Reviewing the second of four samples sent by my online friend Shana Zhang, a Moonlight White version, after reviewing a nice Dian Hong.
Moonlight White is a processing style for white tea out of Yunnan, also sometimes associated with one particular cultivar that turns silver and dark when processed this way (per input from a tea maker friend, at least, who has made both types of versions to witness that cause and effect firsthand). This tea is dark in color, light green, and also brown, so it's made from a different tea plant type. Those can be great too, with character varying by plant type, and of course according to processing steps and conditions.
White tea is the least processed, so there's less variation in choices made or how steps are conducted, but factors like temperature and humidity can change how fast the tea dries, which would change the relative degree of oxidation. I don't make tea myself, so I limit comments about that to passing on relatively obvious points. If that subject is of interest William of Farmerleaf is kind enough to share thoughts and videos on it.
Onto tasting then. I tend to not read descriptions prior to review but in taking pictures saw this listed as tasting floral with peach; sounds good. It's normal for a touch of savory range to be included in some versions, or for the sweetness related flavor to head towards a light berry, which is why Moonlight Whites are one of my favorite tea types. They vary in different ways but are usually quite intense in flavor as white teas go, and often span a very pleasant range, without losing the thick feel that makes lots of white tea versions appealing.
I won't always use a rinse for all tea types; beyond pu'er and hei cha that seems like a judgement call to me. Of course the teas were laying around in different places, often on bamboo mats or clean surfaces versus on the ground, and dust could get mixed in, but somehow all that doesn't seem a pressing concern to me. I will use a fast version of one and also taste it this time; a middle ground.
This will be sweet, light, creamy, and intense; nice!
It is very nice. Floral and peach works, and it's notably creamy. The peach could be interpreted in different ways; that could be seen as similar to a red raspberry, which is how I'd probably describe it. Even without much air exposure this tea will change character over time, but it's new enough that this particular identification difference probably does relate to interpretation.
Bright floral tones give it good flavor complexity so pulling apart the fruit range is trickier. There isn't much for earthiness or savory range but if you try to notice it some very light wood and savory tone is there. It's not woody in the sense most tea flavor range is, more like dried sticks from the ends of very small branches, a sweet and light, mildly earthy range that might be ok on its own.
I brewed this pretty fast, in the range of 5 seconds (counting all the pouring time; down to 3 is about as fast as is practical counting that), but it's still on the intense side. The color looks darker for brewing this in a shaded place. I'm reviewing it at 9 AM outside, too early for a lot of sun to get directly to me in this tasting area, but some is in the driveway already.
I brewed the second infusion slightly longer, still well under 10 seconds. I'll probably try a flash infusion next round to see how that varies things. This tea won't lose intensity for a few more rounds to make brewing strength a concern but it probably would transition a little, with lighter, brighter notes coming out earlier.
It's really nice this round; a tea-berry related form of fruit and mint picked up. It's more savory now too, although to be clear I don't think very many people would taste this and interpret it as that. It's a far cry from tasting like a seared steak, or even a light and sweet Japanese green tea. But that edge is there anyway, giving it a nice balance, especially against the mint and fruit range this infusion.
Mint is also at the edge of being perceptible; it ties more to the fruit in a tea-berry than the mint part, but including that adds complexity (again, as with the savory range). This tea works as well as it does because it seems simple, sweet, and light on a fast take but it's really actually complex. In flavor, at least; the feel is pleasantly thick and the aftertaste is there, it doesn't fade immediately, but compared to the range of structures and aspect intensity in young sheng it's on the simple side.
I brewed this next round quite fast but the color is still a dark golden. This could be oxidized slightly more than it seems. That would normally be associated with a reddish brewed color, hence the Chinese name for black tea as red tea, but I'm guessing that an intermediate level of that, along with extracting other compounds, helps this come across this intense and rich. It brews as golden though; dark golden shaded by tree branches over me now, probably more yellow-golden in different light.
