Wild White Tasting Notes

Wild white infusion (steeped leaf)

Wild White

Yunnan, China

Wild white was a bit of a surprise for me as a white tea. My instructor, Sylvana at ITEI (International Tea Education Institute) said she would take me on a trip to the jungle. This tea took me back to the Li River in China.

The dry leaf smells woodsy, like a bamboo forest. The scent is light and gentle, like the woods after morning rain. It’s herbal like greek mountain tea (ironwort) or honey suckle with an aroma of citrus wood – perhaps pomelo or yuzu.

There is almost an abundance of buds, although there are some small leaves scattered throughout. The buds are whitish green in shades of pistachio, light olive and asparagus, with a soft fuzzy coating on the inner bud.


Unlike silver needle buds, the wild white buds have a unique shape, like little corn on the cobs with multiple layers of tiny leaves surrounding the buds. It’s akin to an oblong lotus flower beginning to blossom. The size varies from 1-3.5 cm in length, and they are thick, not slender buds. At the tips of the buds is evidence of some oxidation. But rather than brown, the oxidation seems to have turned the tips a curious mauve colour. Unlike previous whites I’ve tried, there are no stems and the browning is on the bud tip rather than the stem.

This tea was infused for 5 minutes at 90 C.

This tea can be infused for 5-7 minutes; it’s not particularly floral for a white, so it can withstand higher temperatures, around 90 C, which is necessary to really draw the flavours out.

This was steeped in the professional cupping set.

The infusion took on a stronger jungle flavour than the dry leaf, heavier on the wood smells, like citrus wood with a mild camphor, which mellowed into a cleaned stable smell. The buds were more of a consistent olive colour after infusing. Rather than fat buds, they had flattened somewhat and become somewhat more two dimensional. The purpley-red buds now reminded me of the shape of tiny lobster claws. The purple graduated from mauve to a much richer almost eggplant colour.

The Liquor

The tea liquor was very pale yellow, as if you’d added a tablespoon or two of apple juice to a cup of water. It was a shiny, translucent, thin liquor, which smelled citrusy, with a mild wooden musk. The texture reminded me of slippery young bamboo shoots, canned in liquid.

The smell took me back to the late summer of 2016, when I travelled to Guilin, in Guangxi China. It reminds me of travelling up the Li river on a bamboo raft tour, on a jungle lined river, smelling the woods, bark, osmanthus, bamboo, and citrus on the banks and hearing the water lap up over the raft while fishermen passed us by with their birds. It was the rainy season and there were flash rainstorms where the sky would just open up and pour down.

This cup transports me to the jungles on the banks of the Li River after the rain.

bamboo river raft on the Li River near Guilin, China

The tea itself was not astringent in the slightest. No tannins here, although some of the flavours that you would expect from a pu’erh. Sage, bamboo wood, citrus bark, high notes of ponzu and pomelo, and stable, freshly groomed (clean) horse. It reminded me of riding the dappled grey pony, Smoky, when I was a child. In the lower mainland (or as we call it, the lower rainland) around Vancouver, we get a lot of rain. Sometimes I would bring Smoky in after riding in a drizzle and groom him. This tea was like damp clean horse. There is a light dampness to it all, as though the flavours have been freshly cleaned with rain water.

The head notes are bamboo shoots, and as we travel into this forest, we get a body of groomed horse and stable that spreads gently throughout the mouth. The tail notes are citrusy; it is the ponzu and pomelo that linger in your mouth, leaving a distinct clean finish. 

I am presently enjoying a pot of this tea, steeped at seven minutes. There is a much stronger pomelo finish that lingers longer. 

a yellow pomelo

I’ve quite enjoyed all the places this tea has transported me to.


Dry Leaf Appearance: 14/20

It’s beautiful and the buds look so unique, but it does not look like camellia sinensis, it looks a lot more like some mountain herb like ironwort to me. In consideration of this controversy (evaluating it as a camellia) and of the few leaves mixed in with the buds, and the variation of sizes, I’d give this a lower grade.

Infused Tea Leaf Appearance: 9/10

It looks more consistent once steeped and the purple bud tips are lovely. It’s visually appealing and interesting to look at.

Aroma of the Infusion: 17/20

I really liked the aroma, however it was milder than I expected in comparison to other whites that I’ve tried recently.

