Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bai Mu Dan (White Peony Tea) • 白牡丹茶

Zhenghe Bai Mudan Cha (White Peony Tea) • 政和 白牡丹茶
Zhènghé Bái mǔdān chá

Bai Mudan, White Peony Tea, is a famous white tea originating from Fujian province during the 1870's, and where the highest quality continues to be produced. It was the first tea of it's kind.
Named after the White Peony flower, China's national flower, more likely as a charming name than for any resemblance, but the scent is said to be similar, as the tea is known for its floral character. There are two types of Bai Mudan, Zhenghe and Fuding. Zhenghe is fermented a little longer and produces a fuller, stronger tasting tea, compared with brighter and greener Fuding leaves.

Bai Mudan is considered the second highest grade white tea, after Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle, 白毫銀針). Where Silver Needle is produced entirely of buds, White Peony includes the first leaf. The added leaves result in a much fuller flavour, while still maintaining a gentle, soft, sweetness. Its second grade status does not mean it's not of equal quality, but subtlety rules in Chinese tea and Silver Needle is the more subtle of the two. That said, many prefer the stronger flavour of White Peony.

A high-quality Bai Mudan has a large proportion of long, furry buds, like those of Silver Needle, dispersed with small, withered leaves, some bright-green, others lightly or deeply fermented brown. It can be steeped with a range of temperatures. Many recommend very hot but I prefer 80ºC, where its sweetness is more pronounced. The tight buds need more time to open than other teas, so I steep them more than twice as long as I usually would with green or oolong teas. I've also had great results stepping it quite hot then letting it cool before drinking.

Though it's called "white" tea, the liquor is a bright, clear ocher. It's quality is proven by the large amount of hairs floating in the cup. Though I feel like I'm betraying my zisha pots, lately, I've taken to using a glass gongfu pot for my white and green teas so that I can watch the leaves dance and the tea hairs sparkle in the sunlight. The glass also transmits an unaltered flavour, which is ideal for white and green teas.

Like Silver Needle, there is a sweet, hay-like taste, but after letting your tongue soak for a few seconds, surprisingly strong floral and fruit taste emerges. It's for this that many prefer White Peony to Silver Needle, it has more taste.

Traditional Chinese knowledge defines white tea as having a cooling effect on the body. It makes it useful for balancing body heat during the summer. It is also antibacterial, making it a good body cleansing tea. Because of white tea's simple processing technique, the best are withered and dried in the sun then lightly oxidized, nothing more, it retains even more of its beneficial compounds than other types of tea.

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