White Tea Week, Day 4: “I Dream of Doke for a Day”
The Doke tea estate is a small garden situated in the northeastern state of Bihar, India. In 1998, Rajiv Lochan – of Lochan Tea – got the best of all retirement presents. His own tea garden to do with as he wished. Best. Retirement. Ever.
Since then, the li’l-garden-that-could has become one of the more experimental gardens in India. In fact, in conversations with two of the Lochan children, who also work for the garden, talks have emerged of playing around with smoked tea…which always has me excited.
I first heard about this estate when a certain e-“steamed” blog colleague ranted and raved about a Bai Mu Dan-style white tea he discovered. Upon hearing that the region it hailed from was neither in Darjeeling or Assam, my curiosity was already peaked.
After making some beggar-eyes at Tea Trade Jackie, I was able to acquire Doke Tea’s 2012 Silver Needle. I found it to be a very serviceable white tea, reminding me quite a bit of a Darjeeling white in overall character. It was somewhat spicy, lightly grassy, with a hint of melon and something else. All in all, rather memorable. As was the Doke Rolling Thunder Oolong.
Fast-forward to 2013, and I began hearing across-the-board praise for the new batch of second flush Doke teas. Particularly, the Silver Needle. The same blog colleague even went so far as to declare it his favorite tea in the history of Ever. (My words, not his.) Doke Tea must’ve had ears against the Internet walls. Before I knew it, there was a package at my door with a sample of the new Silver Needle, as well as Doke’s other wares.
First off, let me say that this tea was a gorgeous site to behold. The Doke Silver Needle of a year ago was nowhere near as refined-looking as this. The rolled leaves were light green, plump, evenly shaped throughout, and possessed the downy hairs associated with its tea type. The aroma was spry, like salted lemons, and possessed something that reminded me of a muscatel Darjeeling by way of a Yunnan Silver Needle white.
For the first brewing, I went with 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves in a 6oz. gaiwan of 175-ishF water, steeped for three minutes.
The liquor brewed to a very pale yellow with a faint, wilderness/wheaty aroma crossed with melons. On taste, it was all Silver Needle all the way – in the best possible ways. This was even better than most Fujian-made Silver Needles I’d come across. So many things at work on taste: A hint of lemon, melon, grass, leaf, a shot of maple, I don’t even know where to start. It was quite nuanced.
A second infusion at about 185F turned up a yellow-amber liquor with a bit more vegetal nose. The taste, though, changed quite a bit – picking up some aromatic high-altitude oolong notes. No astringency or spinaching to speak of, though. Like a white peony, only with a bit more…awesome.
I dared a third infusion at just under a boil (190F), per the recommendations of the e-“steamed” tea compatriot. The soup was straight amber, and the nose was…strangely smoky. Oh, dear God, I burnt the tea, I thought. Quite the contrary, actually. This was my favorite steep yet with bold notes of apricot and a distant memory of peaches. Plus, there was a cinnamon-like lean toward the finish.
To that I say…I dunno what to say. Kinda floored here. I got more steeps out of it after that, bringing the tally to five. Each at three minutes or more.
As luck would have it, I found some of the ol’ 2012 Doke Silver Needle second flush in a random tin while looking for an oolong. This gave me a splendid opportunity to taste and compare the two years; see how far the Lochan technique had come in just twelve months.
Visually, the differences in the leave cutting and rolling were night and day. The 2012 leaves were small, pine-like needles – dark green in appearance with a very spry aroma. Whereas 2013 needles were large, plump, downy-furred and brimming with a pungent, melon-like aroma. It made me wonder if Doke HQ changed their cut-‘n-roll techniques or went with a different cultivar.
When brewed, the liquor for the 2012 was considerably darker, more amber-ish, while the 2013 maintained a subtle yellow palette in the cup. Taste-wise, they both conveyed a citrusy, herbaceous and melon-like delivery. The 2013 just tasted more refined, more reassured – perfumy, elegant and vibrant.
Like I said, night and day. But a perfect day for both.
I can only dream of what 2014 will bring.
EDIT: It would appear the Lochan Tea site is all sold out of the 2013 Doke Silver Needle, but fear not! If you’re in the U.S., you can fetch it at Butiki Teas HERE. And if you want to compare/contrast with the 2012 Doke Silver Needle, you can pick that up at The Devotea USA HERE.