Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan
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TeaVivre: Five teas

September 11, 2012 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

I received five tea samples some months ago from TeaVivre with intention to review them all. Fortunately they sent enough quantity that I was able to taste and take notes when they first arrived, though I was too busy to write up the reviews, and then also brew fresh samples now that I do have the time.

TeaVivre is a relatively new company selling Chinese tea online into the US, Canada, and France. The principal founders appear to all be in China, with offices in Hong Kong and Fujian. I’ve written about Fujian before. It’s not one of the touristy areas of China, mostly agricultural, which means lots of tea plantations. It’s on the mainland at the same latitude as Taiwan, and has similar climate, so you find many similar teas grown in both areas. (For those using the archaic nomenclatures, Taiwan=Formosa, Fujian=Fukien.)

Today I’ll write about all fives teas I received. There were some winners and some losers.

*White Peony (Bai MuDan)
*Jasmine “Dragon Pearls”
*Taiwan Jin Xuan Milk Oolong
*Tie Guan Yin “Iron Goddess”
*Yun Nan Dian Hong

The TeaVivre Resealable Zipper Pack

Some of the samples I received were loose leaves in silver resealable zipper packs, while others were pre-packed as if at the manufacturer in single-pot envelopes and then re-packed in the silver resealable zipper packs.

Yun Nan Dian Hong in the Vacuum Pack

\\*Yun Nan Dian Hong
I’ll start with my favorite of the five, which was this “Golden Tip” tea from Yunnan. It was not as rapturous as the Yunnan Gold Rings I bought from Imperial Tea Court a few years ago, but looking at the website it’s also nowhere near as expensive. $10.90 for 50 grams is an excellent price, especially if, like me, you had sticker shock at the Imperial Tea price for Gold Rings.

This is a black tea, but it is not as dark as many. It is both golden in the color of the leaves and buds and in flavor in the cup, mellow and fine. It has a toasty, rich flavor similar to some of the top grade assams, mild rather than bitter, even when accidentally oversteeped. I will be ordering more of this for my winter brewing inventory. Order online here: http://www.teavivre.com/yunnan-golden-black-tea/

This one was packaged as loose leaves in a silver sample-size vacuum pack, then the sampler was in the larger TeaVivre resealable pack.

Details from the label:
Origin: Fengqing, Yunnan
Manufacturer: Fengqing Sanning Tea Industry Co. Ltd.
Production Date: May 16, 2011
Shelf Life: 36 months
Brew at 185 for 2 to 3 minutes.

Yun Nan Dian Hong after Steeping

*Jasmine “Dragon Pearls”
Jasmine pearls are not hard to get in the US. Most tea shops have them and Rishi Tea has cans in the upscale grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Wild Harvest. Teavana sells multiple grades of the pearls. The main difference I have noted in the grades is that the higher the grade, the better the tea stands up to being oversteeped. Now, in a perfect world I’d never forget to set the timer or that I already poured the water. But in the real world, these things happen. So I appreciate a fine tea that forgives my mistakes.

Jasmine "dragon pearls" in their vacuum pack.

The particular rendition send by TeaVivre did stand up to oversteeping. The jasmine scent was quite strong upon opening, and then even after I left the resealable pack accidentally open for a few months (oops) the scent did not dissipate. It brews quite a decent pot, and I am happy to report that even the pearls that were left unsealed all summer retained their flavor, as well. This is definitely a decent tea to have on hand.

One thing I should note, I received these teas from the 2011 harvest. What’s featured on the TeaVivre website is now the 2012 harvest. I fully expect the 2012 versions to be even better than 2011, as I’ve heard the weather in many areas was good and also I expect as TeaVivre established themselves as a company their suppliers will continue to improve.

From the Jasmine Pearls label:
Origin: Fuding, Fujian
Manufacturer: Fujian Pinpinxiang Tea Industry Co. Ltd.
Shelf Life: 36 Months
Brew at 176 for 1 to 2 minutes.

The BaiMuDan White Peony came in a factory-sealed envelope.

Next up, White Peony Tea (Bai MuDan). Some sellers spell it Pai Mu Tan. I am a fan of white tea, as you know if you follow this blog. But many white teas rely far too much on other flavors for their appeal. I’ve had lovely ones with melon added, or peach, or rose, or other flowers. But white tea can be so delicious when it’s good without adornments. (I am a fan of the no-frills white tea they sell at English Tea Store, which has an almost caramel sweet undernote despite being “white.” But tht is not a Pai Mu Tan.) Most of the Pai Mu Tans I have had are sweet like a honeydew melon.

