Sunday, November 12, 2017

Silver needle compressed white tea cake from Jip Eu

fuzzy silver needles, loose (separated from the cake)

compressed silver needle cake (it is as black and white as this)

I mentioned dropping by my favorite Bangkok Chinatown shop (Jip Eu) to pass on a few samples, to try to draw even related to them sharing tea samples, but they gave me even more in return.  I didn't say what it was in that earlier mention:  one tea was good sized sample of compressed white tea cake, a silver needle by the looks of it.  The other was a Da Hong Pao, but that means a range of different things.  I'll need to check back in on details, but based on what they said that sample is probably a more interesting version than most people even know exists, something along the line of the Bei Dou story, if that rings a bell.

The one I'm reviewing here is a white tea from Fuding, China, where such white teas typically originate; they did mention that.  I also didn't catch an age.  I didn't get the impression this is supposed to be aged tea but from the looks of it it's not brand new tea either (from some darkening occurring).  I bought a fresh silver needle once and after about a year the "needles" (buds) had darkened to around this much, or maybe even slightly darker (I misplaced the bag in that case; that wasn't intentional aging).

Time is tight so I'll just do some quick rough notes for this review.  That's how I'm living now; some errand is always pressing, or we go to a vet or the hospital a lot.  Related to brewing approach, I'm going with a high proportion of tea--it seemed that would work well--and relatively hot water, what comes out of a filtering and heating / cooling unit as boiling point water, but probably slightly lower than that.  That reminds me of talking about tea mineral content in water recently, and water sources (with a cool reference on measuring mineral content in different bottled and municipal water here).  Multiple-stage filtered Bangkok city water probably isn't ideal, but that's what I'm using.

I let the first infusion go a little long (30 seconds-ish) so I don't run through an infusion saying that I'd actually taste the tea the next round (as I said time is tight; I've got a doctor's appointment pretty soon this time).   This tea is sweet, full in feel, and creamy.  That extra creaminess I sort of didn't expect.  I've been drinking shou mei and aged shou mei (and other compressed whites, something random and gong mei, with a comparison review of four here), and none seem exactly like this, or really even all that close.  Those are nice for having a broad, full range of subtle flavors.  All those teas were based on a mix of leaves and buds, and aging changes things, gives the tea a richness, "darkens" it a little, and per those descriptions adds potential for evolution of flavors.  Mineral is nice as an underlying context in this one, and the sweetness-related flavor range is hard to pin down.  That could be spice, or might relate to a mild form of fruit, something like dried apricot.  I'll check again as infusions go on.

On the next infusion it deepens quite a bit, picking up lots more strength and complexity.  That infusion was more like 20+ seconds, which is actually a bit long for as packed as this gaiwan is and as intense as this tea is.  It helps draw out a lot of the feel and tons of flavor, but a ten second infusion would work as well or better to preserve the effect in a lighter form.  Being a little strong as this emphasizes that mineral undertone, a bit towards flint, like a good bit lighter version of the slate range that keeps coming up, with different minerals.  A part of the flavor that's hard to catch does remind me of a spice, a little towards nutmeg, but the fruit is easier to sort out, more on the surface.  It seems like dried apricot combined with fresh pear, just a light, dry version of a pear.  It's definitely not Asian pear (which are really sweet and bright), closer to those in the US, the normal version (bosch?).

Brewed lighter the next time this does work a little better, the balance.  It may be transitioning; hard to separate those factors.  Mineral is a good bit lighter, which one would expect from a lighter infusion. and that dried apricot / pear range seems to shift towards a mix of dried fruits, similar to how a fruitcake comes across, minus a cake-like range.  Or maybe with a hint of underlying spice tone not all that far from that, but it's definitely still missing the cake / pastry part.  This tea seems better than all the other compressed white teas I've been drinking.  I usually like buds and leaves versions of white teas better, because even good silver needle style teas give up some complexity for being made of the one material type, but this is on the next level.  It could relate to quality of the tea as well as style difference.

