Monday, May 9, 2022

Wild arbor white tea from the Maetang mountains in Thailand


A contact who is new to producing teas in the North of Thailand sent me some of their earliest test production, a white tea version.  His name is Leo Shevchenko, who I met through Sergey Shevelev of Moychay, as part of a Thai "wild" tea development project along with Moychay.  There's background on that project on a related website here.

Leo also sent a sheng sample from Myanmar, so I can place how the two relate, and context for what will come from them in the future, in a later post reviewing that.  Ordinarily I only write about teas that I like, because there is a more interesting story to tell then, but I don't have any doubt that Myanmar sheng is fine.  I've tried a good bit of sheng from Myanmar and it was all either ok or else really nice.

There's not much more to add to the tea review, beyond a story that will be told by pictures Leo sent of the growing area.  The region wasn't familiar to me, since I don't get to the North of Thailand very often, or travel around more remote areas when I do, but Maetang seems to be here:

Zooming out that far doesn't show what is around it very well; it's not that far from Chiang Rai.


First infusion:  quite light; that can happen.  It was clear enough that a gaiwan full of leaves this open wasn't going to amount to my normal proportion, so I brewed that over 20 seconds to compensate, but I'll probably need to stick with a half minute at this proportion.  There's not much to go on at this infusion strength, but what does show through is what I expected, sweet, creamy, complex in relation to fruit flavors, with a nice warmer edge.  It doesn't seem like there will be any flaws to talk about.  It'll be easier to fill in a clearer and longer aspect list next round.

This looks a little more like a Moonlight White in the picture than it did in real life, the black and silver color theme.  It's definitely black and silver but there are some shades of green included.

Second infusion:  a touch of citrus picks up; that's nice.  That creaminess is really pronounced too, both the thickness and some of the flavor from cream.  A little spice range relates to that trace of warmer tone, hard to distinguish further as one type of spice for being so light in this.  For there being nothing negative about this it would make sense to push up the intensity by brewing even more tea (a higher proportion), and preparing it stronger.  For listing out aspects that doesn't matter as much, since a lighter infusion can somehow work even better.  Next round I'll give it 45 seconds--or so; I never time or weigh anything--and see how that works out.

This would be a positive version of a Moonlight White, if presented as that.  That's just Yunnan Assamica made into white tea, per a normal use of the category and term, with a narrower definition limited to a plant type that turns silver and dark when it is dried, as some of these leaves did.  Versions end up being sold that are in the other color range, in varying shades of tan, brown, or dark green.

Third infusion:  as one would expect warmth stands out more for brewing this stronger, or that could just be normal infusion rounds transition; hard to be sure.  On the one hand this is very pleasant in what it expresses, complex and interesting, covering sweetness, light fruit range (a touch of citrus, and maybe a little berry beyond that, maybe in between blueberry and raspberry), cream, and light warm tones, a little towards cinnamon spice to identify the range, but not that.  On the other hand this is a bit subtle, definitely lacking intensity, which not everyone would love.  People who already drink a lot of white teas are quite familiar with that trade-off; this is on the complex and intense side as Silver Needle goes.  Not all that far off a standard aspect range for those either, pretty much the same.

Fourth infusion:  kind of the same as last round.  Brewing this strong (out around 45 seconds now) it has decent intensity, and a rich, full feel (all relative; not as structured or rich as sheng pu'er, or as full in feel as wuyi yancha).  It even includes some aftertaste carry-over, part of that sweet cream and warm tone.

Fifth infusion:  not really evolving or changing, so I'll probably leave off here.  This probably won't make it to 10 or 12 rounds due to stretching the timing so much, but these early rounds were pleasant.  It stayed pleasant for a good number of extra rounds, maybe another 5, but I didn't keep count of those. 

This experience reminds me of one of the best tea versions I've tried from Monsoon, a local Thai producer specializing in wild-grown teas.  A review of that is here, with another post covering a lot of local white tea version reviews here.  

pictures in this blog weren't very good 5 years ago, but the color theme comes across

an old photo of a Kinnari (Laos) version of Moonlight White, even more silver and dark

You don't run across these types of teas so often but the exceptions can add up over time.  I think this version compares well to the rest; those particular aspects are a pleasant set, and the rich feel and aftertaste range add depth to a tea that might otherwise come across as a bit too subtle and simple.

It's a good tea to brew in different ways, since you could push it as much as you like for Western brewing and it would be fine, or it would work well for "grandpa style" brewing, leaving it in a tea bottle and drinking it still mixed with leaves, then refilling that.  It's pretty good for an early trial of tea production, well-suited for that type, it would seem, and made without making any processing mistakes leading to noticeable flaws.

Pictures as background:

I don't have much for description to go with these, beyond the general context that this is relatively wild growing tea.  Since the plants were probably intentionally introduced to this area some time ago some consider this wild tea to be feral instead, but it doesn't change anything.  Leo mentioned that he thought the tea was more complex, aromatic, and fruity because there is a lot of wild flowering plants and fruits growing around it, and it does seem to work out that way, that complex biodiversity can lend character related to nearby plants to tea.  It sounds like a typical myth but related stories of that seeming to happen come up over and over.

Some pictures Leo sent then:

Nice enough!  It's cool that the harvesters represented the Moychay theme in that way, which also comes up in photos on that website.  A couple subjects themes one might expect are missing, pictures of tea drying in woven bamboo racks, and photos of really old trees.  Some plants would have to be older there, given my understanding of the context, these are just what they took pictures of to show a plucking process.  Here's an older Thai tea tree to show what I mean, from an earlier post about a different producer:

This subject is a little worn thin, but it's quite difficult to tell how old a tea plant (tree) is by size, because they grow at completely different rates depending on environmental factors, and I suppose also by plant type, to some extent.  The plant genetics would vary, and I don't see why that couldn't also influence growth rates or maximum final size, even though conditions would seem to be more of an input.  When people look at a tree, a photo or in real life, and give assurance that it's 100+ years old, or closer to 200, and so on, per some decent informed input that's really not meaningful.  The trees can get old, even well over 1000 years, but anyone looking at that last photo and passing on a specific age is either just guessing, most likely based on believing questionable hearsay, or else making an informed guess based on a lot of unusual prior exposure, and it would be hard to say which.

Those plants in the other pictures are kind of young, it looks to me (a guess that is uninformed).  I have no idea what to make of that, or if that points towards other lines of speculation about their likely history.  To me it's as well to go by final processed tea aspects and take the stories for what they are worth, interesting background, that's not quite as important as the final results, in terms of experiencing a brewed processed tea.  It seems unlikely to me that they sprayed pesticides on plants that were already naturally growing, from growth that is integrated with other plants, so there's that, an implied causation for the final processed tea to be safer than mono-culture grown plantation tea.  I don't even over-think that part; I try to drink a good bit of tea with a background that sounds favorable and promising, and let that chemical exposure issue work out however it does from there.

The tea was good, positive in character and unique, which is the main thing.  It should be really interesting trying the same material made into other style versions.

No comments:

Post a Comment