The stronger brewed version changes the character,  a bit more body but less bright (but again, could relate to normal changes across brewing steps).  It almost seems earthier, a small step towards other tea types, but not earthy in the same sense more oxidized teas can be.  It doesn't get easier to pin down flavor components.  The fruit and floral transitions a little towards fresh hay, but doesn't quite get there, so maybe more like chamomile, from floral to herbal.  It seems light and complex at the same time, an interesting effect.

The third infusion is a bit consistent,  still rich, just a touch more herbal, maybe just flattening out a little. The forth infusion became a little earthier, with just a trace of mushroom joining the dominant herbal flavors, which still worked well, still coming across as bright and clean.  And the tea wasn't really finished yet.

I'm reminded of a comment in an online discussion about how white teas are preferred by people who don't like most teas (not offered as a complete generality, just an observation, and someone else's at that).

I could imagine people loving this tea or not liking it, whether they love other teas or not.  It should be easier for people that love herbal teas to relate to, a very soft and approachable tea, but the complexity could appeal to anyone that likes the general flavor profile.  It's hard to know what that person was really getting at; maybe that white teas are approachable and could bridge the gap from herbal teas, or someone else might have intended a snipe about them not drinking whatever else.

My strongest preference in teas lies elsewhere, with more oxidized teas, but I really like this tea, and I'm intrigued by the type, and could drink it regularly.  I've only tried two other teas of this type (Bai Mu Dan) and all three were consistently positive, and I suppose to some degree similar.

Conclusion section

Well worth a try if you go to Pattaya, or maybe even to order online if someone knows they like the tea type.  It's probably best to set aside some time if visiting there since the Da Hong Pao is worth a look, and I just bought some nice Long Jing there (dragonwell, if you'd rather), a good start on drinking fresh spring teas.  I'll be reviewing a Thai version of an Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao oolong) that I didn't try yet.

In the process of looking around at websites I noticed T2 had a great description of it (not the same tea, just a version of the same type), a tea I bought a good while back but never did get around to reviewing because my daughter was born just then:

A fresh and lively aroma becomes a delicate, light and engaging flavour with flowers, honeydew melon and a hint of chocolate to finish. High in antioxidants and low in caffeine, this is a multilayered, deceptively complex and refined tea.

Nice!  Someone with a savant-like taste-memory would compare the teas across a year and a half span, but I'm probably trying this second tea with a slightly different palate, so hard to say.

One other aspect of white teas a blogger would never usually address is cost; white tea is known for being the most expensive category, in general.  Really pricing relates to source and grade even more than type though, so it can be fair for one tea to cost several times over what another of the same type does, or you could just be getting ripped off , or paying for nicer packaging, etc.  Usually that last comment would be about one more way to waste money but tea packaging is functional and important; more on that in another post though.

The T2 teas I tried were really nice, probably worth what I paid (two subjective determinations, and the pricing is full retail).  The Tea Village teas I've tried were all a great value, and for very nice teas at that.

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