Basically there are two types of white tea leaves available to the consumer: the kind with long, thin silvery (sometimes downy) leaves, and the kind with leaves of varied sizes and colours, sort of like what you might find on a forest floor. The catalogue photo for this tea depicts the former, while these Darjeeling white tips are definitely in the “forest floor” category. So I was somewhat confused.
As a matter of fact, I thought perhaps they had sent me a pai mu tan (or bai mudan if you prefer) tea, which generally has this “forest floor” appearance. I asked my esteemed editor to verify that the tea sent to me for review was indeed the Darjeeling, which she did.
Now, it’s not that I didn’t believe her or The English Tea Store, it’s just that in my experience there are some teas that look a certain way and others that look another way. Turns out my experience was a tad limited, and in searching for references for both Darjeeling white and pai mu tan teas I found evidence that either one can look like the other, depending on the processing technique. Another tea lesson learned. (As this is a tea review, not a discourse on tea processing, I’ll let the details go for another time.)
When I prepare white tea, I use very low temperature water: I bring it to a boil, then let it cool in the kettle with the lid off for about five minutes. If it still seems too hot, I pour it from about a foot above the leaves to cool it even more. The temperature I want it to reach is about 140 to 150 degrees F. Then I steep the tea for at least five or six minutes, and often for as long as twelve to fifteen minutes. This low temperature/long steep coaxes out the subtle fragrance and taste of white teas. (If you’ve been drinking white teas at the often-recommended two-to-three-minute steep and can’t figure out why everyone loves the stuff, give this technique a try.)
I sampled the white tips in a six-cup and a two-cup teapot, and then in a gaiwan, trying to discern any hint of the typical Darjeeling muscatel taste or aroma. Sorry to say, I didn’t find it. What did come through was a nutlike quality in both the nose and the cup, seguing into the gentle floral sweetness that renders white teas so enjoyable. And that heretofore I had considered typical of a pai mu tan tea.
Bottom line is that while this tea did not look the way I expected, and didn’t exhibit the taste or aroma I expected, it did produce an enjoyable, respectable cup, and at a very reasonable price. Although the photos show it steeping in a gaiwan, I recommend using a teapot and staying on the short end of the steep, as this tea starts to get bitter after five or six minutes.
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