Please give a warm welcome to Andy Gerber, who will be joining Bois de Jasmin’s team. Andy is a student with a love of reading, writing, cooking, collecting and drinking tea, and growing plants of all kinds. At a young age, he has developed a natural affinity to everything botanical, and his fascination with scents has never waned since. As Andy says, “I will always remember the day when I fell in love with the amazing world of fragrance, which happened, coincidentally, in a greenhouse. As I stood, sniffing, among a collection of scented herbs, violets, and roses, I felt an unexpected wave of euphoria–I came to a sudden realization of how moving and joyful fragrance is.” He will be sharing his knowledge of teas, fragrant beauty care, and aromatic plants with us.
If any edible could be deemed the closest link between food and fragrance, it would have to be tea. Teas display aromatic profiles that often rival perfumes in complexity, containing many of the same volatile compounds as a bottle of fragrance. Notes of honeysuckle and peach might sound more fitting in a fragrance description, but in the world of tea, recognizable floral, woody, and fruity notes like these occur naturally and add interest and subtle depth. It comes as no surprise that perfumers like Jean-Claude Ellena of Hermès and Mathilde Laurent of Cartier are self-admitted tea enthusiasts, who reach for tea as both a satisfying beverage and as an artistic inspiration.
Of all teas, though, white teas are one of the most interesting options available on the market. White teas, grown primarily in China’s Fujian province, are made from the downy leaf buds of Camellia sinensis plants, the same plant used to make black, oolong, and green teas. The leaf buds emerge early in the harvesting season and must be plucked within only a few days before they unfurl into new leaves. After plucking, the buds are allowed to wither for a few days in the sun before they are dried. After drying, the processing is finished and the final product is a long, thin and silvery bud covered with fuzzy hairs. The handling of white tea is delicate and very minimal, in order to preserve the gentle flavors of the tea and keep the leaves intact. The plant material allowed in the production of white tea is thus chosen with the utmost care and attention to quality, as no broken, blemished, or mature leaves are used.
As a result of this centuries old process, white teas are arguably the most subtly nuanced teas of all, with a delicate flavor to match the light processing methods used in their production. Unlike the harsh, bitter black tea one might brew from a grocery store teabag, white tea is mild, smooth, and delicate, with a pale colored brew and leaf. Many, upon trying white tea for the first time, remark that it tastes bland and watery, but to me some of the most interesting flavors are found in white teas. The flavor of most white teas is subtle but lingering, and all of the beautiful natural nuances become increasingly apparent the more one drinks this special class of teas.
If you are unfamiliar with white tea or aren’t sure which kinds to try, I have selected four varieties below that are good starting points. As always, make sure to buy quality, loose leaf tea, as this will produce the best result. I especially recommend the teas from Art of Tea, which offers all of the types of white tea I have described below at a great price. In brewing white tea, I recommend steeping the tea leaves in filtered or bottled water that is 170-180° Fahrenheit (76-82° Celsius); hot, but not boiling. Water that is cooler than this will not allow the flavors of the tea to properly infuse into the water, and water that is hotter will destroy the delicate flavors of the tea. I also advise against putting the tea into a tea ball, as these do not allow the leaves to properly expand and infuse into the water, resulting in a less flavorful and bitter cup.
Instead, start by heating your water, using a thermometer to check that it is at the correct temperature. Then, rinse a teapot or heatproof cup (I personally like to use a gaiwan, a traditional Chinese tea brewing vessel) with the water, swirling around until the exterior of the vessel feels warm. Next, scoop in about 2½ teaspoons (about 2 grams) of white tea for every 8oz (about 240mL) of water used, and then pour the water over the tea. Allow it to steep for 1-3 minutes, according to taste. When you are satisfied with the flavor, strain the tea as you pour it into cups. I like to use a small mesh strainer for this. When tasting, use both your nose and taste buds to enjoy the full spectrum of flavors in white tea. Enjoy!
Silver Needle (Baihao Yinzhen)
Silver Needle white tea is among the most prized of all white teas for its excellent flavor and quality. The dry leaf smells woodsy and sweet, and appears as long, thin, fuzzy and silvery in color. When brewed, the resulting light golden infusion has a mild, slightly sweet aroma of fresh hay with a refreshing taste. The flavor is mild, and exhibits the same dominant hay-like notes of the aroma, with a peachy dryness and a delicate sweet aftertaste that lingers nicely. This white tea is very nice at any time of day, as it has a soft and lasting flavor that seems to be well liked by all, even those who are typically non tea-drinkers. A quality silver needle tea should not taste too green or grassy, as this is indicative of lower quality. In addition, another sign of quality is indicated by the downy hairs present on the tea leaves, which should float on the surface of the freshly brewed cup. I highly recommend this tea to anyone who is new to white tea, as this is the quintessential white tea, serving as a good standard of comparison to other types, such as those described below.
Jasmine Silver Needle
As the name suggests, this white tea is made from silver needle tea that is scented with fresh jasmine flowers. The aroma of the dry leaf is of dry, sweet jasmine. While the dry leaf smells heavenly enough, the aroma significantly opens up when the tea is brewed, showcasing a green, banana-like sambac jasmine note that lingers in the air beautifully. The white tea serves as a nice, refreshing base to the dominant jasmine flavor of the tea, which tastes fresh, bright, and crisp. It is impossible to try to drink this tea without wishing its beautiful scent could be bottled. The jasmine flavor and aroma is so smooth and natural, and comes across so purely set against the almost nonexistent background flavor of white tea. I highly recommend this white tea especially, as it is simply too beautiful to go unnoticed.
White Peony (Bai Mu Dan)
White Peony differs from Silver Needle in that this tea is comprised of not only leaf buds, but also the uppermost new leaves below each leaf bud. This difference results in a richer, deeper flavor than Silver Needle. I was just introduced to this type of white tea recently, and I found that I liked it as much if not more than Silver Needle. As the name suggests, it does have a slight peony aroma and flavor when brewed, which is very lovely, but it should be noted that this flavor note is naturally occurring, not added as for a jasmine tea. This tea is nicely floral and slightly earthy, with a beautiful subtle depth. What I loved about this tea especially was its lasting, sweet finish, which lingers even better than the finish of Silver Needle.
White Monkey Picked
This interesting tea derives its name from legends, which suggest that trained monkeys once harvested the leaves. While today this is certainly not the case, this tea is delightful and extremely refreshing. The leaves of this tea are slightly green in appearance, and the flavor of the tea is likewise very similar to a very light green tea. This tea tastes grassier, greener, and more astringent than other white teas I’ve tried, but it retains its similarity to white teas in its striking floral notes and relatively mild flavor. One of the predominant notes of this white tea is honeysuckle, which tastes beautiful against the green overtones. White Monkey Picked tastes extremely fresh, and I think it would be wonderful as an iced tea.
What about you? Do you enjoy having a cup of tea? And if so, what is your favorite kind?
PS: Andy is a student, so he will reply to your comments when he gets home from his lectures in the evening.
Photography by Andy Gerber (except for #1, which is by Victoria).