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Comparing Pai Mu Tans

Trends in tea abound, and white tea is one of them. One particularly trendy white tea is a style called Pai Mu Tan (also called “Baimudan White Tea,” “Pai Mu Dan,” “Bai Mu Dan,” and oddly “White Peony”). It seems that just about every tea vendor has a version available. So how do you choose among them?

For the sake of this article, not to mention my sanity and yours, I’m going to use the name Pai Mu Tan. Just bear in mind that I am referring to any white tea with one of the names above.

I’ve had a chance to try several versions of this style of white tea now and see similarities and differences among them: dry leaf appearance and aroma, steeped liquid (“in the cup”) appearance and aroma, and of course price per cup.

Generally, Pai Mu Tan has a much different leaf appearance than the other general style of white tea, Silver Needle, in two ways:

  • Leaf shapes — more irregular in the Pai Mu Tan and not as downy
  • Leaf colors — varied more in the Pai Mu Tan, even in the same version, usually ranging from downy (almost silvery) to dark green and coppery brown

As for aroma of these leaves in their dry pre-steeped condition, my “sensitive sniffer” (also prone to sneezing at some of the most inopportune moments) detected some of the scents below in different versions of this tea:

  • Fresh, planty
  • Raisiny, apricotty, nutty (yes, from the same batch of tea leaves)
  • Fresh mown alfalfa with nutty quality

The liquid “in the cup” (after steeping) was similar in appearance and typical for this style of white tea, basically a pale golden color, although one was a bit more orangey-golden. However, take a sniff and you will see quite a difference, ranging from a simple aroma that seems to fit the word “planty” to a more complex taste that starts planty but morphs to a hint of sesame and then to smokiness (very light, not heavy like Lapsang Souchong) in subsequent infusions.

I got 2 to 3 infusions from each tea version and could probably have gotten more. Keep this in mind when looking at the price of the tea. Pai Mu Tans can generally be on the lower end of the white tea price scale (in fact, some tea connoisseurs say this is a low-grade style of white tea), especially compared with teas like Adams Peak (a silver tip white tea). Still, they are generally higher than a basic green tea and certainly a basic black tea. The ability to get multiple infusions is, therefore, very important, especially if you want your tea dollars to really count.

Choose wisely and you will be rewarded!

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