A beautiful summer day in Vermont is the perfect time to sit outside and enjoy some fresh Chinese green tea. As I couldn’t decide which tea to drink, I figured I would let the teas themselves fight for my affection.
I decided to pit two green teas, fresh from China this spring, against each other. One was the Anji Bai Cha (Anji White Tea), which is actually a green tea but named for this particular tea plant varietal’ s white-ish leaf appearance. Usually only found in Anji, China, this unique tea variety is hard to find but worth the search. (to read more about Anji Bai Cha, click here) The other tea I chose for this head-to-head match up was the White Buddha Long Jing. What makes this tea special, is that it is made with the same unique Anji varietal as the Anji Bai Cha, but it is processed like a Long Jing. Produced by Master Zheng outside of Hangzhuo, this is not a true Long Jing – just as sparkling wine is not truly champagne. It is, however, processed in much the same manner as a true Long Jing, so it shares many of the same characteristics but with the twist of the Anji white-tea bush. (to learn more about Master Zheng’s tea, click here)
I chose to prepare the teas in the popular Chinese style of infusing the leaves in a tall drinking glass, which was perfect for a sunny summer afternoon. This was an easy, simple, and aesthetically pleasing way to enjoy these fresh greens. Enjoying high quality tea does not have to be complicated, and often the simpler the better.
Anji Bai Cha
The dry leaves showed a clear difference between the two teas. The White Buddha was a bright forest green with dark and light streaks running through each leaf. The leaves were flat to the point of being two dimensional – like all Long Jing teas. It was also clear that the bud and leaves were all intact. The Anji Bai Cha, on the other hand, was less uniform in color with some bright green and some yellow leaves. The leaves were rolled into long, needle-like shapes. Some of the buds were visable, but most were rolled into the surrounding leaves.
I put about a tsp of each tea into two glasses. Because I wasn’t going to strain the leaves, I let the water cool more than I normally would for a green tea. In a tea shop in China, they will often pour water fresh off the boil onto the leaves, but it means you have to quickly drink the scalding liquid before it over steeps. When the water is cooler, you can relax and enjoy the tea at a leisurely pace.
Anji Bai Cha
The aroma of the infusing leaves was fresh and green for both teas. The White Buddha had a slightly more pungent, grassy smell while the Anji Bai Cha was softer and slighly more floral.
As the leaves started to open up, it was clear that the Anji Bai Cha leaves were bigger than those of the White Buddha, and the tips much bigger. This could be the result of different growing conditions were the two teas are made, or it could be because the Anji Bai Cha was harvested later giving the leaves more time to grow, or it could also have been a choice by the tea maker to select bigger leaves and tips for this tea.
White Buddha dancing bud
Anji Bai Cha dancing
I’m not sure if it is a direct result of the difference in leaf size, but the White Buddha was quicker to the dance floor. In China, when the leaves rise or fall in the liquor, they say that the leaves are dancing. The White Buddha was the first to dance, but the Anji Bai Cha had better moves. The Anji Bai Cha leaves took longer to start sinking in the glass, but once they did, it seemed like they were continuously moving up and down through the liquor. The White Buddha leaves were the first to sink, but they seemed happy to just sit at the bottom of the glass.
The flavors of both teas were similar, but distinct. Both had a very fresh, green flavor with grassy overtones. The White Buddha also had a mellow nuttiness similar to toasted almonds and hints of pine and freshly cut wood. In contrast, the Anji Bai Cha had a soft, sweet flavor with a faint floweriness and a touch of citrus or lemongrass. Traditionally, the last step of Long Jing processing is pan frying by hand. This step is was taken in the processing of the White Buddha, but it was not done with the Anji Bai Cha. I think that this last step accounts for much of the flavor differences. The pan frying made for a sharper flavor in the White Buddha and brought out the nutty characteristics. The White Buddha also had more body and a rounder, fuller flavor. The Anji Bai Cha was different in that it was smoother, lighter, and softer, with a silky finish.
Anji Bai Cha
Another similarity between the two teas was that they were both comprised of very young, tender leaves. All tea leaves are edible, but usually they are bitter and a bit tough until they have been brewed for a long time. Both of these teas, however, were soft, supple and tempting to eat after only a few short moments in water. This, I think, can be attributed to the Anji White varietal; the common link between these teas.
Anji Bai Cha tips
White Buddha Leaf and bud
After some time steeping, both teas showed off the beauty of their leaves – a beauty only found in the Anji White bush. The leaves of both teas were green, but they also had a unique pale “whiteness” that I have only seen in these two teas. The whiteness was more pronounced in the Anji Bai Cha, but it was present in both teas. This pale whiteness was contrasted in the open leaf by dark green vanes running through the leaves. This makes for two of the most visually beautiful teas around.
Unfortunately, after all this, I must cop out and fence straddle. I cannot give you a clear winner. Both teas were delightfully refreshing on a warm summer afternoon. So I guess, in the end, the winner was me!
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