Posted by: ben | July 15, 2009

snow in summer

Snow Jewel Header(title with apologies to The Cure.)

Ben: So, white teas. I’ve discussed two on this blog, the most recent being Jing’s Silver Needle back in March. I’ve always regarded them warily – they’ve never done much for me at all. When Kate at Lahloo Teas sent us a big ole batch of her teas to try, I skipped merrily through and tutted at the Snow Jewel. Great, I thought, more white tea.

Having started a new job a few months ago and suddenly faced with an atmosphere where people drink a truly heroic number of liquid (three hot drinks and three glasses of water a day minimum), I’d purchased one of Lahloo’s chatjans, lovely handmade ceramic cups-and-strainers which seemed the ideal way to drink looseleaf at work (we’ll probably do a discussion about such things another time). Rummaging through my tea cupboard at home, I grabbed a few things I could take with me into work to try. Forlornly sitting at the top was the bag of Snow Jewel. As I was taking Lahloo equipment (and as I struggle to find the time to try everything at the moment!) I took the white tea with me – if nothing else, it’d be a curiosity for the people I work with.

We’ve discussed what white tea is before but it’s worth a quick reiteration. Different types of teas are prepared in different ways – green tea is picked, withered, heated, rolled then dried, for example. Most people think of green tea as the closest you can get to ‘fresh’ tea, whereas white tea is a step up from that – it is picked from the top buds of the plant usually in Spring when they are still downy and then whithered in the sun. That’s it. Because it doesn’t have the same level of preparation, white teas don’t usually last as long as other varieties but they’re usually infinitely fresher.

I’ve found the white teas we’ve discussed before to be too watery and grassy to my taste. The freshness has always been too much, making the tea too close to drinking wheatgrass or similar.

Leaf comparison! Left: dry; Right: brewed.

Leaf comparison! Left: dry; Right: brewed.

On a hot afternoon whilst writing endless, endless reports, white tea struck me as a good idea. The grassiness would be peppy enough to keep me going until five. The instructions ask that you ‘take a little time’ with this tea – something I don’t really have at work as a rule but we’ll keep that quiet for the moment. The kettle is boiled, it’s left to stand for two minutes before the water is added. The leaves look as you would expect – fluffy, plump, light. Goodo. Nice that the instructions are given for standard kettles, though it would be nice to get temperatures for those of us with swanky kettles at home.

Three cheers for lovely packaging!

Three cheers for lovely packaging!

Waiting another three minutes for the tea to brew as directed, I had a realisation about the Lahloo peg. I thought it was a silly little artsy accoutrement, a marketing device for Lahloo to appeal to a certain kind of middle-class purchaser who likes such quirky touches. Now I realise it’s purpose – it’s for clipping the package together again once opened! Genius! I like the wee tins Adagio teas come in and Jing’s ziplock pouches are excellent but I absolutely adore this way to go about things. It’s so simple and elegant. Kate recently mentioned on the Lahloo twitter feed that she was unsure if she’d keep them and I’m glad to see she’s stuck with them. Bravo!

So yes. Three minutes after water is added, I lift the infuser out of the mug and inhale the smell. Yep, still the ole white tea grassiness. What I was expecting, really. A sip reveals a slight nutty maltiness but it’s unmistakably a white tea.

I sip at it as I write my reports. As I tend to do whilst working, I forget it’s there after a bit and, half an hour later, take a sip of the lukewarm brew.

Oh my! It’s an absolute revelation!

The wheaty taste has gone and instead I’m greeted with this amazing peachy flavour. It’s light and sweet and delicious, making me gulp down the lot. Suddenly I feel foolish – this white tea stuff is actually pretty good if you give it a chance.

Even better is that re-using the leaves (you can use good quality leaves time and time again) reveals an even sweeter, peachier flavour. I infused the same leaves four times and at the end was overwhelmed by how different the first brew tasted compared to the last.

Kate at Lahloo – I salute you! My lazy drinking and your excellent tea have made me discover how nice white teas really can be. Perhaps I’ve lucked out and found a really nice example? Not sure yet. Either way, I think I’ll be reordering as soon as it runs out.

