Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Thai Moonlight White from Lampang Tea

A chance contact from Lampang Tea shared two unique versions of Thai tea with me, this one a Moolight White from Pamiang Village in Lampang.   The other is an Assamica based maocha, a version of loose sheng pu'er, from the same location.  Of course these are based on traditional teas in Yunnan, China, with "pu'er" registered as only officially describing teas from there.

As far as I know "Moonlight White" isn't a protected name convention, but limiting use of style labeling sort of just forces adding "-like" to remain a politically correct definition.  A description like "Darjeeling" is something else; that's an area.  I guess Nepalese producers could brand their teas as a "second-flush-Darjeeling-like" tea but it's as well for them to just make a version that's similar and let naming reference drop.

Moonlight white is one of my favorite styles of white tea.  A good version would be my favorite.  They can express lots of complexity, including fruity sweetness, or even trail into interesting savory aspect range.  I like them for not being so subtle; the quest for a good "Silver Needle" style tea is about finding one that tastes like something without resorting to long steeps.  Some are flavorful, of course, and personal preference can allow someone to like a tea with very limited flavor that expresses other aspects, like a thickness in feel or subtle depth. 

From the scent this tea is not lacking in flavor, even a bit complex towards that savory, sun-dried tomato range.

a close-up showing the colors and texture

Tangent about local teas in neighboring countries

It's been a running theme in this blog covering Northern Thai, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnamese teas, many of which are based on related traditions and similar styles as Yunnan teas.  In some cases the current borders wouldn't have reflected the way those groups of people local defined themselves in the past, or as earlier country borders did. 

I won't get into all that here but I will mention some tea post examples of related versions:

-about sheng pu'er-style tea from Myanmar from the Tea Side vendor, and a Myanmar shou version from Olivier Schneider

-reviewing a sheng variation and white tea from Northern Vietnam from my friend Huyen, and a local sheng version more similar to Yunnan styles from Hatvala

-reviewing a Laos Tea shou from Northern Laos (from a producer based out of Russia), and a Moonlight White style version from Kinari Tea (from a local producer, or really a consultant who helps local producers improve processing styles)

-comparison reviewing two versions of aged sheng from Thailand, one from Tea Side and the other a sample from Olivier Schneider

This isn't the same thing (similar teas from outside Yunnan) but review of a Yunnan Moonlight White version from Farmerleaf works for comparison.  That particular version was a bit floral, fruity, and slightly savory, with a few other minor dimensions to give it more complexity; a nice, interesting tea.

That was already a bit much to cover as background but it does remind me of trying an interesting white tea from Indonesia, a Toba Wangi White Beauty, which wasn't so far off the Moonlight White style.  And the style and overall effect is different but Monsoon produced a Northern Thailand wild tree white I tried a year ago that shared some commonality. 

There are some interesting teas out there, so many that I'm sure I'll never try the last of them.


As for brewing approach for this type of tea you have options; it would brew ok Western style, but I'll use Gongfu brewing anyway since that'll convey transitions better, and just because I'm used to it.  It's typical to back off brewing temperature a little, to use 90 C instead of full boiling for white teas like this one.

Then again I just checked the Kinnari recommendation, since I was going to look up the link anyway, and they recommended 95 C.  It's always something.  Experimenting wouldn't hurt, checking different results using different parameters.  As a rule using hotter water will extract stronger flavors, giving a tea more astringency or emphasizing richer, earthier flavors and feel / structure, and brewing using even slightly cooler water will keep it more subtle and sweeter, shifting the balance to milder flavors.

It kind of depends on the specific tea version characteristics more than the general type which is optimum, and on personal preference along with that.  Different people would prefer different versions, a different aspect balance, so there wouldn't be one optimum. 

A pattern seems to emerge for people to prefer a less mild and sweet version (or more structured, complex, mineral-intensive, and astringent) as their taste evolves, so in general it might be normal to prefer using cooler water for brewing earlier in their exploration of different teas, and later move to hotter water once that transition occurred.  I think of it as the pattern of new wine drinkers liking Merlot, and there being a natural shift to go to Red Zinfandels and Syrah next, then onto complex blends and finally edgier structured Cabernet later.  The main thing:  you do you, go with what works.

