Vietnamese teas, you rock. Unique, memorable, and often delicious, every Vietnamese tea I’ve tasted has been a charmer. And this one’s exotic name made me smile before we even met.
What-Cha sources this tea through the Vietnamese wholesaler Hatvala, who with a few creative leaps christened it “Tiger Monkey.” In Hatvala’s own words: “Most of the tea produced is sold at the colourful local market which is held on the Monkey and Tiger days of the Lunar week from where our name for this tea derives.” I’m somewhat familiar with the lunar calendar, which from what I can tell makes a whole lot more sense than our Gregorian calendar. I found some information about a lunar week – which varies from six to eight days – but could uncover no reference at all to Monkey or Tiger days in this context. I’ll keep looking. The “Wild” part of the name was apparently added by What-Cha, which I find super fun as a preface to “Tiger Monkey” and at the same time most appropriate and informative, since the leaves are from wild trees.
“Like other wild green teas it is naturally sweet with little bitterness,” states Hatvala’s Tiger Monkey sales sheet. Which makes me wonder about tea made from “wild” (or at least abandoned) trees as compared to more recently cultivated and tended tea gardens. Surely there could be differences, and perhaps even differences that are consistent, such as wild green teas tending to be sweeter, per Hatvala’s nonchalant claim. Though I could also imagine the opposite, or that inclusion of the “wild” adjective is somewhere between description and marketing. I’d be curious to hear what others have to say, but in the end, what matters is what’s in the cup.
I do notice some sweetness in the dry leaf, sweetness that is intertwined with smokiness. Both characteristics are fairly light in the dry leaf and all the more subtle in the cup; during my first session I didn’t notice smoke at all. It’s there, but nothing like the smokiness of, say, a Russian Country blend. As a green tea the overall flavor and body is on the light side of the spectrum, but deeper than the bright, fresh-picked grassiness of, say, Fish Hook. Here and there I noted some enjoyable creaminess to the body, and a bit of the wood and nut notes others have mentioned.
When brewed at What-Cha’s parameters (1-2tsp, 80C/176F, 45-60sec) there wasn’t any of what I’d consider bitterness or astringency. During my second session I experienced a dryness at the back of the throat which I enjoyed so much that I resteeped probably eight times. I had that soft astringency in mind during my third and final sessions, but within the 60sec steeps, it was nowhere to be found. “No man steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” I love that expression of life’s ever changing nature, and I love that tea illustrates it so readily. What was that astringency? Was I imagining it? Was it my own body’s particular chemistry on that evening? Whatever it was, it was of that moment. In the later two sessions I didn’t experience anything close until I increased the steep time to two and then three minutes, which yielded the slightest bitterness but still really no astringency to speak of.
“Typically, the Vietnamese prefer to brew their tea very strong and bitter and like to appreciate the sweetness in the after-taste experienced once the initial bitterness has subsided,” says Hatvala. Still curious, I upped the temperature to 195F; even after a 3min steep the tea remained mellow and enjoyable.
I also found it interesting that this tea is grown at a 1500m altitude. It’s 1200m above Hatvala’s Fish Hook and high enough to be considered high mountain, by many standards.
This was a 10g sample that Alistair included with a What-Cha order. Like many teas that I’ve received as samples and in trades, this was an awesome surprise that may have taken me awhile to get to on my own. That’s the end of the sample, but certainly not the end of my love of Vietnamese tea.