History: Fuding County in Fujian Province is not just a core-producing area for white tea; it is the place that gave birth to the white tea we know today, beginning in the early 19th century.
Although white tea production is now more widespread, tea connoisseurs everywhere know that white tea hailing from Fuding is superior – there’s just too much tradition behind it, a slow perfection of its cultivation and production. What makes white tea especially attractive is how it can be aged, often resulting in a much more complex tea with incredible depth of flavor.
For this tasting, we chose an aged white tea, the 2013 Fuding White Peony Tea Cake. This tea is a Bai Mu Dan that was harvested in April 2013, sun-dried (not dried with forced air), and aged for three years before being compressed into cakes in 2016. Six years later, it’s clear that we have an incredible gem on our hands.
This is how we conducted our tasting session:
- Method: Gongfu
- Temperature: 190°F (88°C), also suggest to try with 200°F
- Amount of Tea Leaves: 6g, or 7g for standard gongfu tasting
- Length of Infusion: 25-45 seconds
- Number of Infusions: 13
- Time: 75 minutes
Initial Impression: The dry leaves are beautiful to behold, a mélange of green, yellow, brown, and black, like a beautiful camouflage. In the nose, I’m picking up the smell of melons, particularly honeydew and cantaloupe.
First Infusion: The color of the liquor is a pale banana yellow, and I’m picking up a sweet, tart aroma, sort of like a raspberry reduction with a pinch of lemon juice and nutmeg. The flavor reminds me of a summer refresher – a glass of mineral water with some fresh-squeezed lemon and sliced berries. The melon aromatics are noticeable in the pleasant aftertaste.
Second Infusion: The color has darkened slightly, turning a lemon yellow, and the aromatics now smell fruitier, almost reminiscent of nectarine. This cup is without a doubt more fruit-forward than the first infusion, and it’s sweeter in taste as well. I’m picking up sliced plums and raspberries.
Third Infusion: With this infusion, the color of the tea has transitioned to a honey yellow, and I find the fruity aromas persisting. So far, this is the sweetest cup yet. While the aromatics are similar to the second infusion, the flavor has moved away from the taste of cooked berries and more towards Medjool dates, hints of caramel and baked brown sugar.
Fourth Infusion: This liquor is so pretty, appearing butterscotch yellow now. I can now detect the smell of dates, but it’s accompanied by another familiar note, golden raisins. Upon sipping, all I can say is, “Wow!” This is, far and away, the tastiest infusion yet. How to describe the taste? There’s a number of Mediterranean desserts that use almonds, dates, and honey. A popular one is rather simple: slice the date in half, remove the pit, replace with a whole almond, and gently drizzle some honey over it. That’s what this infusion reminds me of. Of particular note, here is the fantastic aftertaste.
Fifth and Sixth Infusions: As I peer into the tasting cup, I admire the depth of the color of this tea. It’s almost orange now, somewhere between marigold and apricot. Breathing in the infused leaves is a form of aromatherapy – it’s so relaxing and fall-appropriate, like a freshly baked apple pie made from golden apples. To no surprise, even the taste is crisp apple sweet with a slightly toasted crust flavor, very much like apple pie. When I close my eyes, I feel like I’m in a kitchen, a pie freshly baked sits on a cooling rack, and its aromas are intermingling with the fresh fall air coming in through the windows.
Seventh and Eighth Infusions: This time, the color of the tea appears slightly diminished. It’s still a deep yellowish-orange, but this is the first sign that the peak of this tea has been reached. Strangely, the aromas seem more like golden raisins again, maybe with a slight grapey quality. As I sip this cup, I’m left somewhat speechless, initially overwhelmed with sweetness. While the 5th and 6th infusions were my favorite, I was definitely not expecting these infusions to be so flavorful.
Ninth and Tenth Infusions: This is officially a pleasant, strange tea. Usually, when tasting a tea, it’s like a flower or onion, each pedal or layer peeled back with every infusion, revealing something new. This tea, however, is a bit different. Beginning with the 8th infusion and persisting through the 9th and 10th, it feels like this tea has come full circle, like it’s going back to the beginning. These infusions very much weirdly remind me of the 2nd and 3rd infusions. I’ve never had a tea circle back around like this.
Eleventh to Thirteenth Infusions: The flavors more or less remain, but with each infusion, they grow just a little weaker. These infusions are still enjoyable, but the texture of the liquor is thinning, the aftertaste is less powerful, and the flavors are more or less the same.
Conclusion: Upon finishing, this tea makes me feel nostalgic and reflective. I can’t help but to see it as a metaphor for life itself. There’s a vibrance present when we’re young, eventually giving way to depth and complexity, before slowly, ultimately turning back on itself. A number of philosophers and poets have reflected on the unity that ties the beginning and the end together, whether it be envisioning ourselves as part of the cyclical nature of being or even seeing death itself as a kind of birth.
There’s little question that this is a special tea. Just the “seasons” it runs through with each infusion is itself a fascinating experience, and the wonderful flavors present in every cup are delightfully delectable. If you’re unfamiliar with aged white teas, this is a great place to start!