The Good: Aroma, Taste
The Bad: It's decaffeinated
The Basics: In a close call, the Decaf China Pearl is an intriguing tea with little to recommend it in an objective review.
Adjective teas tend to fare better with me these days because there is nothing material to compare them to. "Sunshine Summer Tea" could be anything, could taste like anything. On the other hand, the "Peach Apricot Honeybush" I sat down to with firm expectations that the drink had better taste fruity. I've been sampling the white teas from my collection of teas lately and just when I began to think I would never try one that I liked, I came across an adjective white tea! The Celestial Seasonings Decaf China Pearl White Tea was a straightforward white tea that actually impressed me with its possession of a flavor - something no other white tea I've yet drunk has had! - and that was almost enough to make me overlook the fact that it was decaffeinated!
Decaf China Pearl is a white tea from Celestial Seasonings. It is a 100% natural white tea, yet it is decaffeinated, which leaves me a little baffled. Caffeine free teas are ones (like herbals) that are composed of ingredients that never had caffeine in them, decaffeinated teas are teas that have ingredients that had caffeine, but the caffeine was extracted. The process of extracting the caffeine is usually done through chemicals, so whatever natural process Celestial Seasonings is using to decaffeinate its white teas, we hope it's not falling under "all the chemical components we brought together in the lab came from nature at one time!" Anyway, the tea comes in Celestial Seasoning's standard stringless tea bags, which are paired together with easy to separate perforations that allow one to separate the tea bags. When I make pots of tea, I tend to use two bags and leave them connected. A box of Decaf China Pearl comes with ten pairs (20 individual) of tea bags.
I suppose if I truly were a jerk, I might say that Decaf China Pearl has to taste like pearls to get by my rigorous standards, but I'll belay that. Pearls usually only taste like something right when they come out of an oyster and this tea tasted much better then saltwater and crustacean mucus!
The Decaf China Pearl is a white tea. White tea is made from virgin tea blooms, which makes white tea very uncommon and supposedly that much harder to produce. Because of the limited window of time to harvest the buds and first-growth tea leaves, white tea is very difficult to process, yet buyers still get a box with twenty teabags, just like virtually any other Celestial Seasoning tea! Note to Celestial Seasonings: Go ahead and scrap your other white tea flavors and just use those buds to make more of the Decaf China Pearl; it's the only one worth it!
Ease Of Preparation
As a white tea, Decaf China Pearl requires a little more care to prepare than most teas. A single tea bag will make the standard 8 oz. coffee mug worth of tea and could be reused and make a second cup of Decaf China Pearl, though the results are - at best - half strength of the first brewing. I tend to make my tea using a 32 oz. steeping tea pot and that works well or at least as well as can be made with this tea.
To prepare Decaf China Pearl tea, bring a pot of water to a near-boil and pour it over the tea bags. The water should not be boiling, but rather a few degrees below boiling when you pour the water over the tea bag(s) in your cup, mug or pot. Decaf China Pearl takes only one to three minutes to steep according to the directions. In my experience, there is no harm in letting it steep past the three minutes, this gives the tea a bolder, more complete flavor that truly saturates the water and unless you like tea as hot water, this is a better way to enjoy Decaf China Pearl; fully brewed and rich as opposed to lighter and delicate.
Decaf China Pearl tastes exactly like the tea one drinks in a nice Chinese restaurant. It is not overly strong and the only way I can accurately describe the tea flavor that this embodies is through a comparison to a much better known adjective tea. If one has never had good, generic Chinese tea at a Chinese restaurant, the best way to describe this tea is that it tastes like tea brewed from a tea bag of Earl Grey tea after that bag had already made four cups of tea! It is weak, but flavorful (it just has a difficult flavor to describe). There is no aftertaste.
This tea has a lot going for it in the aroma department. It smells like a Chinese restaurant. Not a fast food Chinese restaurant, rather a classy joint at the end of the evening when the dominant scent is tea and candles burning. The scent is very potent and evokes great memories for anyone who had good memories of Chinese restaurants!
Adding sugar to this tea makes it instantly taste like sugar. Yes, the Decaf China Pearl is a pushover to the taste of sugar. One little quarter-teaspoon and the tea becomes all about the sweetener.
Cold, the tea loses a bit of its flavor and begins to taste like water, water with a bitter aftertaste! I've had the Decaf China Pearl piping hot and it leaps off the tongue and down the throat, no questions asked. Cold, it slithers by leaving its flavor as a sour/bitter aftertaste in the mouth of the person drinking it.
I added milk to two cups (one hot, one iced) and the milk flavor accented the flavor when hot and cut the aftertaste some (about half) in the cold. With milk, the tea does not significantly change in taste. Milk may be added to this tea with no adverse effect in terms of chemical composition, though, oddly the package does not mention using milk in this tea.
What it does mention is using lemon to accent the tea. Lemon works fine, though I found it added little to the overall flavor of the tea. With an accent of lemon, the tea tastes like lemon without the sour, which is nice.
Decaf China Pearl prides itself on being an all natural white tea and the ingredients are simple and non-threatening. There is nothing terribly mysterious in this tea, save that it is made of a vague mix of "Decaffeinated white tea and natural white tea essence." The box notes that it is gluten free.
Because it is all natural, the China tea leaves are not treated with anything, yet the tea does not contain caffeine. This rates a 5 on the caffeine meter (based on milligrams of caffeine in an 8 oz. serving), which puts it just above above herb tea and on par with a cup of decaffeinated coffee.
Outside that, this is just another tea. That means that unless one adds sugar, milk, or lemon, all you're getting out of it is the white tea flavor. This tea does not provide any calories, fat, sodium, or protein to the person who drinks it.
Decaf China Pearl tea is very easy to clean up after - the tea bags may be disposed in the garbage, or composted if you have a good garden and/or compost pile. The tea itself is darker than any other white tea I have drunk, so it does stain if given the opportunity. Still, mugs that hold the tea ought to clean up with a rinse without any problems.
So, it's better than any other white tea I've ever had and it has a good aroma that evokes memories of Chinese restaurants. Is it enough? I'm not sure. Part of the reason I'm having so much trouble defining the flavor is that it is a very generic tea flavor. And as it comes to the point where I must either recommend it or not, I find myself leaning toward not. Here's why: I like my teas strong and flavorful. To go back to my mention of the precise flavor of the Decaf China Pearl; I like Earl Grey, I don't like what I would get if I used the same tea bag five times over.
But more than that, my friends who tend to like white tea like it for its subtlety, not its boldness. This is far stronger than any white tea I've ever had. For those who like their tea to basically be steaming hot water, this tea will likely seem too robust to you. But for the rest of us, it's good, but bland, it has a flavor, but not one easy to define. It's average. Average tea. It might be good, but I still find myself wanting more from my teas than just average.
For other Celestial Seasonings tea reviews, please check out:
African Orange Mango Rooibos
Mandarin Orchard Decaf Green
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© 2010, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.