Written by our guest blogger dragonleaves
As other guests have disclaimed before, this text doesn’t come from a professional or tea expert of no sort! Just an aficionado here, enjoying the tea life every day, sip after sip.
My relationship with tea started over a decade ago, in my early twenties. As a teenager, I was one of those charming Japanese culture obsessed anime binge watcher. As an active otaku, I had already flirted with Japanese tea culture, which seemed to me a deep well of mystery and ceremonial. When I stepped into my twenties I started to broaden my interest towards Asian cultures, and I started connecting with Chinese culture through its tea.
Just by then I found a small tea room in my city, Barcelona, owned by a Fujianese woman and her Spanish husband, and became addicted to spending time in it. I ended up befriending them, and even working there for a while. Most of what I know about tea, I learnt it there!
Years ago, sitting in that tea room, the owners introduced me to some white buds I had not seen before. I fell in love with those thick buds by then, but forgot about this tea for some reason, and only recently I’ve rediscovered it thanks to a beautiful tea room in Lübeck, Germany, the owner of which sent me the loveliest Ya Bao.
Introducing you to Ya Bao! Now, this is a bit of a controversial tea. It is commonly catalogued as white tea, since what we see is only the buds, and it has been processed as a white tea. Only some sun drying and maybe a little of oxidation, like many white teas are produced. Instead of having been produced in the common areas where we normally get our whites from, this comes from the most distant mountains in Yunnan, almost bordering with Myanmar. Indeed, Ya Bao is normally made out of pretty old trees that are normally used for Puer production.
So, we have a white tea from old Puer varietal trees. That’s already a mix. But here’s the thing. To make whites, we normally pluck the terminal buds of the tea bushes, in early spring, this we know. Well, if you have a quick look at the pictures, you will see these buds look nothing like terminal buds. They are thick and multilayered, they seem to contain much more than the popular silver needles. Well, these are not terminal buds. These are lateral buds!
Lateral (or axillary) buds are those that the tea plant produces in order to give birth to more branches, instead of just leaves. They happen earlier that the popular terminal (or apical) buds, during winter, and they contain a very different biochemistry, since their mission in life is very different.
Now, I am particularly unskilled at describing what I taste. I am very bad at finding all those beautiful words to describe flavors and aromas and compare them with thousands of things. But I can tell you this is a totally different experience from what tea normally gives us. Some actually might even be up to discussing whether this should or shouldn’t be considered tea. It comes from the famous Camellia, yes, but we are not infusing its leaves, technically. Or are we? Hard to say.
First thing you do is opening your tin and sticking your nose in it. I find that early moment of my tea session one of the most enjoyable ones, when I get to enjoy that condensed aroma of the whole pack of leaves. And Ya Bao dry aroma strikes you already with an obvious sweetness hard to ignore. It smells incredibly sweet, yet you start to see there is something more to it, in the shape of wood and spices.
These buds are destined to create branches, so it seems natural to me that woodiness and forest aromas are going to be there in a way standard leaves don’t normally give us. After introducing the leaves in a warm, wet pot or gaiwan, it starts to become more sensible.
Ya Bao changes a lot from dry to wet and, even if the sweetness will remain invariable, the woody, spicy, even smoky aromas overtake the sensorial experience as you go on with it. Cedar, pine tree resin… it’s like a walk in the woods!
That sweetness remains in your mouth. The aftertaste is long and very satisfying. As any Ya Bao drinker will agree with, it is impossible to oversteep this tea. It will give you a million steepings and they will never become bitter. That is also why it is becoming a very popular option for cold brews. What a wonderful, naturally sweet, thick nectar to become addicted to in summer days!
Origin: Yunnan (this sample comes from Gao Li Gong Shan)
Harvest time: Spring 2019
Leave colour: Furry white and greenish
Liquor colour: Pale beige, it gets yellower with steeping time
Tea aroma: I get sweet white fruit (ripe melon and pear). Spices like nutmeg. Wood, resin.
Tea taste: Smooth and sweet, long lingering, spiced.
Steeping/brewing: High temperature is advised, just like with any white, since the buds are thick and unbroken, and contain many layers. Successive steepings at 90°C should work. This is a very kind tea, it will never give you any problems.
Shelf life: Hard to say! There is not much information about this tea. Some vendors actively advise to age it, some advise not to. We will have to find out!