Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Kinnari Tea Silver Cloud and Silver Cloud Sticky Rice (Laos white teas)

Going back through samples I'd forgotten I had so many teas I’ve yet to try from Kinnari Tea (good Laos teas; it doesn't get much more interesting than that).  It's around Spring harvest and production time now, so almost onto the next versions, but I'd like to say more about the others since they all look interesting.  The two I just tried are a white tea and a sticky rice white tea.  Another I didn't get to is a green-tea based version of an Earl Grey, and there's a pu'er style tea.  I'll get on all that.

I'll do the review first here (two, really), and get back to the vendor description of what the "sticky rice" component relates to.  Sticky rice is common enough here but I might explain what that is first.  It's formal name is glutinous rice, and sticky rice is considered by some to be a rough translation, but to me it's sticky rice.

The actual rice is like that:  sticky.  My kids love fried chicken with sticky rice as a side, and I often eat sticky rice steamed in a banana leaf along with banana and black bean.  I had that for breakfast yesterday; today it was fresh papaya with cashew nut toffee topped cake.  That rice tastes a bit neutral, as rice tends to, with the texture standing out more than the flavor.

This review will cover the plain "Silver Cloud" version first since I tried it first, then on to comparing the two.

the Silver Cloud (non-sticky-rice)

Silver Cloud review

The vendor description listed "cereal" as a flavor element.  Sounds different.  The whole aspect listing included "clean, delicate, energy, cereal, umami," with that last really coming into play in this review, or maybe more in the second tasting.  It looks like a typical buds-only silver needle / silver tips style tea, maybe just a little darker than some, which doesn't really seem to clearly mean one thing.  It could be oxidized a bit more than usual, but then that's not really even an informed guess, just thinking out loud.  More about the tea style will come up in the vendor description, at the end.

The taste is smooth, with a "round" feel, and a bit unique in scope.  Cereal really does describe a main aspect of it.  That seems to link up with the malt range, not the bold, sharp malt in astringent black teas, more the soft, approachable malt in a malted milk ball or milkshake.  It's not completely different than an aspect people tend to describe as pastry-like, but cereal describes it better for this tea.

There are interesting supporting elements, maybe just a hint of citrus under there, and different layers to that mild earthiness.  It's almost a little creamy, which goes well with that cereal, as much a texture as a taste, but a bit of both.

It's a subtle tea, as whites often are, but not subtle in the sense that it emphasizes body and feel as a main aspect and you need to struggle to pick up flavors, just more about defining what's going on.

I'm brewing it Western style using relatively long steeps, in the 4-5 minute range, versus going even longer as people sometimes do (so nothing like the vendor suggestion, based on checking that later).  One could probably achieve slightly different effects and the same ramped-up intensity using a concentrated Gongfu approach, a high proportion of tea and times varying based on preference.  It did change character brewing it Gongfu style when trying it again along with the other version; I'll get to that part.

On the second infusion flavors ramped up just a bit.  The citrus steps forward a little compared to that cereal aspect.  It had a relatively full body the first time, but now it gains even more of that, so it starts to match that structure / feel that occurs in types of teas, some part of it.  I'm not sure what other tea this reminds me of though.  Maybe it doesn't seem a lot like any other I've tried.  It's funny how far it is from those white teas from Nepal I reviewed not long ago, all three great teas, but very different in lots of ways.

I've been going on about how some teas are aromatic, versus emphasizing flavors, and this isn't about that.  It has a fullness that comes across partly in the feel.  I think some aromatic range helps fill that in, and contributes a little to the “complex” effect.  Someone really interested in aftertaste would surely shuffle that in there, but to me it’s only slightly interesting that some teas have tastes that linger, or even shift a little from what is tasted during drinking to a different related aftertaste.

The tea has a savory, umamai-range aspect to it but I'm not really having luck describing that in terms of a taste range.  It seems to combine into the other complexity, to sort of serve as a background for it.

On the next infusion it seems to shift just a little more.  It's hard to place but there really is some common ground between this tea and black teas.  Cereal is still present, but with citrus picked up and more subdued earth and mineral tones kicking in it's now complex in a different way.  Maybe there's a touch of that toffee type sweetness that can come out in black teas as well, which can be pronounced when you switch to brewing a bit off boiling point for a few infusions to going to full boiling at the end to ramp up the intensity.  But it's grounded in a white tea context of flavors and character, so much different.  The savory / umami element still isn't standing out tied to a specific flavor.  But then it seems possible I could re-taste this tea made exactly the same way and describe it differently, related to both that and other elements.

I'll cut this review description short and move on to how tasting it alongside the "sticky rice" version went, this time prepared using a Gongfu style brewing approach.