Colour of the Liquor in the cup: 10/10

Exactly what I would expect from a white tea.

Flavour (Taste+Aromas): 33/40

This tea is like a pleasant surprise, the works a bit differently than the aroma. The flavours are somewhat mild compared to floral whites, and you don’t have the heavy lost in the woods richness of a puerh. And yet, this isn’t a ghost of one of those teas, but its own wild beast. It’s subtle, and yet very complex. There are layers here, like the layers in the buds themselves. The layers peel back and reveal themselves with multiple tastings.

Total Score: 83/100

It’s probably obvious that I quite liked this tea. So please excuse me, while I dip out to dip my spoon back into the Li River and travel back to Guilin (桂林市), whose name means the forest of sweet osmanthus.

Japanese Tea tea ceremony Tea Theory teaism zen

Zen Tea Cups

Beauty, Wabi 侘, Sabi 寂, and the Aesthetics of Zen Teaism

Disclaimer: I am perfectly imperfect. These are merely my own reflections on my personal journey to tea mastery. I may update these thoughts as I learn more and update my own thoughts.

My opinion is not a fact.

A number of years ago, while I was tutoring English and writing in Vancouver, a student gifted me this beautiful set of tea cups. I confess that I thought they were lovely, but I didn’t really understand them. They were all different. There were only five of them; shouldn’t tea cups come in an even numbered set? To my Western imagination of tea, this was weird.
They each seemed to represent a different aspect of nature, which drew me into them.

my prized Zen tea set

Although I’ve used these cups for years, I have only recently come to understand the tradition behind them, and why they’re rough, mottled, and imperfect. Having and learned more about the Zen aesthetic and the Japanese concepts of wabi and sabi, I can truly begin to appreciate this set. As I held these cups in my hands and reflected on their unique beauty, I realized that this set was the perfect example to synthesize and explain what I’ve learned.

Japan as seen from the world

As the box says, these cups represent different natural aspects of Japan, viewed from without.

The set embodies the the island’s natural surroundings. My favourite cup is the one I call the sandy shore cup. It has a creamy sand colour, a gritty unfinished outer texture, and inside, a surprise; glazed hues of ocean blue.

The sandy beach or ocean cup

There’s the earthen coloured cup, reminiscent of forest soil, with roughness, and streaks of loam and clay. There’s the snowy white cup with what could be the first cherry blossom buds signaling the end of winter.

The snowy cup with the broad leaf and first buds of spring

There’s the cup with vertical bamboo forests, and the single leaf cup. All are beautiful in their own right. Together they create a sense of place and season.

The Tea Room as “the Abode of the Unsymmetrical”

Unlike many other traditions which emphasize perfection, Zen philosophy, and by extension, Teaism, values asymmetry and emphasizes the beauty in imperfection.

the earthen cup is beautifully asymmetrical

“The absence of symmetry in Japanese art objects… is a result of a working out through Zennism of Taoist ideals”

Okakura, The Book of Tea

This is true even in the design of the tea house, which The Book of Tea refers to as the Abode of the Unsymmetrical,  “consecrated to the worship of the Imperfect”. These cups are unsymmetrical, masterfully imperfect, with triangular bases and roughly rounded uppers. Like the tea ceremony itself, these cups are all about the process, not the end result.

“The Taoist and Zen conception of perfection [is based on the] dynamic nature of their philosophy [which] laid more stress upon the process through which perfection was sought than on perfection itself.”

Okakura, The Book of Tea
the brushstrokes on the single leaf cup provide visual texture

The Book of Tea explains that the unsymmetrical breaks the monotony in every aspect of tea room decor. For example, objects should not be placed in the exact centre of the tokonoma to avoid dividing the table into symmetrical halves, and even the tokonoma’s pillar should be of a different kind of wood than other pillars. According to Okakura, “the fear of repetition is a constant presence” for a Japanese Tea Master. 

“The various objects … should be so selected that no colour or design shall be repeated. If you have a living flower, a painting of flowers is not allowable. If you are using a round kettle, the water pitcher should be angular. A cup with a black glaze should not be associated with a tea caddy of black lacquer.”

Okakura, The Book of Tea

With all of these aspects to consider, a Tea Master must be incredibly careful to avoid repetition, not only in theme, but in form, shape of tea utensil, colour, and style.

