Hello all! I am back again with yet another tea review, and as with the previous review I’m very excited for this one.
Today’s review is a yabao tea from Verdant Tea.
Yes – you read it correctly. Yabao, one of the greatest mysteries of the tea community. Right up there with Korean hwangcha and the unknown reason why I can’t make boba tea correctly.
Yabao is made from the buds of tea trees. These buds would have eventually grown to become new twigs/branches, so they’re quite hard and woody.
So, why is yabao such a mystery? Well there is a pretty big debate about what it actually is. Some people say it’s a white tea. Some say it’s a sheng pu-erh. Some say it’s not even tea at all.
So, I am here to give my expert opinion to solve this mystery and find out what yabao actually is.
This particular yabao originates in Lincang, a prefecture-level city located in Southwest Yunnan Province bordering Myanmar’s Shan State. It was picked in Winter of 2015.
Yabao is quite rare, as it can only be made from large trees and only a small amount of buds can be picked to ensure the survival of the tree. After the buds are picked, it is sun-dried. And that’s it.
Now I’ve had exclusively sun-dried tea before, however it was a tea I bought from a Burmese market (I talk more about it in my Kokang sheng pu-erh-style heicha review) and the package was written entirely in Burmese. I only new it was sun-dried because the shop owner told me (I will also be purchasing more of that tea soon to do a more thorough review). That particular tea (I still don’t know what it would be classified as) gave me some quite strong sheng pu-erh vibes.
Yabao can also be aged like a sheng pu-erh, and according to Verdant Tea in order to age it you just have to follow the same process as a loose sheng.
With all of this information, I’m leaning slightly towards this being a sheng pu-erh but let’s head on to the tasting.
I brewed about 7g of this in a porcelain gaiwan at 208 degrees Fahrenheit, and steeped it for 10 seconds on the first steep. I increased the steep time by 10 more seconds with each consecutive steep.
The dry buds are quite woody, and if you look at them closely you can see a small twig pointing out from the bottom of them, hinting that they would’ve grown to become new branches. They have a very interesting scent that straddles white tea and sheng pu-erh. There are the floral, lychee notes reminiscent of a silver needle white tea but the hay-like scent common to sheng pu-erh is also present.
The steeped leaves smell very unusual – there is a strong pine-like scent that is reminiscent of freshly cut cedar wood. There’s a slight mineral quality that I would associate with wet rocks. Smelling it gives the experience of walking into a house someone was building and all of the wood has been freshly cut and lined around a concrete floor. Along with that I get some strong nostalgia from the smell that reminds me of going to my grandpa’s house in the Adirondacks as a kid.
The tea itself smells a lot more like a sheng pu-erh than a white tea – it lacks the floral quality I noticed in the dry leaves and has some stronger grassy, hay-like, vegetal notes. There is also a lingering sweet smell as well that permeates throughout.
The first steep is incredibly light. It tastes mostly of water, however there is a light hay flavor that I can subtly taste and it ends on a lingering, bland sweetness in the back of the mouth. A second steep introduces very subtle flavors of pine and freshly cut wood like the scent of the steeped leaves (however not nearly as strong) and the odd sweetness from before increases. A third steep is even sweeter, with freshly cut wood becoming a more dominant flavor however it is still very light. From the fourth steep on I didn’t really notice any major changes and the next few steeps all kind of tasted the same as the third. The only changes I saw were that the tea became less clear and more yellow as I pushed the steep time longer. Despite the subtlety of this tea I kept wanting more and every time I would take a sip I immediately went back to take another.
Overall, I am absolutely fascinated by this tea. The clear color is beautiful and the interesting flavor it has is unlike any tea I’ve ever had before – white tea or sheng pu-erh. Also, since it’s so minimally processed, I feel like you could play with this tea a lot more – you could massively increase the steep time to draw out some stronger flavors without any bitterness, or keep it at very short steeps to draw out flavors slowly. I am now very inclined to check out some other kinds of yabao. I noticed on Verdant’s website that they have a yabao made from the Camellia crassicolumna plant which sounds interesting and I’ve been meaning to try out their crassicolumna teas anyways so maybe I’ll make a little tea order soon.
Now, to answer the final question: What is yabao? I would say it’s a sheng pu-erh. Although it’s flavor is unlike any tea I’ve had before, I must say that it has some similarities to sheng pu-erh. The scent and some of it’s lighter vegetal flavors all point to sheng, so that’s what I’m classifying it as.
Mystery solved. Kind of.
From: Verdant Tea
Lincang Region, Yunnan Province, China