This is the second tea I'm reviewing from this vendor, a source described more in a first post, from Vivek Sharma of Bharat Industries. This version is a white buds-only style tea, probably not related to a Chinese white tea version called "silver needle" much at all, so those are more often referred to by producers in other regions as "silver tips." That clarifies that separation but still bring across what the tea is.
The needles are a bit dark. White teas can be made with differing degrees of oxidation but I wouldn't be surprised if some of this was due to aging, or storage condition related. Of course that's just a guess, based in part by this needing to have been last year's tea, related to the timing. Teas can be impacted by heat and humidity a lot faster here in the tropics, and a few months or a year of aging can look like longer, even if sealed to separate the tea from moisture. That can be positive for white teas, since those can improve with age, but it doesn't have to relate to improvement. It just depends on the tea and the storage conditions.
The tea was a bit musty that first infusion. Since it was just getting going I'll start the review on the second round.
That mustiness and a bit of dry mineral defines the tea on the second round. It's a more oxidized white tea, it seems, or maybe just different in character. The mineral tone is a nice base, and it does have some sweetness. It's possible that the flavor range will seem to "clean up" a little over these first two infusions and I'll be able to move on to a more positive description.
It is better on the third infusion. It's odd letting more challenging aspects brew through as with a rough-edged young sheng; white teas typically aren't like that. It hadn't been astringency though, just mustiness. It didn't really seem off, it just had an unusual near mineral range character that has almost entirely dropped out.
This infusion is pleasant but it is a bit unusual, although I suppose what one would expect for a slightly more oxidized silver tips Assam-region Indian tea. Mineral grounds the experience, balanced by some sweetness. All the typical problems with describing such a tea come up: what mineral? Is that a trace of rust as a supporting tone, or some oxidized metal other than iron / steel? Vegetal contributing aspects are light compared to those, but what are they, tying to what plants or vegetables?
In short the tea tastes like mineral and rust, but it's much better than that description would sound. It wouldn't be for everyone but it is pleasant, after a couple of infusions to serve as rinsing, or maybe just to enable a natural transition.
I'm brewing the tea Gongfu style (kind of obvious from the infusion count, but I might have mentioned that). I get a sense this tea will just keep going, that there was a lot of flavor to offer in these buds.
One nice part is that as with white teas in general there's none of the challenging astringency found in black tea versions. This tea is subtle but a lot less so than some buds-only white teas. For someone acclimated to harsher black teas it might seem relatively mild, or even too subtle, but for someone used to white teas that need to be brewed for long periods of time to taste like anything it's definitely not on that end of the spectrum. I'm using 30 second or so infusion times, and a lower proportion of tea to water than I've been in the habit of for other types. With twice as much tea in the gaiwan I'd be using 15 to 20 second infusion times, similar to other tea types that aren't subtle at all. That's more like how I brew sheng, which depending on the tea version can work best with near flash infusions, brewed very quickly.
I suppose the balance of aspects is shifting a little but basically the tea doesn't change across the next few infusions. It does work, mineral with a mild earthiness, with a level of sweetness that balance those well. The mouthfeel is not really thick, just a little full, with a hint of dryness. The aftertaste works better too, adding one more element to the overall complexity. It doesn't quite extend to ranges I would describe as "savory" but some might interpret it that way.
I've not tried much for white teas from Assam (none, was it?), so this tea really might be typical, or it may not be. The mineral and earthiness are hard to pin down. It's not malty, as Assam black teas are, but there may be a trace of similar flavor aspects there, part of what gives it depth. It's definitely not similar to black or sheng pu'er teas that I might describe as mineral intensive and earthy, but it's still hard to break that down further. Sometimes I try to using comparisons to different kinds of rocks or variations of metal rust but I'm not sure that's meaningful, even if I did manage to actually make sense related to comparable aspects being present.
I would've expected these to be slightlty darker
All in all the tea is nice. I would expect that it was stored in a warmer environment that speeded up an aging process a little, accounting for the unconventional first infusions, but I'd need to have tried it before that to know what changed. Maybe beyond contributing a bit of mustiness to the initial two infusions the aging transition actually helped the tea character in other ways. It's hard to know. I suppose it's possible that the tea might have been better fresh, or that aging improved it and it could become better still in a few more years.
a Halmari conventional Assam; a bit tippy
I might add a little background about Vivek, although I did mention more in that first post. He's just getting into this industry, per my understanding. That's not necessarily negative but it doesn't make for the same story as those farming-family versions (which aren't always true anyway, I suppose). On the upside if he can make it through some early going he will probably continue to source a broader range of versions of teas, and better ones, and will market them more effectively.
I really do respect the people who have put their time in working in different capacities in the industry, especially related to developing initiatives to improve fair-trade issues in tea, or develop organic production themes, or add value through developing better processing. All that said I can also respect people for trying out different business models and initiatives. I don't necessarily see the answers to resolving tea production and distribution issues as tying any one narrow range of solutions.
Sales that are more direct in relation to producers are better in general, for sure, but lots of vendors are selling good teas that aren't being sold one step away from the farmer. The bigger commercial brands aren't necessarily the bad guy, but ramping up awareness and demand for a broader range of teas than appear in grocery store shelves should help with a lot of positive steps different producers and vendors are trying to initiate.
Vivek mentioned that he will visit a tea sales event or market area relatively soon (in May or June?) so there might be more to follow about other types and sales channels for tea in Assam.
I've not been adding random pictures of her lately
me this time, with a kid who looks like a monk