A Love Affair with Loose Leaf (Aged) White Tea

A bald decision was made this year, there will be no white tea cake (except for one) but just loose leaves! We want to pay tribute and respect to the original form of tea in the midst of a market filled with crazy popular tea cake trends. 


 

Frankly, it was a tough decision to make since we actually prepared a few white teas for pressing into tea cakes and I have been wanting to press our own cakes for quite a long time (with important reasons). We actually have prepared a few teas for cake pressing, but we decided to add a little twist before the "Happy Ending". Although I am still not sure if it will become a casualty of the ‘cake vs. loose leaf war’, or if we will inspire some tea drinkers to think critically or simply experiment and compare when choosing between a tea cake and a loose leaf tea the next time. 

If you are still with me and curious, please read on for our reasons for this decision.

1. There was no white tea cake before 2006!

Please do not think white tea cake is something that has always existed in the long Chinese tea history. 

2. The two shocking facts about Chinese white teas. 

First, it’s not a tea that’s endorsed by Chinese people or the Chinese tea market until the early 2000. Traditionally, the Chinese white teas with their elegant names were marketed as an exoticism of tea and were primarily for exportation to the western tea market. Please don’t get me wrong, white teas are very good for their delicate fragrance and honey like sweetness, which bring us to the second fact -- the good ones are from Fu Ding in Fu Jian, whereas the “flat, water like, I just don’t taste much” ones that I often hear people complain about, where are they from? Have you heard about Zheng He in Fu Jian or Si Chuan province? So secondly, white teas from Fu Ding are usually very fragrant, sweet with a thick body, from the first grade Bai Hao Yin Zhen to even the last grade Shou Mei, but for white teas from anywhere else, you might want to set a different expectation. This year, a dear friend of ours is also working really hard to bring authentic Fu Ding white teas to tea drinkers in order to set the record straight. 

Can you tell where this Bai Hao Yin Zhen is from? Well.......It's from Si Chuan and it looks just like a Silver Needle from Fu Ding! 

3. How is a white tea cake made?

As mentioned earlier, white tea cake did not exist until 2006. In the early 2000s, local white tea farmers in Fu Ding, Fu Jian, famous for being business innovative, wondered to themselves what could happen if white teas are pressed into cakes like Pu Erh teas? Some of them set out on this adventure by pressing the aged Shou Mei first. Even though Shou Mei is the lowest grade of white tea with big twigs, big leaves and few buds, it’s the toughest. To press any teas into cakes, farmers need to first steam the tea leaves in order to make them soft and fit them into the mold. During the steaming process, tea leaves are “broken down” to become soft, and this is when the “damage” could happen. It’s not a damage that would destroy the taste of a tea, but it could affect the taste, which could become a shame if the tea is already at a good place. When we were in Fu Ding this year, farmer Wen turned down my request for purchasing a high grade Bai Mu Dan from 2018 for pressing my own cakes, because he thought it was a shame and instead he recommended a different grade.

Loose Leaf Bai Mu Dan 2018

4. The ‘right candidate’ for pressing 

It seems rather confusing to some tea drinkers which white tea and when to press a white tea. What makes a white tea the ‘right candidate’ for pressing into a cake? Some say pressing a decent quality fresh white tea and setting it aside for aging is a good option. Some say pressing a medium quality already aged loose leaf tea into tea cakes is good, and some others say pressing a good quality fresh white tea is a waste. Honestly, they are quite right. There’s no perfect candidate, just with the right conditions at a relatively right time. Typically, farmers will prefer either pressing a decent quality fresh white tea, however usually lower grade such as Shou Mei or Gong Mei, and letting the cake age into something better, or pressing a good enough just aged white tea (around 3 or 4 years old) and start drinking it right away, or the next year or continue aging it. 

A potential right candidate spring green Shou Mei 2021

5. Pros and cons of white tea cake 

The tea cake practice is not all bad, just like everything else in this world, and it’s up to us to decide which side of the coin is more important. How about some (arguable) pros first (just when you start to think there’s no pro at all)? Some argue that white tea cakes age better because it’s a pile of teas “glued” together, hence it produces more pectin and results in more fragrant and sweeter aged tea. The pro that’s 100% proved is how easy cake form makes white teas store and travel with, especially the Shou Mei grade. As for cons, besides the potential damage to quality as mentioned earlier, another con is faking a tea’s age through blending of younger teas with older teas, and this is a con we as tea vendors who go out there to source tea see all the time. For example, experienced scammers would lay 6 year older darker leaves on the cover and blend 3 year old younger leaves in the inner layers, and claim the entire tea cake as 6 years old. Tea drinkers wouldn’t find out until they went home and cracked open the cake. This is why it becomes a responsible tea vendor’s goal to eventually be able to press their own white tea cakes (if they must do cakes) to make sure they are not blended with something else. 

6. Is Serene Tea trying to put up a fight against tea cake? 

Noooooooo! We are not trying to put up a fight against white tea cakes! We only wish to let more tea drinkers understand the difference between loose leaf white teas and whtie tea cakes, and be able to make their tea choices critically.

Our (BIG) cake pressing plan 2022

We have a grandiose plan of pressing (white) tea cakes next year in order to compare, but in the name of tea education (and try to be a tea snob for once), we decided to go against the marketing trend this time. However, for 2022, we would prefer going to the cake pressing factories to monitor and document the entire process since "seeing (the source) is believing (the quality)" has always been one of our primary principles. 

Leave a comment below if you want to share your thoughts and/or experience with loose leaf white tea vs. white tea cakes. Have you had similar questions/doubts? What do you think about our little quest this year? We would love to hear from you!

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