Posted by: ben | September 18, 2009

dig a peony

PeonyHeader(title with apologies to both The Beatles and Attic Tea)

Ben: Here at teatunes Towers we’re enjoying summer’s swansong. For the first time in what feels like months, the sky is cloudless, the air is still, it’s warm but not too hot and people are wandering around in shorts. Whilst it’s been cold and damp I’ve been moreorless exclusively drinking black teas and oolongs; I’m taking this opportunity to try something a little lighter. A quick dig through the cupboard threw up the sample pack of Canton Tea Company’s White Peony (bai mu dan, if you want to get technical). Given how much I thoroughly enjoyed Lahloo’s Snow Jewel (and that this one has a gold star Great Taste Gold 2009 award) I prepared some to sip in the sunshine.

Opening the packet is always an eager affair – the contents are always so surprising! I always expect white teas to be delicate, fluffy thin leaves so I was properly amazed that Canton Tea Company’s white peony is completely different. The leaves appear to have been dried for longer than other examples I’ve had – they’re crispy and, notably, they vary extensively in size and colour. It seems that these are not just the needly tips of the teaplant but a few of the surrounding leaves too. Looking at CTC’s website (that’s a bad acronym for a company not selling cut-torn-crushed tea), they do say that:

The appearance of Bai Mu Dan is ‘one bud and two leaves’. The buds are soft, young needles and the leaves are a sage green on one side with fine silvery hairs on the other.

Aha! Other examples of white tea I’ve had have been needle-only affairs. This is a new one on me. I compared the leaves to some of Jing’s Silver Needle – they are very different indeed.

Crunchy leaves and tips

Crunchy leaves and tips

Where White Peony is similar is the smell – there’s that very rich tobaccoy warmth although this is slighty more floral, not quite as musty or smoky.

After brewing for three minutes, the aroma is halfway between something like a Snow Jewel or a Silver Needle and a young green. It’s not hugely light but it’s not hugely sappy, either. It’s almost as if someone’s brewing a green in the next room and you occasionally catch notes of it in the air. Very unusual.

The taste is oddly similar, too. It’s not got the fruity oomph of a more unusual white tea but, crucially, it’s not got that very raw, sappy, vegetable taste you occasionally get with white teas. It’s very light with occasional hints of walnut.

A comparison of different leaf development stages

Left: water just added. Right: Tea brewed after three minutes

How to evaluate it? Well, it doesn’t give off the wonderfully sweet, peachy taste that the Snow Jewel does after it’s been left to stand but, importantly, this White Peony is delicious to drink whilst it’s warm. The light nuttiness is present as soon as it has been brewed and only deepens as it cools. I tried a few other infusions and there was a little more depth to that nutty roundness but not enough to really yell about.

It’s difficult to know if I prefer this to the Snow Jewel. I love the sweetness of that tea but find the waiting process to be a bore. This has the defining taste pretty much immediately.

Ultimately it’s unfair to compare this to another white tea because – who cares? This is a really enjoyable drink. I’ve found myself craving this during the middle of the afternoon when the sun’s streaming in the windows – it seems the perfect way to disregard what should be the start of autumn. The fact that my generously-packed sample bag is now almost empty is, I feel, a very good sign.

Ben was drinking Canton Tea Company’s White Peony, available through their website from a very reasonable £4.60 for 50g.



  1. I previously didn’t think much of white teas since they’re typically rather subtle. But then I got a hold of some Puerh that’s a kind of “White Tea Puerh” and I have come to love the stuff. Probably the Puerh taste isn’t as subtle as regular white tea. –Teaternity

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