Tom's Tea Page
This page has been stolen from Nick Martin on Tea and
adapted for my own nefarious purposes. Most of the reviews are
currently his, but I'll populate the page with mine as I get to it.
Table of Contents
Darjeeling nim says: The word most people use for the flavor
of Darjeeling is "astringent." Other descriptions include "bright",
"light", and "clean". At first, I really didn't like
Darjeeling teas, but one day they all of a sudden became very
tasty. Darjeelings are often considered one of the finest teas;
they go way up in terms of price, and there are a lot
of different estates. This can be quite confusing and intimidating
at first, but don't be afraid to put off a detailed study of
Darjeelings until you've explored a number of other teas. I
Darjeelings are typically divided into "First Flush" and
"Second Flush" based on when they are harvested. First flush
comes after the spring rains, around March, whereas the second
harvest is in the summer. The season of harvest makes a big
difference in terms of flavor! First flush teas are generally lighter
in color and have a "brighter" and often sweeter taste. Second
flush teas are usually darker and are often more rich, complex, or
You can brew fine Darjeelings a little under a full
boil, perhaps at 200°F or so.
Upton TD78: Puttabong Estate SFTGFOP1 Cl. 2007 First Flush.
The leaves for this tea are very green, and have a spicy, peppery smell.
The cup brews to a light amber, and has a sweet, fairly smooth flavor,
with no astringency at all. Only the slightest hint of the pepper
that I noticed in the leaves. Quite good overall.
- Very Darjeeling-like, but a bit mellower. I preferred
these over Darjeeling when I was still acquiring the Darjeeling
Nilgiri A very basic India black. None of the astringency of
Darjeeling, none the maltiness of Assam. Just basic India
black, often with nice subtle flavors.
Assam Typically described as "malty". These are 'pick me up'
sort of teas, typically found at breakfast and often included in
breakfast blends. There are a lot of
Assam estates, with a wide variety of teas, but unlike Darjeeling
they tend to stay fairly reasonably priced.
The standard phrase for Keemuns is "The Burgundy of Tea". I'm not
quite sure what this means. Keemuns tend to be fairly robust and
flavorful, without being overpowering. I find them to be an
excellent default black tea, they are a
staple of my black drinking.
Yunnan teas are generally dark and complex. People often use the
word "peppery" in association with them. For some reason, Yunnans
don't seem to be very popular. I quite like them, and make sure to
keep one in my regular restock pool.
Upton ZY89: Hao Bin Ren.
Very golden leaves. Medium amber cup. Sweet and smooth, not very
peppery, maybe a little smoky. Maybe butterscotch notes?
Maybe worth reordering. (08/23/07)
Imperial Teas Imperial Yunnan Gold.
Rather overpriced, but very very good. The dry leaves are all a
sort of yellow-gold color, meaning the tea is all from the very
tips of the branches. This also means the tea very high in caffeine.
Upton ZY51: Yunnan TGFOP.
One of Karl's
favorites, and I can see why. This is the Yunnan I typically keep on
hand. Very peppery and perhaps a bit smoky too.
Upton ZY64: Organic Yunnan Select Dao Ming.
Upton ZY64: Yunnan Organic Ning Rong.
Smoother and mellower than ZY51 but distinctly less peppery.
Specialteas #507: China Yunnan Imperial.
This tea is smoked over a pine fire. My coworkers call this "Bacon
Tea" because they think it makes the office smell like bacon. It
is a very distinctive tea. I really dig it, although it might be
an acquired taste. This tea is very low in caffeine, and is quite
mellow. This makes it an ideal evening tea. Also, a really good
Other China Blacks
Adagio Golden Needle:
A Fujian black tea, with long, wiry leaves, occasionally golden.
It brews a dark amber cup, with a reasonably rich taste.
Similar to a golden monkey, although not as sweet; not quite as
full-flavored as a good Keemun. Not my favorite instance of this
kind of tea, but it's fine. (08/30/07)
Upton ZK16: Flowery Orange Pekoe:
A Congou black. Medium-dark cup. Has hints of the deeper flavors
you'll find in the Keemuns, but they're fairly subtle. Not bad,
but not on the must-order list.
Upton ZK74: Bai Yun Shan:
A Congou black. Some golden leaves, slighty dusty, with a rich aroma.
Medium-dark cup. A fine, rich taste, slightly sweet, slightly smoky.
Not very complex, but smooth. Inexpensive; may be worth reordering.
Specialteas #593: Emperor's Red:
Handmade in the Fujian province. I've heard several teas termed
"chocolatey", but this is the first one that made me understand the term.
The tea has a very noticeable aroma of chocolate. The tea is very, very
good. It is on my short list.
Specialteas #510: Golden Monkey.
Monkeys are evil! Eeeevil! I generally don't find these as good
as the Keemuns, but will have to retry them at some point.