Ben was drinking Lahloo Tea’s Snow Jewel white tea, available for £8.50 per 30g.

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Responses

  1. I wonder if this approach would work with other whites, as well. I’ve seen varied advice for greens: steep 2 min; steep 1 min; or steep 15 min…

    I do know that teas (I am most familiar with this in regards to Himalayan teas, such as Darjeeling and Nepal) often benefit from being allowed to sit for a number of minutes. I keep noticing how the second cup in a pot is almost always better tasting than the first.

    This, I believe, is because of the complex chemistry going on in that pot: heat + time allow the catechins and flavinoids to combine and recombine, resulting in new compounds that were not in that cup at the start. Thus, a more complex and interesting cup of tea will command your attention better.

    Perhaps I should revisit some of the white teas, which usually just seem uninteresting and too simple for me. Next time, I’ll set some aside for 15 or 30 minutes and see what I get.

    Thank you for your thoughtful post!

    • Thanks Steven! That’s a very science-y reply, I’m impressed. I’ve not really done much in the way of re-infusing yet, but I shall step up my game in the future.

      (Oh, and I made a teeny tiny edit to your comment – hope you don’t mind!)

    • Thanks, Steven. Do also experiment with multiple infusions as they seemed to have as much influence on the taste as the length of time I left it to cool.

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the reason you enjoyed this tea more was letting it cool down. Steeping it a little longer probably helped. But I drink all my tea at home lukewarm if I can help it because it seems to bring out the most flavor. At least I know I’m not getting my tongue burned that way.

    • That’s always an issue! At home I normally use a double-walled glass cup – great for holding but terrible for judging the temperature of the brew.

      I really do need to do more cold brewing experiments. If anyone has any guides or particularly good guidelines, do email us at teatunes (at) google mail (dot) and (com). I’ve had a few discussions with people already but always appreciate more input.

  3. Hey guys, great blog. I’ve only been drinking loose leaf teas since christmas but I’m loving it! I’ve been listening to and making music my whole life, so to find the two combined on one site is a real joy.

    I buy my teas from East Teas in borough market (I think they supply Lahloo), Alex Fraser who runs the stall wrote in one of his Epoch Times articles that cold brewing can be done overnight for 6-8 hours in the fridge with 1-3 teaspoons of tea to 1.5l of water. Apparently Snow Jewel is a good variety to try this with.

    I haven’t tried it yet but I’m looking forward to giving it a go as I bought some Jewel recently and had the same revelation as you Ben!

    Enjoy

    • Hi Christopher;

      Thanks for those instructions! East Teas do supply Lahloo – I’d love to go and say hello to them but never have the opportunity. There’s been plenty of variation in how people go about could brewing, though the argument for not making with hot water is steadily increasing. I’ll be doing experiments this weekend and will report back next week.

      Cheers.

    • Hi Christopher, I’m so glad you found loose tea and especially Alex Fraser. What a wonderful chap! His teas are so fabulous and with real provenance and on a different scale to the quality of tea I’d sourced from other suppliers, especially Snow Jewel and his Japanese greens, I just knew that I wanted east teas to be one of my suppliers.
      Do try cold brewed Snow Jewel – it’s a revelation! I can also thoroughly recommend Wazuka Sencha and Karigane cold brewed overnight. The flavour profiles are so much clearer.
      Enjoy your loose leaf tea journey! And say ‘Hi’ to Alex from me next time you visit him!
      Kate

      • No worries Ben, I look forward to reading the results. Mines going in the fridge tonight :)

        Thanks for your encouragement and advice Kate, I’ll definitely try Wazuka Sencha and Karigane before the summers out and I’ll say hi to Alex for you when I’m there next. It’s good to know I’m getting the ‘good stuff’ even though, at the moment, I know relatively little about it.

        My journey so far has been solitary so it’s nice to find other people who are enthusiastic about loose leaf tea and its qualities.

        The journey continues…


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