Kinnari Tea's Moonlight version and recommendations (a Laos version)

After an initial rinse I elected to go with a really light infusion, under a ten second steep, even though it seemed as if this tea would hardly be brewing yet.  Somehow I wanted to check out the whole infusion process, to see where it started early on.  Part of the reason I skipped an initial fast infusion on the last Thai black tea comparison review was because I tasted this the day before (and posted out of order), so just to change to the opposite of that.

An online tea friend I respect and have learned from mentioned that blog reviewers should try to keep things more standard, and describe exactly what parameters they used, so that others could know exactly what caused those particular results.  There's something to that.  If I'm using 85 C water and you brew with 95 the tea will be quite different, and the same goes for tea to water proportion, infusion times, down to the characteristics of the device used and the mineral content in the water.  I've always wondered how much relative humidity and barometric air pressure might even be factors, but one could safely not even consider that.  But a reader would notice that I do the opposite; I don't typically mention specific water temperature, never include weighed tea amounts versus brewed liquid ratio, and I'm loose about mentioning infusion times, which vary round to round anyway.  It's just how I make tea.

I don't cook with a recipe either, ever (maybe for chocolate chip cookies; I'm not crazy).  I don't wear a watch, and when I present in public speaking or for meetings I never use a set script.  That might relate to a lack of orderliness (conscientiousness, as a "big 5" personality aspect, which I think corresponds in general with being more liberal, ideologically).  At any rate it's just not me.  I am an engineer, so you might think I'd value experimentation and repeatable results, but the kind of engineer I am relates to winging it more (industrial; we just get things to work).  I love the idea of using statistics and modeling for abstract simulation but even that's about replicating relatively chaotic and random inputs to create order more than building up a structured model to impose it.  The model is usually carefully controlled but even then the inputs can be intuitively assigned then adjusted through iterations.  Back to the tea.

It's light and sweet, partly due to this being such a light infusion.  There is a hint of savoriness that should develop in an interesting way along with the fruit-range aspects, which I'll describe more in the next round.  The overall effect is clean, bright, and intense, with an interesting juicy feel and complexity.

just starting to brew

The second infusion:  wow!  That savory effect came on fast, based on giving this a 20 second steep time this round.  The balance is still great, with plenty of sweet fruit, but this mix is unique.  That one aspect is closest to sun-dried tomato but that's not really it.  Sun-dried cherry tomato is closer.  The fruit will be hard to pin down; it's complex, and could be interpreted in lots of different ways.  Some would go straight to some kind of citrus comparison since that's always easy to consider.  Within that range it's closest to mandarin orange, but that's not a perfect fit.  Still, sun-dried cherry tomato along with mandarin orange gets you about as close to an understanding as splitting all that out to 3 or 4 different aspects that actually would correspond better.

The mild earthiness underlying those is really interesting.  I'll guess at that more the next round.  I'll go a little hotter too, moving from the 90 C starting point up to the 95 Kinnari recommended for their version.  That should shift the balance a little, not dropping out much fruit but drawing out more of that earthy range.

And it did.  The savory aspect shifted from sun-dried cherry tomato range towards a more standard sun-dried tomato range.  There is still fruit along the line of mandarin orange there, but it's deepened, and has been joined by a whole new layer.  That part moves towards plum.  It's been ages since I've tried a ripe, sweet, complex flavored plum and this is as close as teas tend to get to that.  The way this coats your mouth and remains as a flavor along the middle of your tongue after you swallow is interesting.  To me it just makes the experience seems fuller and more complete, although maybe someone else would either like that a lot or dislike it, hoping for something else.

There is more depth to this that might be described in all sorts of different ways.  A light but complex earthiness could come across as cocoa, but it's tied to a sweetness and spice-like range that pushes towards clove a little.  I'm not really noticing a match with standard earthy aspects (rock mineral, wood, leather, mushroom) but the depth, something underlying tying the fruit and savory range together, does sort of move towards that type of aspect, it's just very subtle.  I wouldn't be surprised if a Western brewing approach compressed this other range together more and let that show through more in a longer steep.

