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. ★★★
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.★★
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. ★★★★★
A dry, light, white chocolatey infusion. White tea » Fujian New White Teas, ★★★★ Also known as: 白牡丹, [King] White Peony.
Bai Mudan (Chinese: 百牡丹, English translation: White Peony) is incredibly light in weight. A typical three-gram infusion is larger than a heaped tablespoon of this tea. When measuring your teas, pay attention to the density of the loose leaf: one teaspoon of tea can weigh anything from 1 gram (large-leaf white tea) to almost 3 grams (CTC black teas).
I use a digital teaspoon to weigh exactly 3.0 grams of tea for every pot that I brew. Here’s my spoon below:
I also check the water temperature with a thermometer.
The thermometer reveals two things:
that water boils before 100 °C, and that water poured straight from a boiling kettle into a cold cup is only 88 °C.
that once poured, hot water cools very slowly. Hot water in a glass jug without a lid cools by 0.1 °C every five seconds.
I brew each tea for three and a half minutes at the recommended temperatures: 70 °C for green teas, 75 °C for white and yellow teas, 80° C for black and oolong teas, and 90 °C for pu’er teas, fruit infusions, traditionally-scented teas and tisanes. My phone serves as a stopwatch.
This results in perfect brews every time, and allows for fair comparisons of different teas.
Bai Mudan is actually a lower-grade pluck of Silver Needles, although many tea-drinkers prefer the taste of Bai Mudan. The former contains sticks and mature leaves, and is suited for personal consumption, whereas the latter contains the finest, furriest, fluffiest tender buds of the same bush—and is the better choice when sending a tea gift.
It tastes of white chocolate and honeydew melon. The flavours aren’t obvious, and over-brewing will bring out a dry white wine taste, which some people enjoy!
I drink all my teas plain, because I want to enjoy the subtle flavours unhindered by fruits, spices, cream or sugar. With a refined palate, you can taste all of these (fruits, spices, cream and sugar/sweetness), and more flavours, in natural, unadulterated tea. Conclusion: do not add ginger to Bai Mudan.
Bai Mudan is light and voluminous. A normal brew, just three grams, is approximately one flat melon-scoopful of tea leaves. It also tastes very dry, so don’t drink too often. Drink it in combination with Silver Needles to demonstrate the differences between finer and rougher plucks very nicely. ★★★★
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★★★
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. ★★★
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.★★★★★
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.
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.
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. ★★★★
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. ★★
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. ★★★
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. ★★
I love tea. And while studying, drinking and writing about tea, I’ve categorized all the teas you’re ever likely to encounter onto one simple poster. There are thousands more rarer types and subtypes, which you can add yourselves via the comments section. This selection is a great start (and it’s all I’m willing to show you). If you learn only one thing from this diagram, it should be that there are thousands of types of tea. Tetley Pyramid Teabags are just the beginning (overpriced sweepings from the factory floor).
Sources: The Story of Tea, 识茶泡茶品茶 (Chinese book), tea blogs too numerous to list, personal experience (teas I drank) and Baidu.
Darjeeling is coloured ‘teal’ because it is technically a Oolong tea, despite being classified widely as a Black tea.
Black tea is coloured ‘red’ because the Chinese classify tea by the liquor colour rather than the colour of the dried leaves.
Pu’er is sometimes considered a separate category because of its popularity. In which case, the other (non-Pu’er) Dark teas are usually ignored. I’ve chosen to include both Pu’er and non-Pu’er Dark teas in this poster.
There are many more sub-types of each tea. Take Iron Buddha, for example, which has its own characteristics within the class of “Iron Buddha”. Age, oxidation level and unique fragrance are but some of these many characteristics.
Sundried Green teas such as those made for local consumption in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, are coloured ‘white’ because they are technically white teas, despite the production process having been re-evolved as a shortcut to Green tea production. Sundried Green teas are distinguished further from the other Green teas because, like the vast majority of White teas, they usually use large-leaf Assamica subspecies of tree (Chinese: 古茶树; English: “India Bush”).
Modern Flower teas are usually classified as Green, White or Black, depending on the leaf colour. These modern Flower teas are (almost) an existing tea blended with flower or flower essence. However, the traditional method of Flower tea manufacture (via a Zaobei leaf), was totally different from that of any of the other six tea categories. I have therefore included Flower teas as a seventh type of tea (to which some tea-lovers may protest). Be quiet. Drink tea.