Category Archives: Green tea

Green tea: Mao Feng

Mao Feng

Too expensive and too light.
Green tea » Chinese teas » Oven-dried, ★★★
Also known as: Dancing Mao Feng, 毛峰

Mao Feng traditionally comes from the Yellow Mountain region in China. “Mao” (毛) means “hair”, which represents the curled, brittle leaf structure, and “Feng” (峰) means “peak”, which refers to Mao Feng’s mountainous place of origin. Despite its delicate taste, Mao Feng is a rather common green tea in China, and its price tag is never excessive.

This particular Mao Feng, though, sells for $28 per 50 grams in Australia—a price that 3-star quality doesn’t justify. Tannin is more prominent than caffeine, and there’s no lasting sweetness at all. Mouthfeel is restricted to the lips and the tip of the tongue, and the usual back-of-the-throat warming feeling (茶气) is completely absent in this Mao Feng variety. All the flavours thus seem dull, or muted.

If you’re looking for a similar tea that’s both better and cheaper, then try the lively, fruity Bi Luo Chun (碧螺春) instead. ★★★

Green tea: Chinese Sencha

Chinese Sencha

Tastes like burned raspberries. Nothing like Sencha at all.
Green tea » Japanese » Sun-grown, ★★
Also known as: 中国煎茶 or, misleadingly, ‘Sencha’

This tea is a (cheaper) Chinese version of the Japanese classic, Sencha.

Japanese Sencha is wonderful. I gave it five stars and described it as, “Light, refreshing and minty-cool.” Unfortunately, this Chinese imitation is incomparable with the real deal.

First, the leaf is too yellow. It looks more like it’s been roasted than steamed. This is backed up by the lack of a light, vegetal flavour when you drink it—instead, I get a thick, smooth, berry flavour in my mouth. It’s drinkable, but it’s not Sencha.

Secondly, this tea has unpleasant burned undertones. This may have arisen during the steaming process, when the tiniest leaves (which are actually just powder) fall through and touch something hot. Dust from inside the steamer might then have been swept into the tea.

I brewed this tea at 66 °C and it still tasted too much of tannin. I didn’t enjoy this tea, but I did learn the importance of terroir by drinking it. I love Sencha, and you probably will too, as long as you get the real deal from Japan. Never buy Chinese Sencha. ★★

 

Green tea: Japanese Sencha

Japanese Sencha

Light, refreshing and minty-cool.
Green tea » Japanese » Sun-grown, ★★★
Also known as: 煎茶, Super Sencha

Sencha, or 煎茶 (literally “steamed tea”) constitutes 80% of the tea drunk in Japan. That’s understandable—it’s a very good, yet moderately-priced tea that’s uncomplicated enough for everyday consumption.

The warm, kelpy flavour we’d expect of a steamed, Japanese tea is masked in this by a unique minty flavour. The result is cool and refreshing, not warm and vegetal.

Compare this tea with Chinese-grown Sencha (to be reviewed tomorrow) to see the difference terroir makes to a tea.

Like millions of Japanese, you could make this your everyday green tea. ★★★★★

 

Green tea: Biluochun

Biluochun

Tippy and delicate with light citrus notes. An everyday green tea.
Green tea » Chinese » Basket-fired » Tender leaf, ★★★★
Also known as: 碧螺春, Pi Lo Chun, Green Snail Spring, 吓煞人香, Xiasharenxiang

Biluochun is a lighter green tea with a yellowish green liquor (I’m going to start using the word liquor, 茶汤 in Chinese, to describe what I used to call the ‘brew’). The dry leaves are long, curled and so delicate that they snap easily when you pick them up.

Some people note ‘chesnuts’ and ‘citrus’ among the aromas present. Biluochun tastes light with hints of sweetness, and it doesn’t bitter easily.

