Monthly Archives: September 2012

Tea Types Poster 2012

Tea Types 2012 [jameskennedybeijing] r
Tea Types Poster 2012. Click to enlarge.
I’ve revamped my most popular blog post, Amazing Tea Taxonomy. This new version has corrections, additions and deletions as outlined below:

  • Korean teas have been deleted
  • Japanese and Indian teas have been expanded
  • Scented teas and some Chinese green teas have been rearranged
  • And many teas have been renamed according to more popular nomenclature.

This is a work-in-progress so I still welcome all feedback. Share. Comment. Enjoy • jameskennedybeijing

Made on iMindmap 6 Ultimate for Mac •

Green tea: Matcha


Feels like green creatine.
Green tea » Japanese » Shade-Grown, ★★★★★
Also known as: 抹茶

Brewed simply in a glass with a spoon, Matcha reminded me of taking creatine powder that doesn’t quite dissolve in water. I usually care deeply about how tea is brewed, but Matcha needed too much specialist equipment, so I went without. The right-sized bowl and the hand-made Matcha whisk sell for over $80 per set here in Melbourne so I didn’t buy them. I used a spoon and my usual tea-glass, and had what felt like an energy drink that was unpleasant to swallow.

Brewed as part of a beautiful, calming Matcha ceremony, though, this tea is totally different. The gentle, meticulous process of preparing Matcha feels like meditation. Using the appropriate equipment (the right-sized bowl and the hand-made bamboo whisk) give the Matcha a pleasantly smooth mouthfeel with a froth that amplifies the flavour of the drink (rather like that of espresso coffee). Whisking the Matcha properly also removes all the unpleasant, tiny clumps of tea-powder that a teaspoon would fail to remove. The ceremony makes this tea worth two more of my stars.

Watch the a demonstration of the ceremony here:

Watch the ceremony itself here:

The fact that it’s shade-grown and then powdered means that it’s richer in everything (antioxidants, caffeine, catechins, vitamins and protein—yes, protein) than all other teas. It’s a natural energy drink that stimulates you much more than brewed teas because you’re effectively swallowing all of the leaf.

Matcha can be brewed two ways: thick (濃茶, koicha) and thin (薄茶, usucha). Methods of each preparation method are detailed here.

The Matcha ceremony is worthwhile. Even if you don’t kneel on the floor and brew it in traditional dress, at least fork out a good Matcha set to do this drink justice. Matcha sets are $80 in stores, or just $25 on eBay. ★★★★★

Green tea: Gyokuro

Gyokuro (玉露)

The refreshing, spinachy precursor to Matcha (a five-star tea).
Green tea » Japanese » Shade-Grown, ★★★
Also known as: 玉露, Jewel Dew, Jade Dew.

Gyokuro and its powdered form, Matcha, are acquired tastes.

The first thing you’ll notice about Gyokuro is its unusually dark green colour. Gyokuro is produced from shade-grown tea plants, which increase their chlorophyll content to compensate for low levels of sunlight. The result is a very dark, spinachy, vegetal tea that’s much richer in nutrients than many sun-grown teas (that’s most teas).

Gyokuro and Matcha both taste vegetal and kelpy, and the brews are identically fluorescent green. Because the Matcha is powdered, and the Gyokuro leaves are so brittle, pieces of both of these teas inevitably escape your filter and enter the brew. Brewed directly in a cup (as I did), both Gyokuro and Matcha teas can feel like medicine; but brewed properly, with the appropriate whisk and ritual ceremony, both of of them can be delicious. See the ceremony demonstrated, then performed, in my next post.

Gyokuro is slightly spinachy with a dew-like, sweet aftertaste. It has a fascinating leaf shape, leaf colour and infusion colour, but still lacks the uniqueness and ritual importance of Matcha. It’s an interesting tea, but take Matcha instead if you can. ★★★

Black tea: Qimen Gongfu

Ning Hong Jing Hao

More refined stimulating breakfast brew that’s still as light as Rooibos.
Black tea » Chinese » Anhui Qimen teas, ★★★★★
Also known as: 祁门功夫茶, Ning Hong Jing Hao, Keemun/Qimen Congou/Gongfu (or any combination).