It transitions on the next infusion, just a bit different.  The sweet-savory range is dissipating a lot, with the rest moving towards a teaberry range, a fruity and earthy form of mint.  This tea is great; what tea version goes through that interesting a transition over four light infusions?  If it wasn't as clean and sweet as it is all that wouldn't work nearly as well, but it's not muddled or unclear in the least.  There's still lots of complexity, that plum range and the rest still there.  It doesn't seem like it's going to settle into one set of flavors it sticks with, as if it will just keep transitioning.  I'll try a longer steep, the first over 30 seconds, to see how that changes results.

On this next round the intensity is up just a little but the tea strength itself is probably leveling off.  With this being as subtle as it is it would still work well brewed twice as strong, infused for a minute or over using these parameters.  There was a time when I probably wouldn't have appreciated the infusions prepared this way nearly as much as I do now, but I'm accustomed to lighter versions now.  I just drink whatever level matches the tea.

All those earlier aspects are still there but the tea flavor range seems to unify, to one complex flavor set that would be hard to unpack if it hadn't built to this range in steps as other flavors kept joining in.  It's not clearly minty, savory, fruity, or spice-like but lots of different range contributes in a way that comes across more as just one flavor.  It's catchy.  That fruit comes across a little more like juicy-fruit gum now than the earlier mandarin orange and plum, nice but more nondescript.  I'll keep on with hot water and give it even a little longer, but I don't expect much transition round to round at this stage.

The tea is leveling off in the next infusion; it will still provide a few more nice rounds but the aspect range is narrowing, requiring longer times to get that intensity.  It's still really good, just thinned in terms of intensity and flavor range.  I'll stop with the notes here.  I did brew another five infusions or so and the range kept thinning but the tea was still nice.


Really nice tea.  As with other Moonlight White versions the tea is complex, with an interesting mix of sweet fruit flavors and other savory range.  This stands up well in character and quality level to any of those I mentioned on that list of other regional whites I tried (with many on that list pu'er-like variations instead, related to the other sample I'll try later).

It would work well brewed Western style too, and might work even better than that brewed grandpa-style, just mixed in a tea bottle and drank without removing the leaves, "brewing out" over as long as it took to drink it.  Any tea low in astringency would work that way but this version would change some across the time you drink it, and as you subsequently refill the water for additional rounds.

It's what I would have expected but better.  More "local" teas can express less complexity or be off in some ways, just a little less clean for processing not being ideal.  This tea is cleaner, sweeter, and more complex than I expected.  It doesn't seem like this represents rounds of someone experimenting with production styles, or if it does they've already been through a lot of rounds.  It's odd that it would be a local style, though, since I've never heard of versions of Moonlight White coming out of Northern Thailand.  They did good.

Source and cost

I asked about cost, which is listed on the Facebook page, but it's harder to read for being in Thai.  Noppadol Ariyakrua, the business owner--who is a mechanical engineer and manager now, which seems cool to me--cited pricing as follows:

Moon light white Spring 2018 
Bht 250/70 grams.
(this works out to around $5.50 per 50 grams; pretty fair)

Tuo Cha Spring 2018
(sheng pu'er-like tea, the other kind I didn't review yet)
Bht 330/100 grams
(more like $5 / 50 grams, about the same)

That's the second tea version in that photo; they've pressed the loose sheng version I have yet to try into tuochas.  There's just something cool about compressed tea versions, isn't there, beyond them being much more practical to store.

Per most accounts white teas also improve with age, although not everyone agrees with that, or prefers them as aged teas.  Given how good this tea is now it would seem really strange to tuck away an extra hundred grams for a few years to see how that worked out, but you might be the only one who owned a version of it then, good for novelty at least.

Once demand ramps up and they can get production increased too they should press this white tea into a tuocha as well, since they're already on that page, doing that with the sheng version.  Who in the tea world wouldn't want to get a tuocha of Northern Thailand white tea as a gift?  You just don't see that kind of thing.  You'd kind of want two instead, one to drink and one to set aside, and then if it aged well you'd wish you had more.

I really do tend to like fresh white teas better though, even though I did go on an aged compressed white tea tangent last year (best summed up here).   That fresh, sweet, bright fruit nature would transition to richer, deeper flavors, which may work well, maybe headed towards flavor along the lines of dried pear, but it works just fine as it is now.

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