Drinking freshly harvested tea is a completely different experience than drinking tea even 6 months later. Fresh tea is sweeter, less astringent, and has a subtle complexity. Our commitment to offering a rare glimpse into the flavors of fresh tea is best exemplified by our Early Spring Collection. Each year we select small lots of tea from the very first harvest of the year. We often choose a variety of small-production green teas from China and Japan or the occasional high-elevation black tea, but the style of tea that benefits most from an early harvest is white tea.
Our first 2017 white tea offering, Early Spring Snow Sprout, comes from Yunnan, China. Unlike Fujian, the birthplace of white tea, which boasts 200 hundred years of production, Yunnan has only been producing white tea since 2004. This innovation demonstrates how the tea industry continues to evolve and explore the infinite flavor possibilities of the tea leaf.
Snow Sprout, in a sense, is the taming of a cultivar. Yunnan’s da yeh cultivar and the region’s related cultivars tend to produce strong, brisk tea that has been thought only to be suitable for producing black tea and fermented tea. However, when harvested early at higher elevation, da yeh will yield sweet, fruit-forward flavors with a rich mouthfeel and a finish devoid of astringency. Coaxing these flavors out is dependent on the weather. Often, too much or too little rainfall will speed up or slow down the harvest, and the tea will be too astringent or lack the flavors that make this such a great white tea. This year has been exceptional, and over the early spring, this small-production lot has displayed all the characteristics of a perfect harvest.
While unconventional, I prefer a using a thicker-walled tea pot such as a kyusu for steeping white tea. Unlike China green, white tea benefits from more consistent heat throughout the steeping process.
Fill a 400 ml kyusu with 180-185°F water to thoroughly warm it up. Measure out 8-10 grams of tea. Discard the water and steep the tea in 180-185°F water for 5 minutes. Steep a second infusion for another 3 minutes.
Snow Sprout makes an excellent cold brew tea, but benefits from a longer than normal infusion, steep 20 grams per liter for up to 36 hours.