I’ve been lucky enough to receive not just Qimen Hongcha, which is a great tea, but also this Qimen Congou, which is the finest grade of Qimen available. Qimen Hongcha uses only the smallest, most tender leaves, and the dry leaf has a more powerful aroma than Qimen Hongcha.

Brewed side-by-side, the liquors (tea liquids) look exactly the same (amber or honey-coloured). The aroma of the Qimen Congou, however, is more floral and less woody than the Qimen Hongcha—even though both teas are very similar, and very light. It’s only by comparing these two five-star teas side-by-side that I can acknowledge their subtle differences in taste.

Qimen Congou is a little lighter, has more floral notes and a subtle dark chocolate aftertaste. The sweet aftertaste (回甘) is stronger in this tea than in Qimen Hongcha.

Nomenclature tip:

功夫 = Congou = Gongfu = Kung Fu = anything that’s done particularly well (including martial arts and tea).

Given a choice between the two teas, I’d choose the Qimen Congou every time. But each of these teas is delightful on its own. I recommend buying the Qimen Hongcha or buying both and brewing them simultaneously. Qimen Hongcha and Qimen Congou sell for $11 and $22 in Melbourne, respectively. ★★★★★

Scented tea: Organic China Jasmine

Organic China Jasmine

Well-rounded. No bitterness, no perfume. Robust enough to stand hot water.
Scented tea » Jasmine » Traditional, ★★★★★

I love this tea. Organic China Jasmine reminds me of when my Mum came to visit in Beijing (that’s the last time I drank it).

This morning, I compared two jasmine teas: Jasmine Pearls (Buddha’s Tears) and Organic China Jasmine. Both were brewed in identical shot-glasses for exactly two minutes.

I think Organic China Jasmine tastes much better. The taste is softer and sweeter than that of Jasmine Pearls (Buddha’s Tears), probably because the leaves are much smaller, and it’s prepared from zaobei leaves instead of green tea leaves.

Small, tender tea leaves tend to have more flavour. They are also more nutritious and more expensive than big ones (think how baby corn is sweeter and more nutritious than full-size corn—and more expensive, too.) The small leaves in Organic China Jasmine are more tender and delicate than those of Jasmine Pearls (Buddha’s Tears), so I’m surprised that it sells for about half the price. Even though leaves of the latter are hand-rolled into beautiful ball shapes, the former is larger volumetrically when packed, which, I’m told, makes it the more presentable option as a gift. Organic China Jasmine wins all round.

True jasmine teas (such as this Organic China Jasmine) are made from zaobei, a specially-prepared leaf distinctly different from the other six types of tea (white, yellow, green, oolong, black and dark teas). Zaobei leaf is designed not only to absorb a lot of jasmine flavour, but also to withstand the high water temperatures required to release that jasmine flavour without creating bitterness in the tea. Zaobei is sometimes referred to as the ‘seventh type of tea’ for its uniqueness (see my Tea Types 2012 diagram for a graphic representation). Artificial (modern) jasmine teas, on the other hand, can sometimes taste of perfume—this one doesn’t.

I’m very pleased with this tea. It sells for $14 per 100g in Melbourne (460 RMB per 500g) and is totally worth it—for yourself or as a gift. ★★★★★

See also my review of Jasmine Pearls (Buddha’s Tears) on jameskennedybeijing.

Green tea: Jade Ring Jasmine

Jade Ring Jasmine

Tastes too weak.
Scented tea » Jasmine » Traditional,  ★★

Dry leaf Jade Ring Jasmine has no fragrance but the leaf shape intrigues me.

Brewed as described on the packaging, this tea looks like water. It has no flavour and no aroma but does carry hints of a fudge-like aftertaste.

Vendor’s brewing directions: “Place 4-5 rings into a cup. Pour over water at 80 degrees Celsius and brew for at least 7 minutes. For a pot, use 4 rings per cup.”

Four to five rings looked like too little, so I decided to brew this tea my own way, as described below:

jameskennedybeijing’s brewing directions: Place 15-20 rings into a cup. Pour over water at 80 degrees Celsius and brew gongfu style.

