Review: Butiki Tea Malawi White Peony

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Raven’s Teaview Snapshot
Thumbs up!"Quite different from its Chinese kin, the leggy leaves bring a warming wholesomeness to the classical white tea character, like rye bread and pussywillows. "
Raven’s Teaview: 8/10
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Amongst the many things I love about tea, it sure serves for a dandy geography lesson every now and then which is much needed to remember there’s a wide world when one’s nose is out of a tea cup. Taking the ostrich cue outside of traditional growing regions can be just as interesting or seems just as interesting. After plucking many a fine white peony from China, I’ve started to venture out of my teasphere . Meeting Butiki Teas for the first time, I couldn’t help be tempted by their Malawi White Peony, although I could nary point a compass in its direction if asked. But alas, as it turns out, my loose idea of African origin proved true but it’s some south of Kenya in Africa, with Tanzania and Mozambique to the east on the coast and Zambia on the west, it’s land-locked. Despite my Malawi naivité, it has been growing tea for a good long time and actually brought tea to Ceylon. So, the anticipation built as it seemed trying a Malawi tea was long overdue.

My enthusiasm only grew upon seeing the tea. If Malawi is so whimsical, I must talk to my travel agent for the leaves are just lovely. Whole, curvy and softly poetic, at about an inch with some near two inch stems, the leaves daintily sway in sage greens, tans and cinnamons, muted and cozied by their light down. Looking almost as if just blown in on the wind with an ancient austere, watching them tumble into the cup offers further amusement. Their scent isn’t as playful but the light to medium bouquet has a familiar coziness that is just as endearing. In fact, its kind of spice and rice and just as nice with a warming natural toned hint of sweetness of pussywillows and sultana raisins. Not so sweet or fruity, the aroma leans more towards savour, with a grainy nuttiness with an earthy organic note. It’s kind of like roast chestnuts and dry cereal with yarn. So the leaves do seem to trace their route from Malawi right from the start.

The leaves also pretty much defy measurement though, so although Butiki kindly suggests brewing one and a half teaspoons of tea, the leaves are longer than a teaspoon so that didn’t go so well. Instead, I steeped one and a half grams as Butiki teas recommends using one and half teaspoons at 185°C for two and a half minutes. It seems kind of high for a white but I followed along. The resulting brew is bold, a bit daunting actually, with its dark ocher hue that made me wonder if my thermometer was on the blink and I somehow poached the leaves. Contrary to the deep intensity of its hue, the tea’s bouquet is more demure, with a light to medium aroma, but it still seems to have some weight behind it. Kind of bready and much sweeter than the dry leaves, the scent reveals the leaves continue to chart their own course from white teas I’ve ventured through before. While the aroma has that supple joy white teas do so well, it seems to have history with a refined composure from heartier nuances of fresh dough and bamboo wound with a rusty coppery thread. Similarly to Chinese white peonies, the sweetness is fruity but with a slightly different shape, to envision white figs, somewhere between dried plums and apricots. Together, it makes me think of hot cross buns as a nice, milder sided sweetness pokes through the comforting structure that’s not quite potpourri floral but retains a fragrant leaf softness.

Boarding the cup, the tea glides with a lovely flow, whisking one through the medium body. It has a familiar refreshment and light sweetness to flavours condensed from the aroma that are a bit bready with a felt tipped balsa or almost grain-like reediness. Caraway keeps springing to mind, and rye bread, with an undercurrent of floral or perfume that is more like an aromatic wood than a flower’s bouquet. While the tea is smooth, more so than crisp, as some whites can be, there’s a tinge of astringency in the flavour from a slight coppery metal taste even though it isn’t too dry or bitter. Along with the touch of sweetness, it lends a bit of fruitiness to the grainier flavours that is lighter than raisin to also seem like white figs. The grainy character flourishes in a medium aftertaste that progressively echos in one’s throat with an oaty sweetness, that reminds me of the flavour in one’s mouth after eating cheerios once they’ve soaked up some milk. It seems more comforting amongst white teas and it has tasty ease, although it’s not flashy.

With the amusing first cup, revving up the kettle for a second ride, stretches into an even darker brew verging on a golden brownish taupe in its flaxen tones. The bouquet has a light joy to it as it retains flashes of breadiness and tannin spirited florals for a soft raisiny caraway nuance. The fruitiness is still subtler than the sweetness, and it reminds me some of Red Rose tea, although the aroma still has the gentleness of white tea. The flavour gets a bit simpler but remains completely enough and easy to please with its soothing, stoic nature. The flavour continues to remind me of rye bread with more of a reedy morsel-like fullness than a refreshing suppleness, that seems somewhat chestnut like. Still smooth, the tea has a tinge of itchiness from a glimmer of astringency but the light to medium body still rounds deftly with a great lift as it finishes without any aftertaste. After the second steep, the leaves still look just as elegant and winsome so venturing a third steep is hard to pass up. The paler brew retains a light to medium bouquet romancing with its damp, coppery apricot tobacco scent. The flavour also continues to rouse with enough morsel-like hold without tasting starchy, as it retains some flannel lined, seeded cracker flavour.

I dare say I was skeptical when the Butiki website states a half ounce yields roughly eighteen cups, particularly with the leggy leaves but they are as sturdy as they are elegant. Plus, they nimbly trace the way to Malawi, along a charming, honest trail. Quite different from other whites and Chinese bai mu dans, the tea is sure to entertain white tea lovers looking for a different path while also having enough power to map new territory for white newcomers. Whatever one’s direction, with all arrows pointing in the tea’s smooth grainy congeniality, it's easy to follow for any mood or mileage.

— To purchase Butiki Tea Malawi White Peony, or for more specific information on ingredients or the story behind this particular tea, click here to go directly to the manufacturer's web site.

Teaviews Member: Raven Raven
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