White Tea Week, Day 5: “Born-Again Virgin – A White Tea Revisited”
In March of 2011, I tried the most unique white ever. Some would decry that as an exaggeration, but in this case, completely true. Back when I still did copious amounts of tea reviews, this li’l offering came up on the roster. I was one of the first to snatch it up.
The tea in question was the Virgin White Tea from the Handunugoda tea estate in Galle, Sri Lanka. Leaves for this unusual white tea were plucked by women wearing gloves and brandishing gold scissors. Human hands weren’t allowed to touch the tea. The idea being that the tea retained a more natural taste without [too much] human intervention.
It was arguably the most expensive white tea on the market.
When I first tried this tea, I dug the ever-loving heck out of it. There was just one problem; I found a hair in the sample bag I received. It was too long and brown to be one of mine. I don’t know if it was the fault of the grower or the vendor I acquired it from, but that little added ingredient detracted from the “virginal” profile of the tea.
Three years went by, and I felt kind of bad for having knocked the tea a point in my review. The tea itself was beyond wonderful. I’d even say darn near perfect. But I couldn’t give it a flawless rating – in good conscience – because of that. It’s the only review I was ever torn about.
In the summer of ’13, I contacted the Handunugoda tea estate to acquire their Sapphire Oolong for a feature. I made the mistake of referring to my review of the Virgin White Tea in the initial e-mail. Malinga Gunaratne – the estate’s proprietor himself – responded to that e-mail, and even asked to see said review. My stomach tightened.
I did send the review on, and a month or so later I did receive the oolong. To my shock, they also included a 12-gram sample of the Virgin White. Almost as if it was a silent way of saying, “Give it another shot.”
And this week, I did.
The leaves were smaller than I remembered. Needles – yes – but with a smaller, darker green appearance than most Ceylon Silver Tips I was used to. That and the aroma of the leaves was stronger than I last recalled, giving off a peppery and herbaceous scent – still pleasant, just bolder. It’s reasonable to assume that the processing methods may have changed a tad in the years since I had this last.
Sidenote: Since the leaves were plucked by women wearing gloves and brandishing gold scissors, I decided to keep with the “virginal” treatment. I would not let the first leaves touch human hands. I wore science-y type gloves as I worked, so as to not…uh…impugn upon their good character.
For brewing, I went with a standard white tea approach – 1 tsp. of leaves in a 6oz. gaiwan, steeped in 165F water for three minutes. I went with a gaiwan because – well – I wanted to. My show, my rules.
The liquor came out water clear. If I looked really close, I could make out the faintest hint of a pale yellow color. The aroma was equally as light, imparting a fruity and floral aroma – albeit understated. The taste was just…I was not expecting it. It matched my earlier taster notes to a “tea”. Before, I’d noted sweetness, fruitiness, and lotus-iness. Same thing was the case here
On a second infusion, I took the temperature up to about 175-ish F, but kept the steep time the same. This resulted in a slightly darker yellow liquor (but not by much) with an even bolder fruit aroma wafting from the cup. Taste-wise, while slightly grassier, it still retained all the magnificence of the lighter attempt.
Further infusions at undetermined times yielded even better results, fruit-sweet floral cup after fruit-sweet floral cup. So glad I gave this tea a second shot. For the first time ever, I’m retconning an old review. This is the “Perfect” it deserved all along.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, this white tea and I need some private time.