Brewed stronger, the broth is still almost colourless. There is a feint aroma, but it isn’t one of jasmine. The sweet aftertaste is replaced by a bizarrely burned, smoky flavour, which is interesting but not pleasant. I prefer brewing according to the vendor’s instructions.

Instead of this tea, I recommend Rolling Clouds for its leaf shape (great for gifts), and Organic China Jasmine for its flavour (great for drinking at home). Jasmine Pearl (Buddha’s Tears) has a balance of both characteristics (taste and interesting leaf shape), yet has a much higher price tag to match.

I definitely wouldn’t buy Jade Ring Jasmine. Nor would I send it as a gift. Maybe I just haven’t yet learned to brew it properly? ★★

Green tea: “Rolling Clouds”

Rolling Clouds

A great gift tea, or a talking point to brew with guests.
Green tea » Chinese » Basket-Fired » Pearl leaf balls, ★★★

This tea’s obvious selling point is its shape. These beautiful, 1-cm, hand-rolled balls resemble calligraphic ink swirls on a page, or, as the name suggests, Rolling Clouds. To my liking, this tea is one of the few unfurling tea varieties that isn’t flavoured with flowers.

Brewed, this tea tastes slightly sweet and slightly floral, but otherwise unremarkable. Its speciality, again, is its leaf shape, which serves not only as a talking point, but also slows down the unfurling of the leaves, giving rise to a longer-lasting brew (耐泡). This makes Rolling Clouds an ideal catalyst for an afternoon of conversation with friends and family. Note that the brew is exceptionally light in colour, but not in taste.

If anyone knows the Chinese name for this tea, then please let me know. The best I’ve found is a Russian website that calls it “卷云”, but that sounds a little inauthentic to me.

I wouldn’t buy this tea for myself, but I would buy it as a gift. I’d also bring it with me when visiting family or friends. ★★★

Green tea: Longjing

Long Jing

Grassy, nutty everyday tea (with surprising hints of cream and chocolate!)
Green tea » Chinese » Pan-Fired » Tender leaf » West Lake Dragon Well, ★★★★★
Also known as: 西湖龙井, Lung Ching, Dragon Well.

I love Longjing tea. During the Olympic Games in 2008, I visited Longjing village, which spans several valleys just a short bus ride to the west of Hangzhou. Tea-farmers let me wander through the hillside plantations, even eat a few leaves, then come back to their veranda for a tea-tasting session. Perfect!

The showed me three grades of Longjing tea, priced at 10, 30 and 50 RMB per 50 grams (about $3, $9 and $15 per 100g, respectively). Each one was brewed in a separate glass, and they showed me the differences between the rougher, more astringent grades and the tender, finer grades with intact, uniform leaves. The cheaper grades, they said, were suitable for everyday personal consumption, and the finer grades should be chosen if you’re buying it as a gift.

I conversed, deliberated and walked away with about half a kilo of tea, which lasted me for an entire year of undergraduate study!

Today’s Longjing tea-tasting session was much less remarkable. There was only one grade available at my local tea vendor, T2. (Unfortunately, they don’t brew tea in-store; nor do they have a veranda overlooking the tea plantation. Never mind.) I noted the classic grassy, nuttiness that I love about Longjing, but also found hints of a creamy, chocolatey finish in T2’s variety. The nuttiness was also more accentuated than usual. Maybe the taste difference can be attributed to differences in the water (Melbourne tap water vs. Nongfu Spring).

Longjing is an everyday green tea. In fact, it’s the #1 most popular tea in China. Millions of factory workers, taxi drivers, builders and students carry large flasks of Longjing tea with them, which they can re-brew with hot water all day. I’ll likely be taking this tea to university next year, too. Half a kilo should do. ★★★★★

Green tea: Young Hyson

Young Hyson (Rain Tea)

As refreshing as equatorial rain.
Green tea » Chinese » Basket-Fired » Chunmee (“Hyson”) teas, ★★★★
Also known as: 雨茶, Rain tea

Young Hyson is the most prized tea in the Chunmee family of green teas. What makes Young Hyson unique is that it’s picked “before the rains begin”, i.e. while the leaves are still tender and relatively high in nutrients (think how “baby vegetables” are always sweeter than the bigger ones). Production volume is therefore low and Young Hyson is more expensive than the other, more mundane Chunmee teas. It sells for $11 per 100g here in Melbourne.

