$9.00 – $70.00
As much as an autumn-harvested, ancient tree garden white tea — 1/3 of which consists of the wildly occurring 紫茶 zǐ chá purple bud mutation, pressed with tea flowers harvested from those ancient gardens — is an enticing autumn-themed treat just simply on the conceptual level, this gentle yet sustaining tea is an elegant expression in the cup that stands on its own, even if it hadn't earned the showy title to precede it.
Milky, vegetal, sweet, vanilla-spiced floral tones greet the senses upon entrance and sustain into a mineral-studded mid-to-late session. Large leaf variety teas like in Yunnan yield to us some of the thickest mouthfeel expressions in the tea world, and the production style of white tea may be the best carrier for this quality. This tea is delectably juicy, cookies-n-creamy, smooth, imparting a returning sweetness on the breath.
Though the legend of the rare purple mutation is ancient — as Lu Yu praised the high quality found in the low-yielding, naturally-occurring purple tea over 1000 years ago in his Tang dynasty book The Classic of Tea — modern cultivation methods as recent as only the 1980s have selected for only the purple characteristics and have given the markets a newfangled varietal called 紫娟茶 zǐ juān chá. While this cultivated and cloned tea is certainly impressive in its fully transformed pigmentation, we are not the only ones wondering if in the quest to coax in the most purple, care to ensure other qualities necessary for good tea may have been de-emphasized in the cultivation process.
But why do the tea plants turn purple in the first place? Throughout the plant world, certain species will occasionally downshift their green-hued chlorophyll content to absorb different types of light as they photosynthesize, sometimes employing more anthocyanins to capture the types of light chlorophyll molecules aren't able to. This especially occurs in some evergreen understory species in the autumn and winter when the canopy trees above lose their leaves and allow more and different types of light to shine down below. Some scientists consider this natural boost in the purple-hued anthocyanins as a type of "sunscreen" adaptation, mitigating any damage caused by overexposure to the sun, so the plant can continue to photosynthesize properly.
The newer zǐ juān chá cultivar's antecedent is the naturally-occurring "wild" mutated version that is far less showy, and is uncommon — due to both low supply and requisite of greater harvesting (rather, hunting) efforts. Indeed, throughout her 33 acres of ancient gardens, Dá É was only able to find enough purple buds to produce 2.5 kilos of purple tea this year. We of course claimed as much of it as possible and requested it be made in the style of moonlight white tea!
Moonlight white, or 月光白 yuè guāng bái style white tea typically looks like: a plucking grade of one bud + two-three leaves, the tea is set out to wither for several days, experiencing a range of oxidation between the leaves of various thicknesses. Since the leaves are withered through the night, people have given it the name Moonlight white. The likeness of the shiny white hairs contrasted against the darker, more heavily oxidized lower leaves in the tea cake — resembling the shine of the moon against the night sky — is another hypothesis for the origin of the namesake of this style. The tea liquor pours relatively darker, more oxidized compared to more delicate Fujianese var. sinensis cultivars. The longer withering + drying step necessitated by the sub-tropical Xishuangbanna climate without drying ovens allows for some of the more enzyme-rich lower leaves to oxidize more fully, adding complexity to the brew as well as versatility to how it can be brewed. Gong fu or boil it, as you would a shou mei. As these leaves are teeming with living enzymes, expect this tea will continue to oxidize and complexify with age. Learn more about aging white teas here.
Back in early September, when the tea trees of Nannuo began to flower, Dá É went out to collect and dry these flowers for tea. A flower tea that folks will often press into cakes by themselves, we decided with Dá É to experiment by putting a small amount of these blossoms into each of these moonlight white cakes for an additional florality and apt expression of fall time.