Specialteas #597: China Red Peony Rosettes (Black Mudan).
Cool form factor, but otherwise unremarkable (but certainly not
bad). The fact that all the leaves are tied together makes it
easy to fish the bundle out of a cup when done brewing if you
don't have a little basket. Of course, I just carry a little tea
basket with me when I travel.
Ceylon Many people would give Ceylon (Sri Lanka to the
rest of the world) its own category. I don't really like Ceylons,
so I stick it in 'Other'. I don't really have a good word for the
taste of Ceylons. They are often blended with other teas or used
as a base. I find Ceylons tend to make good iced teas.
Africa Africa has a few good tea growing regions. The
teas tend to be fairly robust; screwing up brewing or adding
excessive milk or sugar will not ruin the tea. They are also
fairly hearty and full bodied.
Upton TK30: Golden Kenya TGFOP.
Meh. Nothing against it, but I don't think I'll be ordering more
any time soon. Robust, but not too heavy. Pretty decent with a little sugar.
Indonesia Somewhat similar to Africa, Indonesia
(sometimes called Java) teas are full bodied and hearty.
China is the place to be for fine green teas. After a couple
millennia of practice, they get it right. Japan also has some
distinctive teas that are well worth stocking.
For the best Oolong teas, Taiwan is where it is at. China has some
Oolongs that are not bad, and there is the occasionally tasty
Darjeeling Oolong. But for the most part, stick to Taiwan
(Formosa). Unlike black teas (and to a lesser extent green teas), the
most important characteristic of an Oolong is not where it is from,
but rather how oxidized it is. As you may recall, black teas are fully
oxidized, green teas are unoxidized, and Oolongs are in between.
Lung Ching / Long Jing / Dragon Well
As my coworker Chang put it: this is bourgeoisie tea. One of the
most renowned China greens. I really really like Dragon Well. It
is a very low key flavor. Very vegetal (tea-speak for the grassy,
leafy taste), in a good way. Easily one of my favorite teas, and a
good introduction to refined greens. Good Dragon Well can get a
bit pricy, but it is very worth going for a high grade. Dragon
Wells really want to brewed at a very low temperature: 180°F
or less for no more than 3 minutes.
A popular style of China green. The low broad leaves are rolled
into little pellets (different than pearls) which 'explode like
gunpowder' when brewed. Even top grade gunpowders are quite
cheap. The flavoring of Gunpowder teas is less subtle then other
China greens. The liquor is bold and powerful, but not in the way
that a strong black tea is.
Other China Greens
A Japanese classic, and the most popular green tea in Japan. This
tea is rather vegetal, and generally
quite flavorful. Often served in Japanese restaurants. You really
want to keep the temperature and the steep time down, otherwise
you will end up with a bitter, nasty cup.
Upton TJ10: Japanese Sencha.
A very basic Sencha. It is worth a little extra money to move up
the scale from this, however.
- Three random bags of Sencha from Japan. Much better. Very
Another popular Japanese green. Generally very vegetal and often
rather sweet. The plants are grown in the shade.
You should brew at a very low temperature.
Toasted brown rice is added to a base of Sencha
(or occasionally Bancha). The taste is very distinctive -- it tastes
exactly as if there was toasted brown rice added to the tea. This
tea is also often served at Japanese restaurants, only slightly
less often than plain Sencha.
Upton TJ21: Gen-mai Cha.
A quite decent tea. Again, I think a slightly more expensive
version might be a good investment.
Green teas from India's Darjeeling region share many of the
characteristic flavors of the region's black teas, but tend to be
more subtle and low key as one might expect from a green tea.
KTDA Cooperative Whole Leaf Green.
Quite different from the average green tea. Worth at least a
sample pack. Very robust and somewhat sweet, it doesn't have
any of the refined notes of many of the China or Japan
greens but could be a very good everyday green. I think I might
actually order more.
Java Green Gunpowder.
A fairly dark liquor. A little more robust than China
gunpowders. Also, a heavy 'smoky' flavor, much like ZG25.
Many people use words like "nutty", "buttery", and "woody" to
describe Jade Oolongs. The flavor is subtle and complex.
These teas are a staple in my tea
diet. They can get a bit pricy, though.
Another lightly oxidized style, popular in China as well as
Taiwan. I'm less fond of Pouchong style tea, and tend to prefer
the Jade Oolongs. Sometimes described as having a "deeper" flavor.
A very popular style, mostly in China. Sometimes transliterated
Tikuanyin. Fairly green, but not usually vegetal.
As you might expect, this is the category for middle-of-the-road
oolongs. Not mostly oxidized, not lightly oxidized, but somewhat
This is what most people think of when they think of Oolong
tea. Typically a slightly deeper shade of amber liquor, with fairly
Upton TT47: Oolong Fancy Imperial.