Even brewed very fast (just under 5 seconds) this is about as intense as the last round, and not transitioned much. It could be a little sweeter. I don't experience that as a flaw or limitation in the tea, just placing it.
Savory range and a very light earthiness picks up just a little in this round. If that"light stick" earthy range description didn't ring a bell for description a sweet and clean version of balsa wood is also close enough.
It's great the way that fruit spans a good range. Ripe peach still works as a description, as does red raspberry, and to me it still reminds me most of the fruitiness of tea-berry, which isn't a commonly eaten berry or fruit. It's not even really a berry, I don't think; I don't know what it is. It seems like a berry in the sense that a coffee bean is called that (or also a bean); something different. This post is heavy on tangents but let's check on that with Wikipedia anyway:
Gaultheria procumbens, also called the eastern teaberry, the checkerberry, the boxberry, or the American wintergreen, is a species of Gaultheria native to northeastern North America from Newfoundland west to southeastern Manitoba, and south to Alabama. It is a member of the Ericaceae (heath family)....
The fruit is red and 6–9 mm (0.24–0.35 in) across. It looks like a berry, but is actually a dry capsule surrounded by fleshy calyx....
The fruits of G. procumbens, considered its actual "teaberries", are edible, with a taste of mildly sweet wintergreen similar to the flavors of the Mentha varieties M. piperita (peppermint) and M. spicata (spearmint) even though G. procumbens is not a true mint. The leaves and branches make a fine herbal tea, through normal drying and infusion process. For the leaves to yield significant amounts of their essential oil, they need to be fermented for at least three days.
That last part is interesting; checking that out has been on my to-do list for years. That "berry" texture is really odd, just not odd enough to stop me from trying them whenever I see them, since the flavor is really unique.
credit that Wikipedia post, Wikimedia Commons
I brewed this next round over 10 seconds to experience it the other way, prepared stronger. That should ramp up those warmer tones and body, and diminish the fruit a little.
And it does. It still works, nice for being heavier in effect, that bit more intense. Probably an optimum for me would be in the middle at this stage, maybe around 8 seconds, but it really doesn't matter for this tea. It changes a little but it's fine across a range, one of those tea types that's hard to screw up. You'd squander a lot of its potential, in my opinion, if you let this brew for 30 seconds at this gaiwan proportion but it would still be nice.
On the subject of complexity I don't think I've been giving credit to the role light mineral is playing in increasing that effect, picking up over the last few rounds (much less notable in the lighter infusion though). It's almost impossible to identify at that light, integrated level; it tastes like a light form of rock, maybe granite. On the subject of appreciating rocks:
That's not rock climbing, that's walking along a relatively broad ledge, an old image from when I appreciated the difference in character between types of rock (Southwestern US sandstone, in that case, not exactly what people tend to call "slickrock" but close enough to that). I wasn't appreciating the smell or related taste in foods back then, but instead the function for hiking or climbing on it, but some of it comes back as distant memories during these tastings.
How that area looks, like Utah but it's Grand Junction instead, over on the Western side of Colorado.
In a familiar recurring theme I'll need to try this once more and move onto a roller blade skating outing. My kids will go back to taking Mandarin lessons in two more weeks and I'll be able to do extended Saturday tasting sessions, but we may switch over to ice skating next week, which could take up even more of the morning. It's never enough until it's too much and we're closing in on that; they go to yoga today and tomorrow (at time of writing), and Keo has piano on Sunday too.
On the next round fruit and brighter tones keep fading. They help with the balance but the warmer mild earth and faint underlying mineral give it a more even balance now. It's not quite as pleasant but still very nice. At this stage it would make sense to me for people to want this to turn out stronger and to let the times run onto more like 20 seconds; it's just not necessarily my preference. It's great lighter, although it does need at least a 10 second infusion time to be strong enough now, or 15 is ok.
