Last week I visited the Tea Village shop in Pattaya, Thailand, the closest beach resort area to Bangkok, where I live. Pattaya is famous for adult themed nightlife but we go there mostly for our kids to play in a hotel pool. I had a nice visit with the owners, who had added a nice tea tasting area to a standard tea shop environment, a bit small but very well designed and comfortable, a great place to drink tea and chat.
a Pattaya show-girl, one of the main attractions there
I mention their Thai version of Bai Hao / Oriental Beauty most often in posts, a really nice tea. This time I picked up some of a Bai Mu Dan / Peony, a Chinese white tea I missed out on the last time I ordered tea from them since I gave away what I bought earlier this year, to a monk and to a friend that visited. I've had other versions before, and tried theirs, so I was really looking forward to drinking it again.
Thailand's most interesting tea drinker (nah, just kidding)
I suppose there's lots more I could say about the shop, their selection, tea-ware options there (which I didn't get around to reviewing much for talking too much), but I'll just mention that it's really worth a stop if you visit Pattaya, and they do sell online.
Those two teas I mentioned are in the range of mid-range quality tea pricing, and good value for that given what they are. Some of the more modest Thai teas they sell are quite inexpensive, a good value for a different reason, and they carry different tisanes (herbs and floral teas), and blends, good for catering to a broad range of tastes. Some other Thai tea vendors are set up more for sourcing the highest levels of specialty teas but demand is so limited that it also sort of doesn't come up much.
Review of the Bai Mu Dan / Peony style white tea
The general profile is familiar from drinking a Ceylon version of a Peony / Bai Mu Dan lately. It's subtle, rich, and full, but light in terms of how flavors stand out, altogether a nice balance. Flavors that do emerge are light hay, along the line of sunflower seed, and some light floral, like the less sweet and aromatic aspects of chrysanthemum range. Or maybe chamomile is closest, but with a little more going on.
The rest, the general effect, is hard to describe. It's smooth, full in feel, clean, and subtle, but complex (in a limited sense). Based on the dry and brewed tea color the oxidation level is relatively low, not far from a green tea, in the light oolong level, but there is no astringency at all, no grassiness, and it's not vegetal.
I could imagine people loving this style of tea or not liking it at all, even more than for other types. It's so light in terms of pronounced flavors that it's almost odd that I like it as much as I do, since I generally prefer more oxidized oolongs and black teas.
That Ceylon Bai Mu Dan version (which I had reviewed in this post, a tea originally made by Ebony Springs that I tried from Luka cafe) is interesting for sharing so much common ground and also for being so different. The richness, complexity, and subtlety are the same but the flavors profile is different. It expresses very light mineral tones, extending into a light wood or hay range, where the teas' aspects start to overlap, and there is one more aspect I couldn't place as easily.
that Ceylon, like a Bai Mu Dan, a bit broken for being the end of the bag
Mineral is really a range, of course, different for high mountain Taiwanese teas, Wuyi Yancha, and Vietnamese green teas. I can't specify a rock for that Ceylon but it reminds me of the smell of red clay. There is no mineral component in the Tea Village version, and neither tea is particularly sweet. There is an effect of brightness and freshness that isn't easy to trace to other individual aspects, in both, maybe more a part of the Chinese version style.
After drinking through nearly 50 grams of the Ceylon Bai Mu Dan I've got it, related to that one element that was hard to place: forest floor! You just never get to say that, even though it turns up on those tea flavor wheels, and it sounds like a tea might eventually taste like that.
fall color in Western PA (photo credit)
I'll add a little more about the "forest floor" idea, although I'd expect that would be familiar ground for many. Different forests smell different, and the same places smell differently at various times of the year. It could be intended to mean the same thing as peat, or it could be used quite differently. I'm from Western Pennsylvania, so I really do miss that fresh, fragrant, intense vegetal smell of the spring forest, or the warmer, woodier, more diverse summer smell, dryer and more earthy then, and especially that rich, warm, almost root or bark spice intensive smell of the fall leaves. Colorado mountain forests were more subtle in general, with the smell of rocks playing a larger role, and with vegetal tones like sage coming across in places.
This tea smells (tastes) more like fall, like the heaps of oak and maple leaves that are beautiful to see before they fall. As a child I would pile up those leaves and play in them, and stuff clothes with them to make something like a scarecrow; it's a familiar smell. The forest smell includes the ground too, and that matches with the very subdued mineral tones.
How to summarize? Bai Mu Dan style teas can be nice, and diverse. Floral and sweeter elements could've potentially been more pronounced in both but the aspects and profiles they did have worked really well; no need for all lighter teas to be fruity or floral and sweet.