This time it’s a three-hit combo of whites, with an oolong finisher for the KO.
We’re going a second round with TeaVivre, my friends, and the gloves are off.
Before we get into the tea, let’s give TeaVivre some serious credit. I requested to sample their whites and the oolong, and they said they would send out the four teas. And four teas I promptly received–times three. Each. Twelve sample packets altogether for maximum taste-abili-tea, test-abili-tea, and review-abili-tea.
How’s that for generosi-tea?
If nothing else, with TeaVivre, you feel appreciated. Now, the only question is whether we’re going to get that same love in the tea–or if it’s going to be a real fight to get through the cup.
Organic White Peony (Bai MuDan) Tea has a surprisingly woodsy smell in the bag. Not what you’d expect from a white tea! The odor packs a lot of green punch but it’s so sweet and soft about it that you’re immediately intrigued. Dry leaves, though their scent can often be misleading, are like meeting somebody for the first time. That initial impression is the one that sets up the entire exchange, and this tea has decided to give you a handshake that catches you off guard with how gentle it is, though you can already feel the strength of the grasp.
In the cup, unfortunately, this dies. It goes utterly kaput. You have to practically dip your nose in the water to smell anything. The steeping instructions may be to blame; they advocate 1-2 minutes at 194 degrees, whereas I’ve had my best luck doing white teas for longer, more in the realm of 5 minutes.
However, the sip-‘sperience is a very, very pleasant one. Some White Peonies, like Adagio’s, can be obnoxiously forward in their flavor. They like to get all up in yo’ face, jostling fruit and savory notes to the front of your palate. This one, perhaps because of the reduced steeping time, doesn’t play that game. It recognizes what you, the drinker, are looking for in a white tea–you’ve chosen it because you’re not in the mood for a wild ride. You want that wonderful, innate subtl-tea of the breed. And this certainly delivers. You get the palest shades of dusky-rose fruit, growing sweeter the longer it sits and cools. Guava and lychee stand out, then curl into an earthy-floral ending note of taro and lotus root. It’s a light-bodied version of something that was very dark, once upon a time. Perhaps a warrior with a troubled past, but who has now found peace in art and zen. He probably took up flower arranging.
Pair this with your favorite treat and you won’t be sorry. It’s a lovely standalone cup as well, since the natural sweetness practically ices itself–great for the heat of July. No milk–whites can’t handle the pressure–and I’d shirk from sweetener at the risk of losing these remarkable, complex flavors.
Jasmine Silver Needle White Tea (Mi Lo Yin Zhen), hello. As soon as you open the bag you’re getting the jasmine. It’s a real perfume–no literally, it smells like a lady sweating out an incense store and for the love of whatever deity you find holy it’s coming out of every pore. Ma’am, why the hell are you trying so hard? What’s there to cover up? You’re a beautiful young white tea, there should be nothing to be ashamed of. This overwhelming odor tones down in the cup, thank god.
Boy, this is not a tea for floral haters. Or even floral dislikers. It is flower power hour here and kids, we’ve got no choice but buckle up and take it. Now, if you do like florals–you crazy cats, you–this tea will be divine. It is resoundingly petalriffic. The jasmine coats your mouth with every sip, imprinting the aftertaste on your palate, while the sip itself contains notes of melon–cantaloupe, to be precise–and honeysuckle. This isn’t a little girl of a tea. Jasmine Silver Needle is a full-fledged, D-cup woman. A real dame, in the slightly abrasive 40’s sense of the word. Any dudefolk drinking this tea may console themselves by thinking of the White Peony warrior in his manly pursuit of flowers, and thus preserve their masculinity.
Pair this tea with–hell, air. It’s too cloying to set off a meal well. No milk, but sweetener may be alright if you proceed with caution. It’s ridiculously sweet on its own, but if you prefer your tea to taste like it came out of the magical world of Candyland, then have at it. Honey might bring out the fruitiness here, but it could also throw the floral out of whack. It’s up to you–are you (wo-)man enough for this tea?
Organic Silver Needle White Tea (Bai Hao Yin Zhen) was another contender for the Most Unexpected First Impression award. The dry leaves hit you with a fresh hay smell, which catapulted me back into fond memories of horse camp. Shows promise to be a fine outdoorsy tea, for sure.
Another letdown, aroma-wise. If Jasmine Silver Needle is the showoff, then Organic Silver Needle is her ludicrously timid younger sister. Again, the steeping instructions don’t let this tea really show what it’s capable of. It’s not very entertaining to have to sit and wait for the flavors to come to you–especially if you’re not the patient type. Go for a higher water temperature and let it sit for longer, that way you can reap the full effect of the softly winding florals that set this silver needle apart. It lacks the heady perfume of the jasmine version, so that the true taste and aroma of the leaves has nothing to hide behind. However, if you steep it according to the instructions, you’ll be there spending more energy coaxing the flavors into mind than actually drinking it, during which time you could have just left it in the infuser another two minutes and gotten the better cup out of it.
This is a great anytime tea due to its low caffeine effect and neutral flavor profile; fruit and flower evenly mixed–y’know, somewhere in there, whenever you get around to finding them. As far as additives, don’t ever put milk in a silver needle. Any silver needle. (Unless you want to start triple-locking your doors at night so that I don’t come in there and shank you with a teaspoon.) This tea is also too good for sweetener–after trying so valiantly to get the flavor out, drowning it with an artificial add-on will be like dumping a pile of sequins on a Valentino gown. Just. Please. Don’t.
It’s a good thing that we’ve got an oolong in this sample set, because after all that floral jazz, you need something to get your palate out of the Botanical gardens.
Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) Wuyi Rock Oolong Tea comes out of the bag with a dried plum fragrance overlaid by the mineral-y soot of its origin. It seems to promise crimson fruit flavors like red delicious apples and heirloom tomatoes–can’t forget those are fruit, too. In the cup, the fruit gets kicked to the curb as the tea brings in golden sweet sesame to play. We’ve got that wonderful Wuyi nuttiness waiting to happen, but these nuts have been barely toasted, only enough to ripen their flavor but not enough to create a whole new layer in the mix.
Upon first sip, the apple from the aroma goes, “I’m still here!” A really brash kind of cup we’ve got going on, this tea wants you to pay attention to it, which it accomplishes by giving you straight up flavors. You’re picking the apples straight from the tree in some remote forest, not a manicured little orchard. And as it cools, you even get a cayenne-y flavor in there, something like paprika. Not fire-spicy, but a sweet, caressing heat. You could have so much fun with this tea, infusing it in different concentrations and varying steeping times to unlock the treasure chest of flavors.
It’s a too light-bodied for breakfast, so do this one at a later meal with plenty of similarly robust dishes–Middle Eastern or North African cuisine. No fear, it’ll hold its own in any crowd. Not a calming tea by any means, but a go-getter. No milk needed here, but add sweetener to taste if you really want to bring the fruitiness home.
All in all, TeaVivre has a fine selection of white teas. I’ll even include the Jasmine, but only if that’s what you’re into. For an oolong that refuses to follow the floral crowd, the Wuyi is definitely worth checking out.
Coming back to our fight metaphor, the winner of this match would have to be the Organic White Peony. Nice job there, pulling out unexpected flavors. (Of course, I doubt there’d be a difference if it lacked the “organic” tag. Seriously. “Organic” just means that it’s made of carbon and water. Chemistry 101.)