Of course it did cost a good bit more than the white tea cakes I've been buying, but then those were in a value-oriented range, so that's not saying much.  I just bought another from Sen Xing Fa shop on this Chinatown visit, a 357 gram cake (supposedly 8 years old, and it probably is), for on the order of $20, kind of on the low side.  That would seem odd in some places, but since there probably aren't very many people in Bangkok for whom "shou mei cake" means anything at all the demand side of the equation is probably a little out of whack.  I also don't think they're trying to match the ramping up of pricing for aging teas that would be typical in most places, or they might not even be aware of an online market range for that aging factor.  Vendors really don't need to earn 15-20% for holding a tea cake per year anyway, even though in some sense that might be fair, in most sales contexts.  They do bear the cost incurred if something going wrong in storage, in addition to getting paid more for intentionally holding inventory, and setting up and maintaining a good storage environment.

that Gong Mei cake; a different look (reviewed here)

Sticking with that pricing discussion, the cake from Teeta Talk cost about the same, $20, but for 200 grams instead, so approaching double.  That gong mei cake was in the range of double that again, maybe costing just a little less than the two others for a small 100 gram cake.  This was on the same order, as a per-weight price, something like $40, maybe just over (I've lost track, but they did say).  I guess to work back to a clear price it makes a big difference if this was a 200 or 357 gram cake.  White tea cakes vary, but being that smaller size seems more common than for pu'er, if my vague impression is right.  $10 for 50 grams of this tea wouldn't be outrageous (how $40 for 200 grams works out), but $6 would also make sense, given the price break that tends to come with buying tea cakes versus better loose tea. 

I did ask by message; it's 300 grams (and they passed on a description:  it is Bai Hao Yin Zhen, silver needle, produced in FU-DING, Tai Laoshan 800 meters above sea level).  That price puts this around $7 for 50 grams; quite one the low side as loose teas go, still low for a compressed version, a good deal.

On the next infusion mineral seems to pick up again; that's probably related to not paying close attention to timing, and letting it run slightly longer.  Even though the aspects are very positive in this tea and the complexity is good there is just a limited set of aspects going on (to give a fair assessment, to weigh out limitations as well as strengths).  Feel has some thickness to it but nothing like the pu'er I've been on, even shou, which tend to just be full versus more complicated and interesting.  But then I never drink "good shou," which would be out of my budget range, since for me part of the appeal of that type is value.  That initial creaminess has faded some but it's still full, it just lost some of the effect of being a lot like cream, in both texture and taste.

On the next infusion the tea isn't fading, more than a half dozen infusions in, and the flavor isn't really going "off" in any sense, it has just lost a little of the initial brightness and complexity.  Without tasting that first 3 or 4 infusions this might seem a lot better, probably still better than those other compressed white teas I've been trying, although it does give up some richness and earthiness to those, some of which inclined a little towards a light version of coffee.  It's just within a different range, and again the aspects scope might be slightly "narrower."  I don't want to say the tea has moved to a woody aspect range, but it's something along that line.  It's a bit towards bamboo shoot instead, versus the dried and fresh fruit and spice range it had been on.  There are hints of spice, fruit, maybe even a trace of citrus beyond that, so it's still complex, just not in the same sense of other tea types being complex..

On the next infusion that citrus reminds me of a dried peel, or maybe a zest range, or possibly in between the two.  The tea is still evolving, not fading away (up towards 10 infusions, but it's not finished yet).  Rushing the tasting probably didn't help; I might go back through tasting this for two hours instead of one and pick up another set of details I'd missed.  It's a nice tea; a bit different than others that I've tried before.

It occurred to me during editing this tea would probably shift in aspects quite a bit depending on making it in different ways, at a minimum related to the relative proportion of the same aspects.  Of course trying Western approach versus Gongfu would come to mind, but this would brew nice tea "grandpa style" (with leaves remaining in the water while you drink it), and would work for cold brewing.  Some people have mentioned simmering white tea instead of infusing it in hot water recently, and without any negative aspects to work around no matter how much or little that changes the effect it would be fine.  I'd expect there would be ways to emphasize the fruit and spice, not that there wasn't enough of that prepared this way.

they grow up so fast (both are November babies)

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