This one was in the honeydew vein, though not very strong. I’m very glad I waited until I had tasted this three times before writing about it. I had a cold the first time I brewed it, and I barely tasted it. White teas are always subtle but when I had a cold it was indistinguishable from hot water. Once my cold cleared up I brewed it twice more and enjoyed it. It’s also quite inexpensive, only $5.90 for 50 grams (1.75 ounces), $9.20 for 100 grams. I liked the Pai Mu Tan from Holy Mountain Tea Co. better, but only slightly better. You can order it here: http://www.teavivre.com/white-peony-tea/

White Peony leaves, slightly fuzzy and minimally processed.

White Peony label info:
Origin: Puding, Fujian, China
Manufacturer: Fujian Pinpinxiang Tea Industry Co. Ltd.
Production date: 6/15/2011
Brew Guide: 2-3 teaspoons for 8oz of water
Brew at 194 F (90 C) for 1-2 minutes.

Last come the two disappointments in the batch. Probably my two favorite varieties of tea are Milk Oolong and Iron Goddess. I am sorry to say that neither of these were stellar.

First the Taiwan Jin Xuan Milk Oolong.

I’m drinking the last of this one right now and it has almost no flavor at all. It does taste like a mild green tea, but there is none of the milky, creamy, or buttery flavor that you expect in a milk oolong. A strong one will have an aftertaste almost like buttered popcorn, and the scent should almost smell as if milk had been added (but wasn’t).

Milk Oolong in red factory-pack, with silver TeaVivre zipper pack.

I brewed this three times. The first time I had a cold so thought it might be me. The second time I thought I might have underbrewed it or not used hot enough water. The label does say to use boiling, but I’ve usually just used 200 degrees. The pot I’m drinking right now as I write this I did at boiling. I steeped it for two minutes, tasted it, then put it back in for another two minutes steep. And it’s still got no flavor to speak of. Disappointing.

Milk oolong before steeping.

Milk oolong after steeping.

A note about the packaging. This was one of the teas that appeared to be pre-packaged before it got to TeaVivre, in a red foil pack (see photo above). I wonder if the lack of flavor was the result of mishandling before it ever reached TeaVivre? Perhaps it got too hot in transit. Here’s the label info from the TeaVivre package:

Origin: Alishan, Nantou, Taiwan
(no manufacturer listed on this label)
Production date: 6/15/2011
Shelf life: 24 months
Brew at 212 for 1-3 minutes.

Lastly, the Iron Goddess.

This one was also in a foil prepack, this one green with a bird and a flower on it (see photo). If you follow this blog, you know I drink a lot of Ti Kuan Yin/Iron Goddess of Mercy tea.

Iron Goddess factory-sealed packs (front and back)

The first of these I decided to brew in a gaiwan for maximum flavor. Disturbingly, the leaves turned an unnaturally brilliant green upon steeping and the flavor was somewhat chemical. So chemical that I had to rinse out my mouth and throw the tea away. Could it have been the gaiwan, which was new? (It had been washed.) I’ve since brewed other teas in that gaiwan and they were fine. Meanwhile I brewed the next sample of the Iron Goddess in my regular ceramic teapot. This one did not turn unnaturally bright green.

Unfortunately, the tea did not taste like much. It was another where the tea tasted quite faded, as if perhaps once it had some flavor, but now it mostly tasted like hot water. I waited a month and brewed it again to make sure it wasn’t just my taste buds and there still wasn’t much to enjoy. Some teas taste better as they cool. I tried it at everything from freshly hot from the pot down to room temperature and nothing blossomed. In short, a dud.

Label info:
Tie Guan Yin “Iron Goddess”
Origin: Anxi, Fujian, China
Manufacturer: Guangfu Tea Factory
Production date: 6/12/2011
Shelf life: 24 months
Brew at 212 for 1 to 3 minutes.

To put my money where my mouth is, I just placed a re-order with TeaVivre. I bought more of the Yun Nan Golden Tips and the BaiMu Dan White Peony, decided to try the BaiLin Gongfu black tea, and added a sampler of five oolongs including the milk oolong. (Couldn’t resist five oolongs for $8.80, on sale from $11.10 usually: http://www.teavivre.com/oolong-tea-sample-packs/) The website was easy to use, offered many payment options including Paypal, and they offer free ChinaPost shipping on orders over $30. I will report when I have tried the new milk oolong!

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