Medium sized leaves yield a cup that is light amber in color
Upton TT15: Oolong Fine Grade.
Classic deep oolong flavor. Quite cheap, and a good value. Serious
Oolong fans could do a bit better though.
Specialteas #619: Bai Hao Special Grade Formosa.
You must use a lot of leaf for this tea, otherwise it ends up
rather weak. Overall, quite tasty. Classic oolong flavor, with
many complex notes. This is one of my regular stock items,
although I'm a little less pleased with the most recent batch
(ordered March 2007).
- Upton ZO93: Organic Imperial Bai Hao Oolong. Removed
from Upton Tea's inventory.
Specialteas #191: Poobong Oolong, Black Musk Darjeeling.
This tea lives up to its name. It is both Darjeeling and Oolong.
The flavor is very much Darjeeling, but mellower and subtler
than a black version. The leaf is very loose, so use lots. Also,
brew close to a full boil, perhaps at 200°F.
Upton TT49: Tippy Champagne Oolong Lot A47. Very tasty, but
not tasty enough to justify the (rather large) price.
nim says: It is hard to categorize blended teas, so I'm just going
to list those I've sampled. I tend to prefer single estate teas to
blends, partly because most blends are made from lower quality tea,
but also because blends tend to mask the subtle flavors of
individual teas. That said, there are quite a number of very good
blends, and one would be seriously remiss to skip them altogether.
White Tea Often billed as the most refined tea, White
teas are basically just picked and dried with no other
processing. I'm actually not terribly fond of White teas, and they
tend to be expensive too. Use lots of leaf and brew at a low
Ho-ji Cha is Japanese Bancha tea that has been roasted. The leaves
and the liquor are a sort of brownish color. The tea definitely
tastes like it has been roasted. It is rather hard to describe the
exact flavor. I've heard this called "brown tea".
Pu-Erh teas are very distinctive. Green tea (typically from the
Yunnan area) is placed in damp caves
for many years and allowed to decompose a bit. The resulting tea
is... different. It has a very earthy flavor. Definitely order a
sample before ordering a lot. You can get compressed cakes known as
Tuo-Cha as well as loose leaf. The cakes are a bit stronger and more
flavorful. This tea is used in Chinese medicine as a digestive aid,
especially with greasy or fatty food.
Upton TB02: Leadenhall Street Breakfast Blend.
The leaves are very, very fine, fannings mostly, a blend of Assam
and Ceylon. This is very clearly a hearty, daily-plonk sort of
tea. It doesn't stand alone very well, it's a bit too strong.
It may go well with milk and sugar; I'll have to try that with
the remainder of the sample. It reminds me of the Bewley's
Irish Afternoon tea that my parents gave me recently.
Probably not a reorder, but we'll see how the test-with-milk goes.
Upton TB86: Richmond Park Blend.
A blend of Keemun, Ceylon, and Darjeeling. One of my favorite
blends. The tea used in the blend is
of fairly high quality, and the result is a flavorful and robust
tea. I often pick this one when serving guests who don't really know
what they want other than "black tea".
Upton TB49: Darjeeling-Ceylon Iced Tea Blend.
As the name implies, this makes a damn good iced tea. It tastes
exactly like one thinks iced tea should. It's also OK hot.
Makes a good sweet tea too.
Upton TB75: Baker Street Afternoon Blend.
Keemun, Darjeeling, and a bit of Lapsang Souchong. Very tasty. The
base tea is of high quality, and the resulting liquor is well
rounded, robust, and very pleasant. Another keeper.
Upton TB84: Robert Fortune Blend 41 (Darjeeling-Yunnan).
Upton patrons reviewed this tea quite highly, which got me to try
it. I didn't dislike it, but it didn't rank above either a nice
Darjeeling or a nice Yunnan.
Specialteas #805: Mount Everest Breakfast Blend. The Yunnan
takes the edge off the Assam, resulting in a quite strong but very
drinkable pick-me-up cup.
Upton TB70: Finest Russian Caravan.
Specialteas #815: Smoky Russian Caravan.
Upton TB10: Bond Street English Breakfast Blend.
Upton TB15: Java Blend.
Specialteas #817: Samovar Blend Tsarina.
An interesting blend with both black and green teas. Quite tasty.
Ignore the brewing suggestion, brew a fair bit off a full boil. This
has made my restock list, and is a favorite afternoon tea.
Many people really like "herbal tea". But the name is a misnomer. It
is not tea. It does not come from the same plant as tea, therefore it
is not tea. At best, it can be a pale imitation of tea.
Earl Grey Earl Grey is flavored with bergamot
oil. (Bergamot is a Mediterranean citrus fruit.)