Chunmee is a family of teas also known as “Hyson” teas. Phillip Hyson was an English tea merchant who was one of the first to import these teas to the UK. Chunmee, strangely, is called 眉茶 (méichá) in Chinese.

To clarify:

Tea family: 眉茶 = Chunmee = Hyson teas = Eyebrow teas.

Tea: 雨茶 = Yucha = Young Hyson = Rain tea.

The latter (tea) is the finest specimen of the former (category of teas), picked before the rains begin.

Young Hyson is sometimes graded further into subdivisions (such as First, Second and Third Young Hyson). I have never seen these subdivisions in tea markets and have therefore omitted them from my Tea Taxonomy diagram.

To complicate things further, Young Hyson dates back to the 17th century, when it had a pearl leaf shape (珠茶) rather than today’s eyebrow leaf shape, and was thus not a Chunmee at all.

Tea Taxonomy 2012 Snippet [jameskennedybeijing]
I am about to update my Tea Taxonomy diagram with a more comprehensive, more visually-pleasing version. Last year’s Tea Taxonomy diagram is still by far my most popular blog post! Click to view (the old one).
Young Hyson tastes robust but not overpowering. It survives many brews (耐泡) and develops a little more sweetness in later brews. The dry leaf colour is unique, too, with a slight grey-cyan tinge similar only to that of Ginseng Gunpowder. Very unique.

This tea’s dewy-sweetness feels as refreshing as warm, equatorial rain, when torrential downpours bring out vegetal aromas from the forest floor. Young Hyson stands out among the more mundane Chunmee teas as a higher-grade, more pungent variety.

Young Hyson is another refreshing and robust all-day green tea. ★★★★

Black tea: Qimen Hongcha

Qimen Hongcha

Stimulating breakfast brew that’s as light as a Rooibos tisane.
Black tea » Chinese » Anhui Qimen teas, ★★★★★
Also known as: 祁门红茶, Keemun, 祁红, Qihong.

Qimen Hongcha was the original “English Breakfast Tea” before it became too expensive for the mass market. The British purchased so much of this tea in the 19th century that the price rocketed within a couple of years after they first imported it. Today, Qimen Hongcha tea costs around $10 per 100g—a price that is highly justified.

Qimen Hongcha is delightful to drink. It has light, sweet, floral overtones, but (like Rooibos) lacks undertones completely. This is one of few teas where I can clearly taste the water in the brew! There’s no astringency or bitterness, and even though many tasters note smokiness in the brew, I couldn’t feel any. The subtle fruitiness resembles dark, sugary fruits like figs and sultanas, whose lingering aftertaste develops charmingly on the palate.

Qimen Hongcha makes a great breakfast tea. It awakens you without feeling heavy—in fact, it’s as light on the palate as a Rooibos tisane. Brew it before a day’s work and you’ll feel calm and alert, with a pleasantly sweet, lingering aftertaste that stays until lunch. I love it.

I tend to prefer white, green, and the greener oolong teas, but there are a few more oxidised teas, such as Fenghuang DancongDejoo Estate Assam and this tea, Qimen Hongcha, that even I am in love with. ★★★★★

Green tea: “Green Rose” by T2

Green Rose by T2

Innovation isn’t always good. Add fruit to MUESLI, not to TEA.
Green tea » Japanese » Sun-grown, ★★

I get lots of teas from T2. They stock a good range of teas, and they’ve built a strong, trendy brand around tea, for which I thank them for their hard work greatly. They also give out free samples.

However, some of their products are a little too trendy. It feels as though someone in the T2 lab has been experimenting with mixing bowls without paying full consideration to the people who’ll actually buy and drink these oddities. I like Sencha. I also like fruit. But mixing them together is disrespectful to all parties involved (especially the ancient Chinese, whose wisdom tells us to consume tea and fruit separately). Remember Gorgeous Geisha, anyone?

