Friday, December 13, 2013

Chinese and Indian silver needle teas

Doke (Lochan) silver needle and T2 Tea silver needle 

I should start by saying I'll write about tasting two white teas at the same time, nothing more general.  I don't even mean to imply they are representative.  These two suppliers seem universally familiar to me, but in case they are not Lochan is known for producing from the Indian Doke region, and for selling different teas, and T2 Tea is a major Australian tea chain (or maybe even the major chain there).

Really the advantage of tasting both together was more about helping me pick up flavor and body elements than any other comparison insights.  This relates to a tip I recently read in the Peony tea blog as one of several ways to develop a palate.  I'm still working on that, so I regularly taste teas multiple times and keep picking up on flavor elements I hadn't noticed before. 

Sometimes flavors I had missed even seem like really predominant components, and I wonder how they got by.  Brewing variations can be one cause but I think it's just taking me time to sort through layers of complex flavor profiles and separate them out.  Also new types of teas can include unfamiliar flavors (unfamiliar in tea, at least, or maybe beyond that), so tasting a few times can help.

T2's silver needle (see pics on-line to see the "down" better)

what the vendors say

I agree with the vendor's input in general but won't be saying exactly the same thing, so I thought I'd let them weigh in first.

Lochan describes their own tea as having Key Flavours: Delicate hints of peach blossom, dried apricots and straw with a lingering sweet aftertaste.  I would agree, but maybe with a little more earthiness than that too, but more as undertone than as a dominant flavor element.

T2  said (edited):  A hint of peach colours ... sweet and subtle aroma of sugarcane and the delicate earthiness of mushrooms ... dainty florals and a hint of cocoa that lingers. 

The earthiness came across differently to me, but still right on.  One amazing aspect of the tea was the body or feel, which they described as "a wonderfully tactile, creamy and smooth sensation."  Really, it's like that.

individual tea tasting

The color difference was notable right away, with the T2 tea brewing to yellow gold and the Doke tea showing a slight rose color.

From my tasting notes, the T2 silver needle showed "hints of mineral earthiness, peach fruit component, subtle floral layer, light natural sweetness, interesting feel."  Typically I'm appreciating teas for flavor more than body but there was something unusually pleasant about this tea, which I'm sure I could do more justice to describing after a few more years of tasting. 

The sugarcane seemed like honey to me, and the mushroom more like a mineral component, towards flint, but then these flavors were mixing a bit.  "Flint" could sound like a bad thing, since you usually don't eat stones, but in a strange way that subtle and unusual earthiness really tied the other flavors together, or so it seemed to me.  In later infusions this changed nature a bit as the earthiness dropped out and fruit flavors subsided but the cocoa picked up, maybe even leaning a little towards cinamon.

The Doke silver needle was still subtle and sweet as this type of tea would be but stronger flavored than the other.  In a very faint way the conventional tastes of Indian teas joined in with the soft, layered effect, of course without any tannin astringency.  As can happen in my tasting notes I described not being able to separate out what seemed to be a number of different floral, fruit, and earthier components.

comparison of the teas

The Doke tea flavors came across as more pronounced, and interesting in complexity, so in a sense compared well to the T2 tea.  The taste profile hinted at Indian tea, with just a hint of grape / raisin, in a very different presentation than I've ever tried, subtle and sweet.  When drinking this tea brewed in a gaiwan (gongfu style, with shorter steep times) the flavor of many infusions remained consistent, but then the T2 version held up well to a lot of infusions as well, perhaps just changing slightly more.

The T2 tea flavors were so subtle they almost seemed wispy in comparison, but they joined well together, and were a really positive set of flavors to begin with.  I tried the tea using different brewing methods, and their recommended longer steep time did increase the flavor levels to offset the naturally lightness.  They suggested 7 to 10 minutes, and maybe I didn't go quite that long.  In a way it was nice to have it gongfu style instead, wispier as it was, to just really go with the subtlety.  Made both ways it was a very refined, pleasant tea, just different in character.

The difference in the body of the teas stood out most in the comparison, but I'm really at a loss to explain that aspect in the T2 tea.  I guess a "creamy and smooth sensation" covers it but somehow the experience goes beyond those concepts.

Normally tea pricing doesn't require mention, but in this case it seems relevant.  I bought the T2 tea at a normal retail price (see earlier website link), which would seem a bit much for most teas but for a good version of this type still reasonable.  I noticed on the Lochan site that their silver needle tea is very moderately priced given the tea type and the character of the tea.  This must relate to buying the tea more directly from the producer (they grow it), and possibly to local demand issues, although tea pricing can vary with the type of sales outlet.

what I do when not drinking tea

It's always nice to be able to try a tea before you buy it since value ties directly to quality but in my opinion for these two teas that's not a concern.  It seems possible the T2 Chinese version might come across as more conventional given the source region, and the body of that tea is likely something white tea drinkers would appreciate, but both were nice, quite different examples of silver needle tea.


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