It has a very distinctive taste. The base tea is
usually a China black. There are many many variations on the theme:
green tea base, other flavors to combine with bergamot, etc,
etc. This is one of the few teas I take with cream and sugar. A
wonderful afternoon treat, especially with scones, jam, and clotted
cream. The Brits do get some things right.
Chai is a traditional Indian drink made with tea and various spices
such as cinnamon, clove, cardamom and ginger. The tea is typically
simmered in milk and heavily sweetened. Chai is becoming very trendy
these days. You can brew in water and add milk and sugar afterwards,
but it is well worth trying it the traditional way at least once.
Jasmine A good Jasmine tea is a truly divine
treat. They tend to have a natural sweetness to them that makes a
very good tea for after a meal. Typically, Jasmine teas are
made by tossing jasmine flowers in with the tea during the drying
process. Usually the flowers are
removed afterwards. Sometimes, more than one set of flowers is used,
so you will see tea advertised as "scented five times" or some
such. Jasmines can get a bit pricy.
Upton ZJ90: Guangdong Province Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearl.
Wonderful. One of the best Jasmines I've tasted. The tea comes in
little spherical 'pearls' that are hand-rolled from two leaves and
a bud. The tea unfurls beautifully as it is brewed. A bit pricy,
but well worth it. This tea one of the first teas in my permanent
collection and I expect it will stay there. These seem to be
fairly high in caffeine.
Upton ZJ96: Organic Yu Ya Jasmine.
Quite good. I still prefer the pearls.
Upton ZJ85: China Jasmine Pearls.
Not as good as the premium pearls (ZJ90) and not much cheaper
either. Not to say it is bad tea, just that it is not worth
Teance Hand Tied Jasmine Balls.
From my favorite local tea house in Berkeley, these large spheres
of jasmine tea tied around a red clover blossom are utterly
amazing. They are a bit too expensive for everyday drinking,
even for me. But they make a wonderful gift. They unfurl like
flowers in the pot. Make sure you brew in something transparent to
watch. Oh, and the tea is delicious too.
Upton ZJ60: Organic Black Jasmine Ancient Beauty.
As the name implies, this is a black tea scented with Jasmine. The
base tea is surprisingly good, and the Jasmine is not too
overpowering. That said, I don't think this will make my restock
list. I can't really see myself drinking it regularly. It is a bit
too sweet and heavy for my regular black tea drinking, and it
can't compare to, say, ZJ90 when I'm in the mood for Jasmine.
Other There are a few other random flavored teas that I
quite like. And some that are really gross.
Upton TP40: Rose Congou.
A gentle sweet rose flavor. I'd like to find one with a slightly
nicer base tea.
Specialteas #569: Rose Congou.
Upton TP42: China Rose Special Chun Mee.
A rose flavored green tea. Not bad, but I didn't reorder.
Upton TE21: Monk's Blend.
For a long time, Upton didn't have a Monk's blend, however they
recently added it to their collection. Of
course, their version is different than every other Monk's blend
I've tried, they have a Ceylon Earl Grey mixed with green tea,
instead of black tea with grenadine and vanilla. Their version is
Upton TJ52: Japanese Cherry.
Bleh. Don't bother. It tastes like bubble-gum, in a bad way.
Upton TB54: East Frisian Sunday Tea.
Ewww. This tasted really gross. I'm not if it was the flavoring or
the base tea, or both. I really didn't like it.
Upton TF56: Raspberry.
When I was much younger, I really like Bigelow's "Raspberry Royale" tea
with lots of sugar and milk. I don't any more, and Upton's version
isn't really much better.
That said, non-teas can be caffeine free and often tasty in their
own right. One would be remiss not to keep some on hand for those time
when real tea is just not an option.
A South African Herb. Naturally caffeine free. My favorite non-tea
by a long shot. Rooibos has been becoming very popular these days,
often marketed as "Red Tea" (not to be confused with what the
Chinese call "Red Tea" which is black tea). Rooibos lends
itself well to mixing with other flavors. I'm quite partial to
Rooibos and Lemongrass in the late evening.
Another South African herb. I don't like it as much as Rooibos, but
it is also fairly popular.
An age old herb. Brews a yellow liquor which is fairly sweet and
purported to be very good for helping people sleep. I find it a good
base for herbal blends.
More random herbs to throw in hot water.
Lemon Grass. Lemon grass makes a nice, relaxing brew. Also,
very good for mixing.
Certified Organic Peppermint. Mint is a classic evening
non-tea. Also, very good for mixing. Try with some Rooibos.
People throw a lot of random crap together into herbal blends. A
lot of random crap. Sometimes it's even tasty.
Upton BH75: Chamillo Blend.
Has a chamomile base, but with lots of citrus, fruit and other
flavors. Quite tasty. This the main herbal blend I keep around.
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Copyright 2007 Tom Giordano
Last modified: Tue Aug 21 13:54:04 EDT 2007