Lightly Oxidized tea: Matured White Peony
As discussed in the Bai Mudan page, the Fuding style and the Zhenghe style are quite different in their gastronomic characters and appearance. Both varieties, however, are matureable, if they are genuinely traditionally made. The Zhenghe style matures a lot better than the other so we'll discuss it here in this passage.
Not all teas are matureable. Most just deteriorate with prolonged storage. Amongst white teas, lighter fermented varieties and those that have been dried under high heat are not good for maturing, such as lighter style Silver Needles.
Zhenghe White Peony, in particular the so called "Mudan Wang" (i.e. King of Bai Mudan" undergoes the lengthy traditional withering process and low heat air dry, is perhaps the most fermented of all traditional white teas. Consumed fresh, it has the brightness and general flavour of a typical White Peony, except that it has a fuller body, and much sharper than that of a similarly fine Fuding version.
Maturing Zhenghe White Peony makes it rounder, though its sharpness can still be more than that of a fresh Fuding version.
Unlike better puers, shengcha puers and certain oolongs, White Peony is not the greatest tea to mature for a long time. While the taste gamut of the two former ones are quite wide, that of all white teas are much thinner. As ample maturing softens the originally slight astringency and harmonizes the tastes, the tea does not have enough body to deliver enough fullness that the work for a lengthy maturing can be justified. However, I have had some matured for over 8 years that has a deep tone, and still great pitch to make it lively. On the other hand, the taste has not differed much from my last tasting of it 2 years ago. That was only an impression, though. No systematic study to the maturing of White Peony has been done yet, but it seems 6-years is when the effect of maturing plateaus.
Always blanch a matured tea before infusion. Some people may want to blanch a puer twice, but once is enough for a properly stored and matured White Peony. You may like to try using a similar temperature for infusion as you would for fresh tea, between 90 to 95°C.
While in Fujian they like to fill a gaiwan with the tealeaves and infuse for a few seconds, I think the best way to enjoy the full taste profile of a matured White Peony is with the 2 gram per 100 ml water 5-minute infusion standard. That said, the tea is very tolerant of infusion duration and temperature, much like its fresh counterpart. Preparing it light, as in 1 g to 100, makes it a great tea in the mug by your desk.
You may consider buying a fresh batch to mature it for yourself. The fresh tea is a great all round tea in itself, so you can change your mind about storing the tea at any time. You may consider dividing a lot into a few smaller packs and give each a designated consumption time.
One reason for doing this is because the matured version normally demand a much higher price than the fresh one. And Renminbi (the Chinese dollar) seems to be appreciating all the time.
Make sure you know the selection you are buying is the genuine Zhenghe version by comparing notes in the Bai Mudan page in this site. The leaves have to be brittlely dry, but not burnt. Smell them to make sure. A fresh batch should smell fresh hay with hints of steamed grains, touches of bouquet and even honey. Contact with the hands should be minimized to avoid the effects of grease and bacteria during storage.
A Zhenghe White Peony should be roughy the same price as a same quality grade Fuding version.
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