Biluochun is another delicate green tea suitable for everyday drinking. ★★★★

Green tea: Organic Genmaicha with Matcha

Organic Sencha Sprinkles

Toy!
Green tea » Japanese » Shade-Grown, ★★★★
Also known as: 抹茶入り玄米茶, Organic Sencha Sprinkles

Genmaicha with Matcha is actually three products mixed together:

  1. Sencha (煎茶) — a steamed Japanese tea with a fresh seaweed flavour
  2. Dry rice (干米) — gives a roasted, nutty, popcorn flavour which dominates the brew (these first two ingredients together constitute Genmaicha).
  3. Matcha (抹茶) — powdered Gyokuro, which gives a cloudy, sweet, invigorating dew-like infusion that’s extremely nutritious. I love Matcha!

The first brew is fluorescent green and tastes of Matcha (sweet dew). The powder then washes off the bright green rice pieces almost immediately, revealing their natural brown colour—you’ll also see them puff up as they absorb water.

The second brew is less sweet and more kelpy. The brew looks a little less cloudy, but still has a fluorescent green tinge from the Matcha that hid somewhere in the Sencha leaves.

Subsequent brews taste of Genmaicha, then eventually just of dry rice pieces, which survive seemingly infinite brewing—or until you eat them. This tea just keeps changing in your cup.

This is a fun tea, a plaything, and is more interesting than Genmaicha on its own. But even though Genmaicha with Matcha has a long history in Japan, I think this tea is too complicated for everyday consumption. For everyday consumption, choose Longjing, Meng Ding Huang Ya or Biluochun instead. ★★★★

Green tea: Matcha

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. ★★★

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. ★★★★

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. ★★

Green tea: Genmaicha

Genmaicha Sencha

Like nibbling on sweet, roasted popcorn. Or potatoes & seaweed.
Green tea » Japanese » Sun-grown, 
Also known as: 干米茶

Think lightly-buttered popcorn mixed with grass and hazelnuts. Genmaicha is a Japanese Sencha mixed with toasted rice pieces which add an earthy, slightly vegetal taste to the tea—they taste rather like a buckwheat infusion I tasted in Sichuan. The Sencha base is smooth and balances the rice very well.

The rice floats but the tea sinks. If you brew this directly in a mug (or bowl, as I did), you’ll end up chewing on too many toasted pieces of rice: they arrive in your mouth before the tea does. Instead, I suggest brewing the tea gongfu style and nibbling on the rice when you’re finished drinking, once it’s soft.

Genmaicha is a fun tea. I love breathing over the bowl and inhaling Genmaicha‘s nutty cinema-foyer aroma. The popped rice brings earthiness and a hint of sweetness, and the Sencha brings a smooth, steamed (read ‘kelpy’) taste to balance it. Despite being one of Japan’s cheapest teas, it’s certainly one of the most popular Japanese teas among non-Japanese. ★★★

Green tea: Gorgeous Geisha

Quality Japanese Sencha masquerading disappointingly as a fruit infusion.
Green tea » Japanese » Sun-grown, ★★

For me, ‘sweetness’ is an inseparable part of ‘fruitiness’. We can’t bear to eat fruit unless it tastes sweet. But after pleasing the nose with its punchy strawberries-and-cream (I’ll call it a “Wimbledon”) aroma, Gorgeous Geisha disappoints the palate by failing to deliver on its promise of fruit. This tea doesn’t taste of fruit—it’s not even sweet— and it doesn’t contain any real fruit despite listing “strawberries” in the ingredients list. Lying Geisha.

Disappointing taste aside, Gorgeous Geisha at least makes you feel good. the fruity overtones are carried on a good-quality Japanese Sencha which brews with light body and no bitterness.

If nothing else, Gorgeous Geisha is a lesson that we should always try tea before we buy it. Real fruit infusions should be very sweet and slightly sour, served in tiny cups and, as the name suggests, made with real fruit! Gorgeous Geisha is a quality Japanese green tea masquerading disappointingly as a fruit infusion. And I disapprove. Drink a fruit infusion instead. ★★