Kinnari’s ‘Xiengkhouang White Moonlight Tea’ – artisan white arbor tea from eastern Laos
“Xiengkhouang White Moonlight Tea” – white arbor tea from Laos (click picture to enlarge)
White tea – one of the 6 Chinese tea categories – has two roots. One of these roots geographically originates in Fuding, Fujian province. There, white tea is traditionally processed from the native small-leafed “Da Bai” tea plant variety. The other root has its geographic origin in the province of Yunnan. There, the tradition of producing white tea from the large leaves of the native tea trees goes back several hundred years as well.
(click picture to enlarge)
On both locations, there are two basic types of white tea. Once, this is the “pure buds” picking standard, also referred to as white “silver needle” tea. And second, it’s “two leaves and a bud”, going by the names of “Pai Mu Tan” (or “Bai Mu Dan”) or “White Peony”. At this, the following applies to the latter: the lower the share of leaves, the higher the tea quality. Accordingly, the best quality of Pai Mu Tan is a picking standard of “1+1”, i. e. one bud with its two adjacent youngest leaves each.
Xiengkhouang White Moonlight Tea: “Arbor Pai Mu Tan” from Laos (click picture to enlarge)
Like some other countries bordering Yunnan, among them Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand, Laos is a genuine “cradle coutnry” of the tea tree. So, apart from minor differences in “terroir”, the tea trees native to Xiengkhouang are principally identical with those of Yunnan. In Xiengkhoung, our partner in Laos, Kinnari Tea, has paired the Yunnanese processing tradition with own competences and highest quality standards. The result is a Laotian white arbor tea that won’t have to hide from the best of its Yunnanese siblings.
Picking and Processing
The picking standard for Xiengkhouang White Moonlight Tea is 1+1. This means, only the young bud at the end of each branch and its adjacent youngest leaf qualify for picking. At this, both the picking and most of the processing are still done by hand in Xiengkhouang today. Only this way, the combination of ancient processing tradition, high competence and uncompromising quality requirements can create a true artisan tea like this one.
The processing of white arbor teas is an ancient art, requiring much time, diligence, and ultimately even a whiff of magic. While the silvery bud represents the shape of a crescent, the leaf displays a white tinge on its front and a black one on its back side. At this, the bud contributes the subtle elegance that is characteristic for silver needle to the tea’s taste pattern, while the leaf is responsible for its surprising full body.
One decisive factor for the taste of Xiengkhouang White Moonlight Tea are the specific weather and temperature conditions at picking and processing. This is why only a small window of a few weeks opens every year for producing this tea.
Drying of tea leaves
(left + middle: Honey Hill Sheng Pu Erh Tee; right: White Moonlight Buds)
Natural cultivation in biodiverse environment
Apart form the artisan processing, Xiengkhouang White Moonlight Tea lives from the natural, biodiverse environment, in which the tea trees grow. At this, their roots, reaching meters-deep into the soil, bring to bear the terroir’s whole wealth in the tea plant. And in the resulting tea! Because you can feel this wealth with all of your senses.
White arbor tea with picking standard 1+1 (click picture to enlarge)
Kinnari’s Xiengkhouang White Moonlight Tea is a white arbor tea from Xiengkhouang, Laos. There, on Phousan mountain, a large-leafed tea tree variety with voluminous, shiny silvery buds is native. Alreday in ancient times, it was custom to pick these once a year for the Chinese emperor. Thereafter, at some point, the tea trees went into oblivion… They finally gained new attention with the more recent efforts of subsiding the cultivation of the opium poppy with alternative cash crops.
While the first infusion of this “two-faced” tea shows a bright yellow color in the cup, subsequent steeps take on a much darker, almost red color. At this, a full body reminiscent of dried plums and raisins marks the foreground. This is complemented, or much rather underlaid, by the tendentiously nutty notes of the buds.
Xiengkhouang White Moonlight Tea unfolds its impressing bandwidth of flavors best with infusion temperatures between 90°C and 100°C. Even with longer steeping periods, hardly any astringency or bitterness will develop, so that a first steep may just as well infuse for 3-5 minutes. After that, subsequent infusions of 2-3 minutes each will surprise with diverse individual taste patterns.
The dosing of a tea is ultimately always a question of personal preferences regarding taste and effect. We pour 200ml of boiling hot water after calmin (ca. 90°C) over 4g of Xiengkhouang White Moonlight. This may serve as a starting point for your own exploration for adjustment to your individual preferences.
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Kinnari Tea – Ecological and Social Responsibility
Tea is the greatest passion of Anna and Thun, the German/Laotian operators of Kinnari Tea in Laos. This is why quality for Kinnari Tea means more than just a good leaf grade, even a lot more. Beyond the obvious properties of the tea leaf, acting responsible regarding our natural and social environment is a cornerstone of Kinnari’s quality concept. At this, goal is the highest achievable level of harmony between the company’s economic activities and all stakeholders’ interests, including nature.
Hence, paying fair prices to the actual producers in Xinghkhouang and Bolaven is only ONE manifestation of Kinnari’s quality philosophy. Beyond this, Kinnari teas come only from tea trees raised from from the seed and grown naturally. Further, Kinnari emphasizes that these tea trees grow in their natural, biodiverse environment. With this, a no-pesticides, no artificial fertilizers and no hazardous substances policy is just a mattter of course.
For detailed information about the history, background and philosphy of Kinnari Tea, please read my pertaining article in Siam Tea Blog:
Xiengkhouang – Reservoir of Wild Ancient Tea Trees in Eastern Laos
Xiengkhouang is a province in the east of Laos, not far from the border to Vietnam. Apart from the stunning landscape, what makes the mountainous region with altitudes up to 2500 meters so interesting is its wealth of ancient tea trees. In Xiengkhouang, these have been growing and propagating the natural way through their seed from time immemorial. This way, “tea gardens” have emerged that are rather reminiscent of biotopes than of agricultural production land.
The tea plants greatly benefit from the harmonious interaction of numerous types of plants, animals and insects populating their habitat. Other than with “clones” (raised from cutoffs), the roots of tea trees raised from the seed reach meters deep into the soil. This way, the plants enjoy the full natural input from their terroir. To this adds the balance prevailing in an ecosystem, paying respect to the “existential interests” of all its stakeholders. As a result, the need for artificial fertilizing and means of pest control.
Unlike the bordering Vietnam – or China – Laos does not have a national tea culture in the proper sense. Nevertheless, the picking and processing of the native tea trees’ leaves are an integral part of the local mountain tribes’ tradition. Reconciling this tradition with highest quality, environmental and social standards and complementing it with a high level of professional competence is the secret of Kinnari Tea.