Review: Wan Ling Tea House Bai Mu Dan Vintage White Tea Harvest 2004

Bai Mu Dan Tea, Wan Ling Tea House Add comments
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Thumbs up!"Even though its bouquet dreams up rice pudding with a cinnamon laced brown sugar sweetness across many hearty cups, its white tea-ness peeks out with a fuzzy tenderness."
Raven’s Teaview: 8.1/10
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When Goldilocks was skipping off to grandma’s house, I could imagine she was dreaming of vintage Bai mud an. White tea on it’s own has a purity that it seems to evoke images of aged white lace, antiques and rosettes. Admittedly, I didn’t realize white tea was aged, at least on purpose. But its similarity to pu erh mao cha makes it not such a ridiculous concept. And there’s really no doubt Wan Ling Tea House has much to share about tea based on their joyously informative website and their array of Indian and Chinese teas. Yet as a first for me, their Bai Mu Dan was a tempting introduction with the same nostalgia in place as grandma’s house. While the tea’s tale begins with the harvest from 2004, the tea actually wasn’t pressed until 2010 and they suggest it can also be further aged.

Upon receiving the tea, the lovely gold cello packaging seemed right in step with precious treasures and cherished antiques but it was disappointing to find that the bag’s seal didn’t make it completely across the bag, so the vacuum sealer let down left the bag slightly open. Since it was only a sample bag, I would hope their regular packaging is more substantial. But the tea still has a light to medium bouquet, even as an aged tea, and the scent does remind one of Grandma. Sweet of course, as the age threads through the white tea spirit, enrobing a subtle clovery character with a nettle or thistle bobbed wool sweater. As such, the bouquet has a neat dryness, with the muted floral, a bit itchy but pleasantly sweet and kind of cuddly.

Wanling Teahouse suggests brewing a not so dainty amount for 45 seconds with boiling water rather than the usual lower temperatures used for white tea. Also unlike other white teas, the tea is darker flat browns and blackish browns and matted into a cake. The sample has a chunk of compressed leaves and several loose, wholly intact, to reveal their large two inch size and long stem with just a few grayish needles. Yet, the cake seems different from a puerh beeng with the mass seeming not as much woven but simply layers of open leaves almost, so the loose leaf pieces are blacks on one side and mostly sienna on the other. They separate readily, toppling as I infused five grams in about ¾ of a cup, as Wanling Teahouse recommends, with a forty five second first steep and ….up to seven.

The first unfolds with an antique-ish cast, wrapped in parchment from its yellowy beige, while its light scent has just as dainty elegance, perfumed with red clover nectar spun in a golden warmth with a thread of tobacco. Its light to medium body seems a bit thin but has an engaging briskness to guide the mild flavours. With a familiar damask, the tea is laced with fuzziness and bamboo for a yellow reedy sweetness to match its hue, yet, the age further traces its years in a light smokiness and a shade of mothballs that builds. Like a black and white photograph, sweet and pleasant, it pictures bai mud in a play of shadow and hay tinged light.

With the second brew, the tea polishes up to its full charm, ringed with its dark ocher, gold. To match, its bouquet is enrapturing with an almost cinnamon laced brown sugar sweetness atop lightly leafy, graininess. With a hint of prune on the edge of the grainy notes, the aroma envisions rice pudding or tapioca; sweet, grainy morsels traced with fruit. The brown sugar likeness is just splendid, woven from the smoky sweetness, and quite a novel surprise from a white tea, while the scent still has a white tea softness. This ruffle, like grandma’s sweater, folds in from the slight fuzzy, clovery character to the leafy, graininess that is also a touch dusty, like many thing taken out for special occasions at Grandma’s. The medium body is also fuller flavoured, easing along with a cooked bean sprout lightness with a malty sweetness and a dab of linament from an almost mentholated quality. This edge of the flavour that Wan Ling Tea House mentions as Chinese medicine, makes me think of Benedictine and Chinese herbal teas from my local Asian grocery, as it’s not like cough syrup but indeed more of a root-like herbal medicine. As the sip rounds into a medium light aftertaste, this falls into match wood, a honeydew-ish sweetness and a hint of mustiness lightly echoing in one’s memory.

The third cup is near as spirited, although its browny gold starts to get a touch hazy and whose scent retains some rice pudding likeness from the wisps of fig and woodier brown sugar topped with more of a lozenge-like note. The body lightens but the tea is almost more satisfying with a suppler, felty feel and smoothness. The flavour is a cross between just wet dry brown leaves and cooked bean sprouts that brings to mind cooked brown iceberg lettuce and balsa but it also seems a bit starchier and mustier while it remains mildly sweet and finishes with a light aftertaste reminiscent of wooden matches and a slight astringency.

Since Wan Ling Tea House mentions a seventh cup on their website, I ventured to try. Progressing through subsequent steeps, it still has a sweet demeanor along the way with a similar mix livening the cups. As the brown sugary aroma relaxes, the bouquet maintains a golden nectar sweetness with more of a tobacco lean to a light mentholated kind of baby’s breath and clover floral. The flavour remains smooth and hydrating with elements of tannin-tipped brown leafiness and a suppler cooked cucumber and enough starch to still have a pleasing density but not quite as full as a grain flavour. The sip falls on more match stick or toothpick flavours that extend into a light aftertaste rimmed with medicinal flavours.

The tea also does surprisingly well iced as its full flavour integrates its delicious aromas to have more of a cinnamon laced, maltier graininess, like browned rice crispies, and the petally florals shaping up like wrinkled, slightly browned green grapes.

As the visit ends, Wan Ling Tea House's Vintage Bai mu Dan does seem imbued with a certain nostalgia. On interest alone, the tea makes for an exploratory sip to travel through the tea’s ages. With nuances of white teas accompanying more caramelized notes and flavours that only slow oxidation brings, it does have some double cuddle to it. I’m not as fussy about the mentholated or medicinal bit to the character that seems tainted or musty a bit, although it adds further complexity. As such, the tea seems bound to be an interesting sip whether one skips their way from pu-erh or white tea or for any when evading the Big Bad Wolf.

— To purchase Wan Ling Tea House Bai Mu Dan Vintage White Tea Harvest 2004, 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.

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