Comparison tasting the two versions

Silver Cloud left, Sticky Rice variation right (brewed lightly)

The ordinary silver cloud version is more savory than I remember it (from the day before yesterday; funny how that seems further back).  It's not a background element, prepared this way, it stands out as a primary characteristic.  There's a good bit of sun dried tomato aspect, an actual flavor related to that range, even brewed lightly.  Brewed a little stronger that extends to an earthy and mineral fullness, almost a trace of dryness.  

I'm wondering how much difference relates to a brewing approach change versus just variations in my interpretation.  I'm preparing it Gongfu style this time versus Western, using a higher proportion of tea to water and shorter times.  I'm stretching out the timing past the short infusion times for other types, not 15 to 30 seconds per infusion, but starting over a minute and moving up from there. 

The vendor advice for preparing both teas is the same, here shown on the sticky rice version label, nothing like I made these teas either time.  So much for making a science of this.

The dry leaf sticky rice version smells like toasted rice. Brewed that taste is actually in between toasted rice and popcorn, even just a little buttery, or maybe I'm imagining that part.  It works well with the rest of the profile.  It's funny how the Silver Cloud seems to emphasize that savory element a lot made this way but the Sticky Rice version not so much.  I suppose it's there as an underlying element but nowhere near the same intensity.

Both teas don't need to be brewed to a high infusion strength to get a lot of flavor out of them, so although I did ramp up the infusion time some rounds and try them made different ways they work well brewed lightly.  The effect changed a good bit between being brewed lightly versus stronger, more related to the feel and effect of the Silver Cloud version, that savory element.  That tea's structure (feel) also changed, and an underlying mineral layer contribution picked up.  The Sticky Rice version stayed soft, and didn't change as much at different infusion strengths.

The label description for the Sticky Rice version (above) lists coconut and spice, which I didn't mention.  Brewing it per the instructions might have shifted the profile a little (or a lot), and really just paying more attention might've helped.  I made this tea during a work-day morning, not the ideal time for a tasting, especially with a medium-to-high level of drama as background with two kids getting ready for school.  

To me a soft fullness, sweetness, and popcorn / toasted rice aspects stood out in the Sticky Rice version.  That last part sort of invokes an element in Longjing, but the rest of the character was nothing like that tea type.  Altogether it does make one wonder about preparation style and the vendor take on the tea, which I'll cover next.

sticky rice, black bean and banana (how to make it and photo credit)

Kinnari Tea input about these teas

Silver Cloud description (partial citation):

Gentle, bright yellow first cup, growing intensity of aroma and color over the subsequent infusions: cooked sweet corn, sacha inchi nut, young ginger root, and freshly baked bread. Lingering sweetness and balmy texture all the way through. Peaks of spicy briskness above 85°C and for long infusions.

... We recommend to start off at 80-85°C with an infusion time of about 2-3 minutes. For further infusions, time and temperature can be increased carefully - additional heat and time can release tannic bitterness and astringency from the bud, a desired quality to some, but not to everyone.

Silver Cloud Sticky Rice description:

... the leaves of a local aromatic plant are added, infusing the tea with the aroma of sticky rice cooked in sweet coconut milk.... Gentle, bright yellow first cup, growing intensity of aroma and color over the subsequent infusions. Dominant aroma of sticky rice cooked in sweet coconut milk. Background: cooked sweet corn, sacha inchi nut, young ginger root, and freshly baked bread.

Lots going on there, even though I skipped the parts about growing conditions.  The teas are from Paksong, in the Bolaven Plateau region, with more about the local growing environment in that content.  The sticky rice taste is from an herb; interesting.

I didn't pick up all those aspect they mentioned, but then the Silver Cloud did vary a lot due to preparing it two different ways.  I didn't get the impression I'd exhausted possible descriptions, or really took all the complexity in.  I hadn't read that description before tasting it but that "cooked sweet corn" description did come across as popcorn, that light sweetness in fresh popped popcorn, not the toastier effect if you pop it in a pan and cook it a little longer.  I don't know what sacha inchi nut even is; maybe I was tasting that.  The related range in the tea seemed similar to the mild fullness of macadamia nuts, for what that's worth.  

I guess the sticky rice aspect could've included some coconut character.  Although the taste of sticky rice is a bit neutral it's not that far off that, especially a toasted version of it.  Usually one doesn't prepare sticky rice as toasted but I re-warm that banana / black bean / sticky rice in a toaster oven, and if the time is set long those can brown a little. 

I won't segue too far into processing discussion, but that Kinnari Tea owner did make an interesting comment in discussion about that, related to the Silver Cloud:

depending on your definition of white and green tea, it could be considered as a single bud green tea, since it's very lightly toasted (dried over low fire on a hot metal plate).

So there's that!  Lots going on with those teas.  Not to beat up the point but I like white teas that you don't have to strain to taste flavor aspects in, that you tend to mostly "feel" instead, and these more than fulfilled that criteria.

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