“Since Zennism has become the prevailing mode of thought, the art of the Orient has purposefully avoided the symmetrical as expressing not only completion, but repetition. Uniformity of design was considered fatal to the freshness of the imagination.”

Okakura, The Book of Tea

But how does this relate to the cups? For starters, they are asymmetrical and uneven.

A set like this, with five very different asymmetrical cups, speaks to these tea ceremony traditions. It could allow for a different and specific experience for each guest, allowing a Tea-Master (outside of a traditional ceremony with tea bowl setting) to carefully select each cup with consideration of the individual.

the cup that reminds me of a bamboo forest

I could not initially understand these as a set. I thought perhaps my client had mixed and matched cups that they thought I’d like. So my first questions of why five cups, and why aren’t they similar, find their answer in Zen design. Repetition is the death of the imagination.

Wabi 侘

This love of the unsymmetrical is an example of a Japanese concept called wabi 侘. Often this is combined with Sabi 寂 to describe the combined aesthetic style as wabi-sabi 侘寂. However, there are some distinctions between wabi and sabi that can be understood through these cups. But what does wabi or sabi even mean?

wabi :

verb: wabiru to be disappointed, to despair, to become weak, to be troubled, to be lonely or despondent, to live in adversity or seclusion

noun: wabithe beauty of the imperfect, the beauty of the unsymmetrical, the beauty of irregularity, the beauty of the simplified, the beauty of that which has been damaged and restored

Maiko Behr, Sept 20, 2020 lecture on Masterworks of Japanese Tea Culture

When we look at these cups, we can see this idea of wabi.

the folded clay seam side of each of the Zen tea cups

There is irregularity, asymmetry, the folded over clay seam is showing, there are different shapes, glazes, and textures, and much for the imagination to feast upon. The cups graduate from triangular bottoms to rounded tops. The seams are not all in the same place – not all of the cups lay flat on the seam side.

The tea-room proper, with its four and a half tatami mats, was designed for up to five guests. An imperfect, uneven number, and exactly the number of cups that the Zen set provides. And that makes sense. An even number would have too much symmetry. It could be divided neatly up the middle.

Wabi in the tea room’s design

Wabi is evident in the traditional tea room, a small hut for the humble enjoyment of tea, which both emperors and commoners alike must stoop to enter. It is the natural textures, the reflection of nature and the living in design. It is this reflection of nature, the evidence of the process through the folded clay, the mottled glaze, the differing colours, and the natural textures that make each piece in the Zen tea set so unique. These are all characteristic of wabi.

Sabi 寂

While there is overlap between wabi and sabi, it has its own distinct characteristics from wabi, that have more to do with age and transcience.

Sabi 寂

verb – sabiru: to become old, to become faded, rusted or run down, to be abandoned, to be lonely

noun – sabi: beauty from aging, beauty of transformation, beauty of things worn by time, impermanence, transcience

Maiko Behr, Sept 20, 2020 lecture on Masterworks of Japanese Tea Culture

Inherent in sabi is the idea that no two tea experiences are ever identical. A moment is here, and then it isn’t; such is the impermanence of sabi. Tea masters try to force attention to transient moments of discovery of the wabi – unexpected beauty and natural irregularities. It’s the beauty of impermanence, the moment of discovery and unexpected surprises that pop up throughout the tea ceremony. The discovery of the brilliant blue interior of the beach cup, of the rich green leaf hidden inside the cup. The brilliant green of tea inside the cup with the blue glaze. These cups also have a strong nod to their process of creation, and irregularities of texture. The patina that develops within over time speaks to all of the tea experiences each cup has been through.

There is also a sense of incompleteness. Their rounded ridged rims are not smoothed by the potter’s hand.

the edge, unsmoothed – rounded but left uneven as a nod to the process

Their prominent folded over clay seams run vertically up their lengths. The earthy brown cup also seems unfinished in the wide brush stroke that laterally crosses it. Why didn’t they finish painting it white? There’s beauty in the process, in the unfinished stroke itself. It speaks better to the texture of the earth on the forest floor, just as the sandy cup, being unglazed feels like beach to the fingertips. The cracked texture beneath the blue varnish on the sandy cup also looks much more beautiful than a glossy perfect glaze. Nature in itself is constantly changing.

These cups are perfectly imperfect. They are beautifully Zen.

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