I love tea! It is exciting to try new teas and experiment with brewing. I must admit it makes me crazy when people tell me that they don’t like tea. Or worse, how much they love tea but what they really enjoy are herbal tisanes or boba. The fact is that most Americans I meet have never really had good quality loose leaf tea.
There is much tea snobbery out there. And to be truthful, I have been guilty as I have some pretty strong opinions on some teas. Every person has a different palate. Just because I may not like flavored teas, doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t enjoy them.
Exploring new teas is important. Some teas are like old friends. The flavor and aroma evoke a memory of a time or place. That is special and there is nothing wrong with keeping your favorites on hand. Just know that there is a world of flavor out there.
I am passionate about educating people about new teas and flavors that they might not experience otherwise. While it is not essential to know the history of tea to enjoy a cup, it is fascinating to explore how vast the options are. There are so many factors that affect flavors. There are numerous books that are available if you wish to explore this fascinating topic more. We will be exploring many of these concepts in further posts. For now, I wish to highlight some of the biggest factors in creating distinctive flavors in teas.
- Cultivar - All tea whether green, black, or white is Camellia Sinensis, however there are many varietals of Camellia. Chardonnay or Merlot, Red Delicious or Honey Crisp? Like other agricultural products, tea varietals grow better in some regions than others and offer different flavor characteristics. The most common varietals are Camellia Sinensis var Sinensis and Camellia Sinensis var Assamica. The former grows primarily in China and in the Darjeeling region of India. The leaves are small and the flavor more delicate. Assamica is more common and can be cultivated in most parts of the world. The leaves of Assamica are larger and the flavor is a bit bolder and what many people associate with tea.
- Terroir - The area that tea is grown in has a profound influence on the flavor of the finished product. Much like wine, you can literally taste the characteristics of the area. In a taste test, most people could easily distinguish between a Chinese or an Indian tea even if they didn’t know which was which; the difference in flavor is quite apparent. Beyond country borders, this can be evident in different regions of China and India as well as other regions. Wuyi oolongs are quite distinctive, and you can taste the minerality of the rock cliffs where these teas are grown. High mountain Taiwan oolongs are completely different, with much lighter sweeter floral notes. I love them both, but they are radically different.
- Processing - The processing of the tea is how the type of tea is determined. Tea is picked and dried, but it is also allowed varying degrees of oxidation. The process that stops or prevents oxidation is called kill green. The point that the kill green occurs is the determining factor in how the tea is categorized as Black, White, Green or Oolong. Black teas are fully oxidized, while green teas are stopped early on and oolong teas stop the process at any number of levels with some teas being almost green and others being almost fully oxidized like black teas and every level in between. There are so many ways of processing teas that go far beyond the oxidation levels. Is the tea rolled like Tieguanyin, twisted like Da Hong Pao, pressed flat as a needle like Longjing? Or perhaps it is just picked and allowed to dry like a Bai Mu Dan? The processing of tea brings out the essence of the tea when left in the hands of a skilled tea master.
- Brewing - Gong Fu, Grandpa, or Western; how you brew does affect the flavor and experience. When you have the time to indulge in a gong fu session, it is a delight. I adore collecting pots and gaiwans. We spend a lot of time educating ourselves on brewing techniques, chemistry, and other factors. I strongly believe however that equipment should never stand in the way of people trying good tea. You don’t have to have special equipment. Tea pets, trays and gaiwans are beautiful and fun but not essential to the experience. I am quite busy and sometimes, I only have time for Grandpa style brewing where I throw some leaves in a big mug and just refill water throughout the day. It is still delicious although not the same experience as exploring the flavors developing over each steep in gong fu.
Keep a tea journal. It doesn’t need to be fancy; it can be online or just an old notebook you have lying around. Think when you drink. What flavors do you enjoy? Do you enjoy a dry finish? Do you prefer sweet flavors or perhaps more bold earthy flavors?
We have designed our website to highlight some of the characteristics above. Once you determine what you enjoy, you can search for other teas that have some of the same characteristics. This is a great way to find new things. Whether it is exploring other teas that grow in the same region or finding a tea from a region that you have never tried that may have the similar aromas and flavors.
This is an area where there is no destination, the fun is in the journey and it never has to end. Teas will change with each season and skilled teamasters are always exploring new techniques. We are always happy to make suggestions based on your taste, or you may utilize our search by flavor and aroma as well as region. We look forward to sharing great tea with you and being part of your journey! Cheers!