Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Review: Adagio's Snowbud

Back at the beginning of my tea career I ordered a white team sample set from Adagio - it was the opening salvo for a paroxysmal fit of white tea tastings. See, I needed to become familiar with what white tea really was. Previous interactions had been limited to store bought boxes of pale dust falsely advertised as white tea. Hardly a fitting form for "a delicate far East treasure". No surprise then that once I had genuine white tea in its myriad loose leaf varieties I was a changed m an. It was a radical departure from any other tea I've had, even from its closest cousin, the green tea. In this newfound pale cup the grassy astringency of Japanese green teas was absent, and the darker shades of flavor of Chinese greens went unaccounted for. White tea was its own branch of the greater tea ramification, self-asserting and and even demanding. It demanded a completely pure and refined palate. It desired a tongue unsullied by anything else - not even light foods and fluids. A stubborn tea, indeed.

Of course, I was not the sage the white tea needed me to be. Instead of the master on the mountain, I was the dunce in the ditch. I remember the first time I had any of Adagio's white teas I found them all to be very, very dainty. Pellucid even. The taste would most aptly be described as 'White light", "clean air" or "glass". Of course, it didn't help that I was wrestling the delicate whole leaves, gingerly packaged by a line of laborers and merchants, into a cramped tea ball minutes before the leaves finally reached the brewing stage. But amongst these sessions of poor tea packing, two teas stood out with their assertive flavors: Adagio's Silver Needle and Adagio's Snowbud.


Snowbud, couched in its namesake.

When I came back to Adagio's website a few months later to order larger tins of the teas I liked, one quick look at the Silver Needles' price quickly convinced me that the Snowbud was the white tea for me. A large canister was more than affordable, though I did find out that a proper cup of white tea requires more volume of leaves to prepare. With tea drinking season upon us the canister has quickly emptied, but was well worth what became an extended introduction to a very engaging branch of the tea family. Here's was Adagio, Snowbud's company, has to say -

"White tea from the Fujian province of China. Snowbud as its name implies is an airy, light tea. And yields a cup worthy of its name: it is effervescent and graceful, with delicate, clean aroma. Snowbud is comprised exclusively of unprocessed leaves and buds, all gathered and dried in the early days of spring. Of all the teas we offer, our 'Snowbud Finale' is the lightest one. If you enjoy the subtle, gentle taste of white tea, we hope you'll give this one a try."


"Snowbud tea hails from the Fujian province of China, one of its most prolific. This region accounts for one-fifth of China's total tea output. And the high quality of its teas keeps them in high demand. This region's exports of tea account for a quarter of the country's total. Fujian teas benefits from an excellent climate, combining mild temperatures, abundant rainfall and mountainous terrain. It has a long history of cultivating tea: over one-thousand years."

Appearance & Liquor: Even after a comparatively lengthy 7 minutes, the Snowbud maintains a highly transparent straw color, no murkiness or cloudiness. It is very agrarian in look, with the clarity of a cool, German lager and the tone of faded, sun bleached hay. Suffice it to say, it is indeed a "white" tea

Broken leaves, but unbroken flavor.

Aroma: One of my favorite parts of a white tea is the aroma. They're always but the merest whispers and shadows of some other aroma, but the subtlety with which they hint at their smell and the labor of coaxing that smell out are really enjoyable. Adagio's Snowbud carries this tradition with its soft notes of vanilla and honey, paired with the lightest and slightest hint of sweet cream. Once you've locked on to Snowbud's aroma it's impossible to lose it again, but rest assured that the reward at prying out these gentle smells is well worth the effort.

Flavor & Palate: Snowbud's first act once it touches the tongue is to at once cover every surface of the mouth. It is a sudden spate of tea that, even a conservative sip belies. After the sudden deluge one might expect a similar spate of flavor. However, the Snowbud keeps eerily quiet for a few tense moments. Then the white tea flavor grows, slowly and steadily, like flower budding in stop motion, until it stands as a domineering conqueror of your palate. In my experience, few teas typify the "flavor" of white tea as loudly or boldly as Adagio's Snowbud. This is not to say Snowbud is an assertive tea. A drinker absolutely needs an unsullied palate to really enjoy it. A piece of chocolate or a heavy sauce would completely breach the potential contract between tongue and tea for at least an hour. Still, with the right conditions Snowbud is quite a flavorful tea - good for white tea novices. The sweet honey notes we met back in the aroma have long since gone, but I now catch light hay notes and the same slight vanilla gently bobbing along in the Snowbud's collection of flavors. Lovely.

As I write this final paragraph I am drinking the efforts of the last few Snowbud leaves at my disposal, salvaged from the bottom of the can. Each time I take a sip I get a clear and pronounced sense of white tea - again, a wonderful demonstration of white tea's base flavor. What I've since forgotten is how incredibly affordable Adagio's Snowbud was, as well. Really, there's no excuse for me not to have a canister of this on me at all times.

And that goes for you too!

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