Posted by: dan | February 16, 2009

little silver bags

(title with apologies to Hope Of The States, and George Baker Selection)

Dan: We’ve reached the end of the exploratory stage of our loose-leaf experiment. We know what we’re getting into in terms of both tea and blog. We’ve seen the reverence with which others treat their teas and tasted teas both familiar and unusual.

You know the format by now. The teapigs triple concludes with their silver tips white tea.

Ben: I’ve been looking forward to trying this one. You see, everyone’s had some form of green tea or Earl Grey and the whole point of starting this blog was to try esoteric things, something a little off the beaten track. Before I started snooping about the various websites, I’d never heard of white tea – if asked, I’d’ve said that it’s a cup of PG Tips with a splash of milk.

Before I got reviewing, I looked at teapigs’ explanation of what white tea is. Better the devil you know, after all. Apparently:

The leaf is picked in the spring, and the early morning shoots are plucked and left to dry in the fresh air.

The product description goes a little further, saying that the shoots that make their white tea are picked for two hours first thing in the morning. It’s difficult to classify, then, but if normal ole black tea is the stuff that’s picked and dried for ages and green tea is the stuff that’s picked and dried for a little bit, then white tea is made from the best leaves dried for the shortest time in the sun.

I’ll be honest, at this point I don’t feel worthy. All day at work I’ve been assaulting my tongue with Clipper teabags and now I am about to try the freshest, lightest tea of them all. It’s like bingeing on Burger King before going to the Savoy. But I really want to try this stuff, so onwards I plow.

Because of a small administrative cockup I’ve managed to get proper loose leaf whereas Dan has to make do with the teapigs ‘temples’. Opening the bag, the smell that hits is very reminiscent of your grandad’s rolling tobacco, a very leafy, earthy, woody aroma that seems so unlikely for something dried relatively quickly. Brewing the tea is even weirder – the leaves haven’t been rolled as part of the production process so there’s none of that spectacular unrolling or unfolding – the leaves just sit there. I kept shaking the infuser to try and stir them into life without much of anything happening.

Once infused for three minutes, the brew is incredibly pale. It’s blatantly obvious that the leaves haven’t been aged – there’s a very organic, vegetable-ish smell coming off the brew. It’s just bordering on the right side of school dinner cabbage smell. Only just.

The taste is expectedly complex. The initial taste is watery, like slightly tepid water left on a windowsill in Spring. As the brew washes over the sides of the tongue there’s a slight sweetness and a mown-lawn organic twang before a woody note on the roof of the mouth after swallowing.

The subtlety is the impressive point. You expect most teas to have one or two tricks to pull – the heft and light of Earl Grey, the cleanse of green tea etc – but the white tea changes on nearly every taste. Gulping it down is reminiscent of the smell of the inside of a cardboard teabag box; sipping it gently gives an initial mown-grass followed by strong black tea sensation. It’s an incredible panoply.

My main criticism is that it’s not particularly quaffable. It’s a great exhibition drink – you’ll want to bring it out when your friends are over and you want to impress them – but it doesn’t feel like something you’d want to drink every day. That’s a bit of a fib – if you’re the sort of yoga-practising, wheatgrass-drinking new age hippy who likes to detox and cleanse, you’ll jump all over this like curds in a tofu salad. The rest of us will be content to be impressed by its range once every now and then.

It’s the Ingmar Bergman of teas.


Dan: I was approaching this one in a similar point of view as Ben: I’d not really heard of white tea, but was looking forward to it. After the first cup, I was somewhat disappointed. It seemed that there was nothing to it. But since then, I’ve had 3 more cups, (which is a bit excessive), and the second cup was almost revelatory. It was Sunday, about 1pm, and I hadn’t had a cup of tea yet that day, which is unusual for me, as the kettle is the first port of call most days. But as I brewed the tiny white leaves until they expanded into a green mass, I noticed the difference in smell between the ‘damp tobacco’ of the dried leaves and the almost non-descript aroma in the drink it made. Another symbol of the exceptional subtlety of this tea.

The Silver Tips tea in their temples

The Silver Tips tea in their temples

The first taste really is bland, but it slowly reveals itself through each return sip. It gets stronger, and shows various nuances which delicately tantalise the tastebuds. It first moves into a grassy flavour, reminiscent of a Spring breeze. Secondly, it becomes slightly wheatier, not too dissimilar to popcorn tea we reviewed earlier, but much lighter. Finally, it moves into a kind of ‘honey and lemon’ sweetness that underlies both the earlier flavours it revealed. I’ve made it sound like a fancy three-course breakfast, but that’s almost what it’s like.

It really is a glorious tea, and I think after 4 cups, I’m enamoured, and on the verge of addicted. Of the three teapigs teas we’ve tried so far, I think this is the best. The Earl Grey was very good, and much better than traditional teabags, but after a few more cups, it loses the initial punch I praised it for in our review. And the popcorn tea, while adventurous and not without merits, just didn’t cut it for me. But as I sit here, supping the last few mouthfuls of my fourth cup, I can’t help but feel that this is the best tea I’ve tried so far.

Ben and Dan were drinking teapigs’ silver tips white tea, available from £3.59 for 30g (loose leaf) or £4.79 for 15 temples.


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