The Japanese wouldn’t drink T2’s “Green Rose”, either. Most likely, they’d brew all the foreign objects (currants, mango, papaya and roses) with apples and crystal sugar at 100°C, in what I’ll call a Fruit Infusion.

If I bought this, I would pain-stakingly remove all the oddities and put them in my muesli, then drink the resulting Sencha separately. “Green Rose” by T2 is two decent beverages blended and thus ruined. Like wine and milk. Or coffee and Coke. Don’t buy it. ★★

Turkish Apple & Cinnamon Instant Tisane

Turkish Apple & Cinnamon Instant Tisane

Awful. Hurts teeth and wallet alike.
Tisane, ★

Apple & Cinnamon Instant Tisane is mostly sugar, but at $28 per 500g, it’s 37 times more expensive than sugar. The extortionate price perplexes me because the colours and flavours inside are neither attractive nor expensive to buy. It tastes sweet (that’s the sugar), a little gloopy (that’s the maltodextrin), and hurts my wallet (that’s the ridiculous price tag). Whether it’s cheating customers or treating them like fools, I think this product should be withdrawn from sale. Check the ingredients and I think you’ll agree:

Sugar, citric acid, maltodextrine, vitamin C, anticaking agent, colour, flavour.

I’m happy I didn’t pay any money for this flavoured, coloured sugar. I regret drinking it even though it was free.

Make compote instead. Take eight apples, peel them and chop them into half-inch pieces. Place them into a baking tray with a stick of cinnamon (and nothing else: no water, no sugar). Add a tight-fitting lid and bake the apples until they’re soft—this takes about 30 minutes on a medium heat. Mash them further with a fork and leave them to cool. Eat the resulting compote now or store it sterile and airtight in the fridge for up to five days. This recipe costs about $1. Enjoy. ★

White tea: Bai Mudan with Ginger

Bai Mudan with Ginger

Should really be two drinks: Bai Mudan and a ginger tisane.
White tea » Fujian New White Teas, ★★
Also known as: 白牡丹姜茶, Ginger White Peony.

Bai Mudan with Ginger is a blend of Bai Mudan and tiny, dried ginger pieces that are almost invisible to the naked eye.

The tea leaves give a fresh, white chocolate aroma and have a smooth, white-chocolatey mouthfeel when brewed. Bai Mudan has the characteristic “sunshine taste” of all white teas, but the aged leaves of this tea have a unique dryness (comparable to that found in dry white wine), rather than the lightness of more exquisite white teas such as White Flowery Pekoe or Silver Needles.

The added ginger pieces are so small that their fragrance is almost completely exhausted after the first brew. Tastewise, notes of dry, warming ginger are almost completely absent from the third brew. It’s these later, gingerless brews that I prefer—ideally, the ginger would never have been added.

Personally, I think Bai Mudan and a ginger tisane should be two separate drinks. Even though the ingredients have similar effects on the body (both make you feel warm and dry), I think this strange Western habit of adding fruit and fragrances to tea is neither necessary nor respectful (to the leaves, nor to ancient tea culture). It always feels good to drink a Bai Mudan, but like many of the teas I’ve reviewed, I wouldn’t pay any money for this tea. ★★

Black tea: Second Flush Darjeeling


Like slooooooowly eating a purple grape.
Black tea » Indian » Darjeeling, ★★★★

Look at my Tea Taxonomy diagram and you’ll see that Darjeeling tea is a special colour. I’ve coloured it cyan (representing Oolong tea) despite placing it in the red (Indian Black tea) subcategory. Why did I do that?

Darjeeling is no ordinary black tea. First, unlike most black teas, it’s only partially oxidised, making it technically an oolong tea and not a black tea at all. Second, unlike most other black teas, Darjeeling tea estates cultivate the small-leaved Chinese tea bush (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis or 茶树), rather than the large-leaved Assam tea tree (Carmellia sinensis var. assamica or 古茶树). The result is a unique “muscatel” flavour and an intriguing wet-leaf aroma that earns Darjeeling the title of “the Champagne of all teas”.