All in all a very nice tea, a good example of how Moonlight Whites can be. Some are slightly sweeter, or different in different ways, but this covers most of the range I like best in these. All that reminds me of a long tangent on what is seen as most positive in different types, which I'll cover further here.
a little uneven oxidation; that worked out well
On Quality Markers
It's nothing too novel, but in discussion of sheng pu'er a list of most appreciated aspects and a standard pattern for preference of one scope of those over another tends to come up. At the risk of oversimplifying, people are said to appreciate flavor most first, then mouthfeel, then the way teas make you feel. The ancient Chinese wisdom version of that goes something like this: beginners drink tea with their mouth, intermediate tea drinkers with their throat, and after more experience with the body instead.
The subject of quality markers--not a standard term, but how I frame the idea--relates to these. Adjusted a little one would look for certain aspects in sheng pu'er to identify it as being of high quality: a positive set of flavors that are typical to the growing area comes into play, along with expected and balanced levels of sweetness, bitterness, mineral aspect, and so on. Mineral works better as a quality marker than the others; the form and level of that seems to correspond with tea from old tea plants, which is preferred. Next specific forms of mouthfeel are appreciated, bitterness transitioning to sweetness, lingering aftertaste, and finally the tea making you feel a certain way (cha qi effect, or as I like to think of it drug-like qualities).
Moving on, are there a set of aspects that identify Moonlight White as a higher quality version? I might add "in my own opinion;" all of this isn't standard understanding of evaluating tea, even though it is in part derived from hearing a lot of others' opinions on a lot of teas. Those "lots" span a good bit of scope, but mostly tied to online input and personal evaluation of that against my own experience.
Not so much as for some other types, per my understanding (sheng--young and old, shu, and for various oolong types). White teas come up in discussion, and Moonlight White versions do, but it's a different thing, narrowing expectations and standard perceptions down to a single tea type within a category. To the extent I think I can specify that (even further into just being my own opinion), I think flavor aspect range stands out, just maybe more related to match to preference than for identifying quality.
"Quality markers" might relate to thickness of feel, intensity of flavor, and overall balance. Aftertaste can occur related to different teas, and people's takes on cha qi vary, but as I see it flavor is a main input for how well someone would like a Moonlight White, and the others could be used to judge quality, if one were so inclined.
I'm typically not; how much I like a tea as a balanced and pleasant experience suits me for evaluation purposes, and all this is more about sharing a potential different way to look at tea experience. Sometimes it works out--broadly, as experiences go--to experience an experience as a simple thing at first, to accumulate levels of details while sorting out what those experiences are all about later, then to come back to simpler forms of appreciation later on. All of this may be helpful in that middle ground range when someone is trying to unpack why they like complex experiences, which isn't really a necessary project to take up anyway.
Brewing more positive infusions or transitioning in an interesting way across rounds both make for special cases; these can be quite pleasant to experience, but I personally don't see them as quality markers. Tea only brewing a limited amount before losing positive character is definitely a flaw but claiming the opposite doesn't work quite as well.
This tea does ok related to that type of analysis (the markers theme). Thickness of feel is nice, the flavors there are positive, interesting, novel, and balanced, and sweetness is pleasant, although it could be a little more pronounced. A tea expressing some degree of savory aspect would do well to not be overly sweet, while one more centered on aspects like peach or berry probably would be better if sweeter. In other versions sweetness can work to provide a better overall balance, at the right level; eg. offsetting bitterness or other flavor range.
In summary, this is clearly good tea. Perhaps more importantly I like it. Next value comes into play; is this tea as good as implied by the price range, or how does that relate to other comparable offerings from different sources? Of course that kind of interpretation varies as much by individual as subjective preference for aspects. This covered too much ground already, so I'll leave out exploring that concern, and show pictures from that outing I mentioned.
playing a game in between skill drills at that lesson
Keo and that friend visiting from China, Olea
extra skateboarding session after the class