Today's blog post is a followup to an earlier post of mine in which I brewed a tea 30 times in order to see whether or not I believed if a tea company's claims about a 5 gram sample of Wild Tong Mu Jin Jun Mei that could be brewed 30 times had any truth.
I was inspired to write that original post because this tea company was selling 5 grams of tea for $38, which is an egregious price for 5 grams of tea. The vendor claimed that this price was due to "The incredible amount of labor required, the steep domestic demand and tiny supply . . . [which] make this one of the most valuable teas coming out of China, with demand for genuinely wild Jin Jun Mei growing every year."
With this in mind another big part of their sales pitch was that they could brew "over thirty steepings with our five gram packet when we tried this tea for the first time, and the tea only seemed to get stronger and fuller each steeping instead of lighter."
Based on my experience with tea, no tea I've tried can yield over thirty steepings with 5 grams. If it did, the steepings would definitely not get stronger and fuller with each infusion. However due to the incredibly high cost of the listed tea, I wasn't able to justify purchasing it for evaluation. Instead I evaluated a different bud set black tea over 30 steepings, to see if their brewing methodology had any good results.
A few weeks after the release of the Wild Tongmu Jin Jun Mei, the same company released another packet of tea called Tongmu Mei Zhan Jin. This packet of tea cost only $8.75 for 5 grams, but remarkably the marketing claims were just as strong as the claims made about the Wild Tongmu Jin Jun Mei. For this tea, the company claimed:
Although this tea was over 4 times less expensive than the Wild Tongmu Jin Jun Mei, it was supposed to offer more steepings and a comparable tasting experience. Because the cost was not as high, two tea friends and I decided to bite the bullet and buy a packet for evaluation. The rest of this post will describe how we brewed the tea, and our final thoughts after the tasting.
For this session we brewed the tea in the exact way outlined by the vendor in their marketing email. The process used to brew the tea outlined by the vendor includes:
1) Preheating a small (< 5 fl. oz.) gaiwan with boiling water.
2) Cooling the boiling water for 15 - 20 seconds in a glass pitcher, then rinsing the 5 grams of tea leaves for a few seconds.
3) Brewing the first 15 infusions with boiling water that has been cooled in a glass pitcher for 20 seconds, and then steeping the tea for 5 - 8 seconds.
4) Brewing the next 15+ infusions with boiling water that has been cooled in a glass pitcher for only 6 seconds, and then steeping the tea for up to 45+ seconds.
Steepings 1 - 3: The first 3 steepings of this tea brewed up a vibrant gold color. We thought that the texture was smooth, with a cool and lingering mouth feel. The flavor of these steepings were similar to standard Chinese black teas, and were mostly savory with roasted notes.
Steepings 1, 2, & 3
Steepings 4 - 6: At this stage of brewing, the tea leaves started to open up and yield a slightly darker brew. The savory & roasted qualities remained, but the flavor also had citric notes. The texture at this stage of the session was splashy, and not as smooth and rich as the first 3 steepings.
Steepings 4, 5, & 6
Steepings 7 - 9: At this stage of the session, the strength of steepings 4 - 6 backed down. There were still some citric, floral, & perfume like notes that were very enjoyable, but the majority of the rich body of the tea started to fade away at this point.
Steepings 7, 8, & 9
Steepings 10 - 12: At this stage of the session, there was not much to say. Although the color of the tea remained, most of the flavor was gone. The texture started to lack richness, smoothness, or a splashy quality, and simply felt like normal water.
Steepings 10, 11, & 12
Steepings 13 - 15: The quality of the tea really started to degrade during this part of the session. Even with the increased time and temperature in brewing as instructed, the color of the tea was lighter. It had a watery chalky texture, and left a slightly bitter aftertaste without having any of the enjoyable tea notes from earlier in the session.
Steepings 13, 14, & 15
Steepings 16+: At this point we decided to abort the mission. All of the enjoyable qualities of the tea were gone, and we did not want to continue drinking sad tea for 20 more steepings just to prove a point.
To try to see if there was anything left in the leaf I brewed two long steepings using boiling water. Steeping 16 was brewed for one minute with boiling water, and steeping 17 was brewed for 3-5 + minutes with boiling water.
Although the color got stronger, this didn't help the flavor... if anything, the blandness got stronger.
Steepings 16 & 17
This tea yielded 7 - 9 steepings that were truly very enjoyable. We felt like even if sold at the same price, people would buy and enjoy this tea from the vendor without needing to be told that it would yield far beyond what is reasonable to expect from a sample of tea.
It seems like telling people things that are unreasonable (35 steepings + 2 days of additional brewing from one small sample of tea) is a bad marketing practice in the long term for any tea business. It may also harm and confuse people who are new to the world of tea by giving them unrealistic expectations and standards for judging loose leaf tea.
We don't mean to disparage or scoff at anyone's tea business or marketing practices, but want to try to offer our point of view on what we think these practices do. For this reason my tea friends and I are drafting a letter to send to the vendor of this tea in order to offer up this perspective, and see what their side of the story is.
I have many interests, but I often find myself thinking about tea. I enjoy tea as a beverage to drink, and also enjoy the peace and joy that can be found through its preparation. This blog will share my thoughts about tea, as well as new things that I learn along the way.