White teas can be something of a mystery but also a bit confusing. As we talked about in “The Basics of Chinese White Teas” and “When a White Tea Is Really a Green Tea,” what constitutes a white tea can vary. However, there is no mistaking this version of White Peony as being a white tea. The name “peony” comes from the appearance of the shape of the leaves after steeping. Some seem to resemble newly-opened peony buds. And the name “Imperial” speaks to its superior quality where stems and twigs are sorted out and the leaves are treated with great care.
Awhile back, someone showed me what was labeled as “Silver Needle” but that looked like an inferior version of White Peony. It contained a bunch of stem pieces (possibly even twigs) and lots of broken leaves. This was definitely not an imperial version of this type of white tea, and the taste steeped matched the ragged appearance of the dry leaves and stems. It’s best, therefore, to be sure to get the kind that says “imperial” for the best white tea experience.
This tea was first produced in 1922 by a tea master in Jishui, Jianyang city, Fujian Province, China. It is a slightly fermented white tea, second in grade after Silver Needle. The popularity of this tea has resulted in other areas (primarily Fuding and Zhenghe) started producing it and then became the main production areas. The leaves are from the Da Bai Hao tea bush from Fuding, Fujian Province.
The floral aroma of this tea results from the bud-and-two-leaves combos in it. They also steep up an apricot-colored liquid that has a fuller and more coarse flavor than you get from Silver Needle.
Steep up the tea in a glass vessel (gaiwan or teapot) so that you can enjoy the show of those peony petals forming!