What is “muscatel”? If you don’t wash the leaves (as I didn’t), the first brew will taste slightly of grape skin (that’s “muscatel”). This slightly astringent flavour (which I don’t particularly like) is replaced by a grapey sweetness in subsequent brews (which I do like). The second brew is the best (that’s the first brew if you wash the leaf), where notes of grape, rose and peach come out to play.

Second pluck Darjeeling is quite tannin-rich, but tannic muscatel yields to a sweet, lingering grapiness after you’ve finished drinking. Drinking this tea is like slooooooowly eating a purple, seeded grape, where the astringency of the skin disappears but the sweetness inside lingers on the tongue. Wet Darjeeling leaves release an overwhelming aroma of crushed grapes.

This special tea deserves special treatment. My tips for brewing Second Flush Darjeeling: (1) wash the leaves (i.e. discard the first brew); (2) don’t brew it too hot (remember it’s an Oolong tea!) and (3) take breaks between brews to allow the sweet grape flavour to emerge. ★★★★

Learn more about Darjeeling teas from this video:

Black tea: Nonaipara Estate Assam

Nonaipara Estate Assam

A refreshing, spring afternoon tea that narrowly escaped being trampled by elephants!
Black tea » Indian » Assam, ★★★★

Nonaipara Estate‘s tea is hearty, fruity, malty and higher in tannin than its sister tea from Dejoo Estate. If the chocolatey taste of Dejoo Estate suits a cold winter morning, then the fruitiness of Nonaipara Estate is best consumed on days that feel like spring.

Characteristic of Assam teas, it’s strong but low in tannin, and only very slightly sweet. It’s a pleasant, high-quality Assam tea but lacks any special, memorable characteristics that might be found in other black teas such as Darjeeling (headiness), Lapsang Souchong (smokiness) or Dejoo Estate (Ferrero Rocher chocolatiness).

I’ve never heard of this tea and there’s very little information about the Nonaipara Estate online so I’m assuming that their production volume is quite low. This could be explained by one article in the Assam Tribune, which tells us that the Nonaipara Estate is frequently plagued by rampaging elephants who forage among the tea bushes (crushing them):

The incident created a furore… frequent trail of death and destruction by the marauding pachyderms, especially in northern Udalguri. The Chief Minister [was]… warned of drastic consequences by the aggrieved people. — Assam Tribune

“Frequent trail of death and destruction by the marauding pachyderms”. We’re lucky to be drinking this tea. ★★★★

Black tea: Dejoo Estate Assam

Dejoo Estate Assam

Like a shot of melted Ferrero Rocher chocolate.
Black tea » Indian » Assam, ★★★★★

Wow. Hot chocolate tea!

Today, I was lucky enough to receive three single-estate Assam teas, and I’m tasting two of them side-by-side right now. I brewed identical amounts of each in identical shot-glasses with identical volumes of water. My trustworthy iPod was used as a timing device (two-minute brew; nothing added).

The first of these teas, the Dejoo Estate, tastes so good that I’ve finished it after writing just one paragraph! I can taste cocoa nibs and hints of berries in my mouth, and my tongue thinks it can feel the roughness of broken hazelnuts. This tea feels like a shot of melted Ferrero Rocher chocolate. I feel very warmed!

Dejoo Estate is regarded as one of the best in the Assam region. The perfect terroir produces a tea that’s strong without being bitter, and fruity-chocolatey without being woody or astringent. I suggest brewing this tea lightly because it’s quite strong; but you could also get away with a medium-strength brew without bringing out any tannins.

I love single-estate teas because we can find subtle differences in flavour between them. Tea-tasting trains our senses to appreciate subtle beauty in all things around us.

While I drink all my teas naked (by that, I mean without milk or sugar), I’d forgive anyone who wanted to add milk—and thus produce a “milky hot chocolate” out of this tea. Drink Dejoo in winter to feel happy and warm. Let its chocolatey taste surprise and intrigue your guests. ★★★★★