Nov 4, 2010

Moonlight and Beauty

About Moonlight White and/or Moonlight Beauty, there are many versions of the story about how it is [they are] made. Some people say they are the same tea and some people say they are not. Most of the time, I don't like mysteries of tea, because many of them are not intrinsic mysteries of tea, but rather man-made. Some tea producers seem to be determined to confuse people about what a tea is.

This version of story about this Moonlight White is a relatively simple one. According to the producer, leaves were harvested at night under moonlight (hence the name of the tea) and were laid on the floor of a room in a single layer (no overlapping of tea leaves) to be dried completely in dark in several days. That's all. I am not sure if the moonlight harvest is just a "romantic" factor here. But I guess the key here is the tea was harvested and dried in dark.

According to the producer, it's crucial to have the leaves dry in a room without any exposure to light, and without leaves overlapping with one another. Otherwise the tea would not have black leaves and white (silver-tipped) buds, but a mixture of green leaves, red leaves and white buds instead. I did see Moonlight White with green leaves and white buds before and I guess it used a different way of processing. A quick hypothesis I can think of to explain the difference is, when dried in sunlight, the leaves dry faster and therefore oxidation level is lower. When dried in dark, the leaves take longer time to dry, hence longer time to oxidize, and hence darker leaf color. But I am not sure if the "absolutely no light exposure" and "absolutely no leaf overlapping" policy is just another "romantic" factor. Compared to all other white teas I had had, this Moonlight White has the highest oxidation level. The taste even remotely resemble that of a red tea. I can see why some people would compare this tea to Taiwan Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao Oolong), which is a highly oxidized tea too.

2nd infusion.

7th infusion.

What makes this tea special is that the leaves were harvested from big tree (乔木) of Jing Mai (景迈) which are also used to make high quality puerh. The producer says because of the inner quality of the leaves, this tea can last 20 infusions or more, much more long lasting than regular white teas. My tea session didn't go as much as 20 infusions. But it did last a good 9 infusion or so. I didn't use many dry leaves from the beginning, and the spent leaves only filled 1/3 of the gaiwan. The tea can tolerate long infusion very well and is generally very smooth. So I guess if you fill the gaiwan with a lot of leaves, it can indeed give you many infusions. But so far I prefer to use less amount of dry leaves, because to me this tea is not about power and dramas, but about mellowness and sweetness.

From time to time, I hear stories of some people selling Moonlight White as fake Bai Hao Oolong. Actually, I don't think it's possible. Moonlight White is as great a tea as Bai Hao Oolong. If a tea is used as fake Bai Hao, it can't be an authentic Moonlight White either. The real Moonlight White is from big trees of Yunnan, and many of these trees, such as all of them in Jing Mai, are from elevation of above 1000m (3000 ft.). You can almost always tell from the beautiful leaves.

(I categorize this post in both "white tea" and "puerh" only because Moonlight White sometimes is referred to as a type of puerh. But I personally don't think it fits in the definition of puerh.)


Sir William of the Leaf said...

Those are wonderful looking leaves! I do not understand how they could sell this tea as Bai Hao; the leaves are much much larger than what is used for Bai Hao, that is a dead giveaway.
But either way, great looking tea =]

Gingko said...

I guess those sold as Bai Hao have smaller leaves. I've seen some products labeled as Yunnan Oriental Beauty in market and those I've tried are pretty good. There is a Taiwan tea farmer making Bai Hao in Yunnan with exactly the same method for Taiwan Bai Hao. His product is well known as a Yunnan Oriental Beauty and is very hard to get in the market.

Usually the Yunnan tea sold as fake Taiwan Bai Hao is not a great tea no matter how it's labeled. A good product doesn't hide its production information. A bad product doesn't go far even with a nice label ;-)

the_skua said...

I finally got around to trying this. The background info you provided here is helpful, because I think the delayed drying process does allow the tea to fully oxidize and to me it tastes more like hongcha than any white tea I've ever had. That being said, it's got some tremendous sweetness and, as you've said, lots and lots of endurance. These leaves won't quit!

Gingko said...

Tom, yes I agree this tea tastes more like hongcha. It's interesting that a white tea tastes more like a black tea rather than another white tea!