This is part of a longer post on exploring the Bangkok Chinatown, which will post in my personal blog, Tea in the Ancient World, after appearing here in TChing.
Review of Ya Bao, wild tea buds white pu’er from the Sen Xing Fa shop
The Ya Bao looks like tea buds, but not like silver tips / silver needle, as if from a different plant. Per one Yunnan producer they are from a different plant, and another vendor mentioned the look is different because they’re picked in the winter instead. Both could be true; I’ll see what turns up about that.
The tea doesn’t taste like tea at all; it looks like a tisane instead. This version’s flavor is bright and sweet, with a distinctive pine aspect, pretty close to how brewing rosemary works out. I did brew a lot of rosemary, by the way. I bought a large size container of both that and thyme on sale in a grocery store and then, realizing that I don’t cook much with rosemary, spent months drinking it prepared as an infused tisane (or as herb tea, if you’re loose with how you use that word). It’s nice.
This is probably shifted a little from rosemary towards actual pine (which I reviewed here, and went into potential medicinal or nutritional uses here), which to me is a good thing since I like brewed pine needles. I could even go back and review that post to confirm which tree’s needles it is most similar to, but based on memory this is like White Pine, on the light, sweet, fresh, and delicate side as those go. It just doesn’t taste anything like tea.
I think this tea would be good or bad depending on how much someone expected and wanted it to taste like tea. From there flavor preference would come into play, but I think anyone okay with using rosemary as a tisane would love it, and anyone that would hate that wouldn’t. It seems a little one-dimensional, but it would probably vary some based on shifting around brewing parameters, so I’m likely not getting the best out of it just yet. I guess you could blend with it too, mix it with something else, but I wouldn’t.
As far as this being a “white pu’er”, I’m not seeing that, either of those descriptions fitting. It’s nothing like the Moonlight White teas I’ve tried in a similar general range. The processing method for making this from the picked buds is simple per my understanding, more or less just letting the buds dry, so maybe it’s the closest to making white tea.
Ya Bao; what is it?
According to a Yunnan tea maker contact, it’s grown in Dehong Prefecture, but he didn’t know the specific plant type, just referring to it as “wild,” not made from a variation of the two main tea plant varieties. Most sources seem to describe it as just being tea, presumably the Assamica variety. Yunnan Sourcing has a different take, seconding what that other producer told me:
These little white buds come from wild-growing Camellia Assamica Dehongensis varietal. It is a sub-varietal of camellia that grows in the tropical area of Dehong and Lincang in southwestern Yunnan. The buds are picked in early February and then sun-dried. The flavor is fresh and a little fruity somewhat similar to a good white tea but more complex flavors. The brewed liquor is whitish and clear, and there is a hint of fresh pine needles in the aroma!
The version I tried didn’t seem at all complex. I read some other reviews of versions–for some reason a wave of product descriptions and blog posts were published in 2014–funny how that works out–and those were a lot more positive than my two experiences, and that’s counting a pressed version in that shop. Another tea vendor in the US completely echoed my take on the experience of one version; it tastes sweet and a little like pine, but doesn’t have a lot going on.
He and another Chinese tea producer and vendor expressed one other interesting idea (or concern, depending on your take), that unlike picking a silver needle / silver tip bud later in the spring, harvesting this from the tip of a branch will prevent that branch from producing any new leaves at all. This is surely tied to why it looks like a set of leaves early in development, not just a bud. If it’s not really a Camellia Sinensis plant–odd that other citations used “Camellia Assamica”; that’s not how that naming convention works–then this doesn’t relate to later “tea” harvest potential anyway, unless there is different leaf-based version to be had from this plant type as well.
I’m sure adjusting brewing could turn up a couple more trace flavor aspects, but based only on this experience I could take or leave it. It’s interesting and pleasant, worth trying out, and I’m glad I have most of 50 grams left for that, but it probably won’t become a favorite.