10 Teas to Start With

October 22, 2009

Now that we have covered some basics of brewing, we need to lay some ground work on determining just what teas to brew. There are thousands of types of tea and even within a specific type of tea there can be hundreds of variations, it can be daunting. Today we’ll try to compile a list of 10 teas that cover a wide enough spectrum that will quickly show you what types and characteristics of tea you, personally, enjoy and which you do not. This will allow you to explore with some confidence from that point without simply relying on luck. So let’s get to it:

1.) Ceylon – Smooth and generally mellow, this tea is probably the closest  to the standard teabag many are familiar with but a nice upgrade in flavor and quality. It is a fairly rich taste with a very slight bit of astringency and bitterness.

2.) Sencha – A Japanese green tea that is very light, bright, and refreshing. This is a true green tea in every sense of the word and miles apart from what is often sold as “green tea” in most stores.

3.) Long Jing – A very popular Chinese green tea with a bright and almost “nutty” flavor. This is a nice contrast to Sencha and showcases a different side of green tea. Also known as Dragonwell.

4.) Shui Xian – This oolong tea is often associated with tea served in Chinese restaurants. It is a nice basic introduction to oolongs and isn’t that radical a departure from many of the flavors of standard teabags, but the medium fermentation and roasting adds complexity. Also known as Shui Hsien, or water sprite.

5.) Tie Guan Yin – A greener oolong with a slightly floral aroma and flavor. The split in oolongs generally runs along the more roasted/fermented/fruity lines such as Shui Xian and the greener/floral ones like this tea. Again comparing this to the Shui Xian should yield a personal affinity towards one or the other, many enjoy both. Also known as Tie Kuan Yin, or Iron Goddess of Mercy.

6.) Silver Needles – White tea is often shrouded in mystery and mystique, but it is really just minimally processed tea leaf that isn’t roasted or fermented, just dried. It is delicate and often has a sweetness. Also known as Bai Hao Yinzhen, or Yin Zhen.

7.) Keemun – A black tea in the Chinese style which is rich, sweet, and full-bodied. This would be a great introduction tea for coffee lovers since it is not as subtle as many of the others. Some keemuns exhibit a smokey flavor which some may find desirable.

8.) Darjeeling – Sometimes referred to as “The Champagne of Teas” this Indian tea exhibits a wonderful array of flavors from sweet to nutty to grape-ish muscatel notes. Within this one category almost anyone can find at least one or two specific teas that matches their preferences. This type alone could be an entire lifelong pursuit, so try a few different ones in this category before making an assessment.

9.) Jasmine Green – I’ve included this option in the list to offer an idea of what flavored tea is really about. Almost all low-end tea and widely available tea is so heavily flavored and imbalanced that many have lost sight of the fact that the tea itself is the star. A delicate jasmine scent added to a quality green tea is a nice balance and gateway between the overpowered offerings in most cafes and the ultimate goal of the unadorned beauty of the leaf itself. Jasmine pearls are often the best choice in this type of tea.

10.) Puer – This is the single-malt Scotch and cigar of tea. It is highly prized and often aged for many years, and has a dedicated following of devotees. If you like earthy, smoky, and oaky flavors in your wines or enjoy the aforementioned Scotch and cigar, this may be a tea for you. If this doesn’t sound like your style you can skip this one altogether or at least try one to say you experienced it. Again, this is a complex group and requires quite a bit of initiative to dig into properly, there are a number of great resources on the web for those interested however. Sometimes spelled puerh or pu-erh.

These 10 teas certainly won’t show you everything tea has to offer, but it will cover a very wide breadth of styles and flavors that will act as a springboard to further exploration and enjoyment. Feel free to ask questions and post comments and most importantly, Have Fun!


Air travel and tea

July 28, 2009

I made sure to bring some tea bags filled with Shui Xian along during my travels so that on the early morning flights I could at least have a decent cup, well as decent as you can expect from slightly hot water and a styrofoam cup. I had thought about bringing a green since I knew the water wouldn’t be very hot but I thought that since the taste buds change during flights it might be too subtle to enjoy. So I was totally surprised when even the Shui Xian seemed almost flavorless and very cardboard-like. I then even steeped it to a mid-high strength and it changed virtually nothing. I was completely surprised that flavor would be that heavily affected. I brewed up one of the spares once I got home just to make sure it wasn’t the unbleached teabag I had used or that the tea had gone stale, and with just hot water from a water cooler and a disposable cardboard cup at work it tasted perfectly normal. In the air, my mind knew what I should be tasting but it just was not there to the senses. It was like being taste-blind. A truly strange experience. Now I wonder what that airline food actually tastes like on the ground… I’m still guessing it doesn’t improve as much as the Shui Xian. :)

Wedding Tea – The big haul

June 9, 2008

My heavily anticipated order from Teaspring came today, and I can honestly say it is one of the largest hauls in quite some time. Weighing in at around 1.3kg in just tea, not including packaging, it is a sight to behold (and lucky for you I took a photo):

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Most of it is going to be used for wedding gifts but there is easily 100g of each and all of the Huo Shan padded in there for us. The breakdown is 600g Shui Xian, 600g Bi Lo Chun, 50g Huo Shan Huang Ya, and a few single-serve packets of Lapsang Sou Chong as well as Dahongpao from Wu Yi Star tea. This bounty came from Teaspring.com which has received high praise here before but yet again came through by even sourcing an out of stock tea specially for me with the Bi Lo Chun. I have no ties or affiliation with Teaspring except for being a very satisfied customer.