This assamica green tea was supplied by the company that provides me with the Royal Grade Thai Nguyen green tea I carry here at TeaLife. They provided me with a better grade than they offer at retail in Vietnam, and I have to say I'm impressed. Vietnam doesn't have assamica plantations yet, as far as I know, as Thai Nguyen green tea is what the masses drink. This tea, known as 'snow tea' because of the white down visible on the leaves, is consumed by the highland tribespeople, as it has been for centuries. Traditionally processed over a fire by hand, this tea has powerful cha qi and is much alike a good sheng pu erh. It has a gushu flavor that I love and I drink Vietnamese assamica teas medicinally several times a week, especially if I need to reset my biological clock; the cha qi from these teas is powerful enough to put me to sleep if I need more rest, even if I'm drinking it right after breakfast!
This tea is traditionally consumed big pot style, but the tea has enough durability and complexity to be consumed gongfu style too. Made with smaller leaves than most pu erh, this is an excellent tea and sheng pu erh lovers will adore this stuff. In a prewarmed gaiwan, the leaves smell fruity and smoky, with sweetness and a distinctive assamica aroma, like good pu erh maocha would have. This tea is processed at a higher temperature than maocha, so it will not ferment quite the same way as pu erh, unless exposed to sufficient heat and humidity (which will actually cause any tea to break down like pu erh)!
After the rinse, vegetal notes come to the forefront. There is some char visible in the cups from processing, but it is minor and this tea is very well processed. After all, the Hmong and other tribes in the north of Vietnam have been processing tea from the high mountain trees in their areas for centuries!
The first infusion gives me balanced sweetness, sourness and bitterness, and is absolutely lovely. I brewed this tea at full boil, just like I would with pu erh maocha. This tea is interesting in that it has characteristics of biluochun and maocha at the same time; a nutty green bean flavor with gushu wildflowers in the background. This tea also has lovely huigan.
The vegetal aromas come back in the second infusion, and the bitterness is much more pronounced, but still at a pleasant level. This is a welcome trait to Vietnamese drinkers. I went longer in the second infusion, so the bitterness could be kept down by sticking to flash infusions. I believe this would keep the vegetal notes and nuttiness down as well.
The third infusion gave me powerful huigan (returning sweetness after the swallow). I got a slightly fruity aroma from the leaves, which was pleasant. By keeping the infusion time down, I got notes that reminded me of a classic 7542 cake, which I found interesting. The tea is sweeter and nuttier than a young 7542, of course, and much less astringent and bitter. The third infusion is also when the cha qi hit me. I could really taste the tea and feel the huigan on the exhale, and I got an apricot-like taste and sweetness that I found very enjoyable.
The fourth infusion was longer, and a little more bitter. I found myself getting intensely hungry in the fourth infusion, so make sure you eat before you drink this tea as it is powerful! I had to quit in the fourth infusion and head out for food, but it displayed excellent longevity, as you'd expect from good assamica material. This tea is also excellent brewed big pot style, as is most pu erh. I suggest trying your pu erh in a big pot some time as the fullness of the aroma, flavor and texture might surprise you if you're used to gongfu prep with your pu erh.
This tea is a fascinating glimpse at the kind of tea consumed by the tribes right on the Vietnamese border, and I suspect similar teas are consumed in the high mountain tribal areas of Myanmar, Thailand and Yunnan as well. It's not all maocha and pu erh in Yunnan!