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. ★★★
People drink wine for the same reason that I drink tea: they enjoy the feeling it gives them. Wine makes you giddy then sleepy; tea makes you relaxed but focussed. This book is a layman’s introduction to all aspects of wine (the history, production, geography, chemistry, and the culture that surrounds drinking wine). An upper-class book would pretend that the enjoyment of wine comes mostly from the taste, but Introducing Wine makes no pretensions—undertones of “isn’t it fun to get drunk?” are to be found throughout.
I knew nothing about wine and so learned a lot from this book. I learned that, like tea, there are hundreds of wines produced worldwide in both the “new” and “old” worlds. Types and tastes vary dramatically, and I was impressed by the author’s “taste wheel” diagrams on pages 13 and 18. They humble my Tea Types diagrams.
Is wine any healthier than grape juice? I still don’t know. The benefits of alcohol that the author talks about could actually be a direct result of feeling more relaxed, not of the alcohol itself. If that’s the case, then healthier forms of relaxation (e.g. exercise) could be better for your body than drinking wine. I think I’m right.
The author seems to encourage binge-drinking. I’m not blaming the author; I’m just criticising heavy-drinking culture. On page 10, he writes:
“you buy them, and you drink them, and then you buy some more. Just one taste is enough to get some people hooked for life”.
On page 59, he suggests pondering the restaurant wine menu over a glass of house wine, then ordering a second bottle after the one you ordered is finished. (Do the math: that’s binge-drinking). On page 64, he omits the word “maximum” from “recommended maximum intake” to imply that drinking 375 ml (that’s over half a bottle of wine) every day is a good idea, as if alcohol is as vital as your daily 90 mg of vitamin C. I strongly disagree.
I’m glad I don’t drink wine. I much prefer tea. Tea doesn’t need “a humidity-controlled cabinet or a purpose-built cellar installed under your house” for storage (page 67). It doesn’t give you a hangover (page 108) and it’s cheaper, healthier and more polite than wine, too. Unlike wine, tea helps you to work and relax. I much preferred The Story of Tea to this book.
Most amusingly, I learned the 3 things that constitute a “good-tasting wine”:
the packaging (fancy packaging tricks your taste-buds; that’s the placebo effect in action);
the price (the more expensive, the better it tastes; that’s the placebo effect again);
the taste itself (but only to a certain extent; most people can’t tell the difference between “good” and “very good”, especially when they’re drunk).
Introducing Wine glosses over the dangers of alcohol consumption and miscommunicates the benefits. It’s flattering of a potentially hazardous product, and I think that’s irresponsible. But that’s not really the book’s fault, since the book’s target audience (wine drinkers) would disapprove of experts saying anything else. Considering I neither like nor drink wine, three stars is very generous. Wine-drinkers, however, might give this book five. ★★★
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.★★
Fragrant and special. Do not consume daily.
Black tea* » Indian** » Ceylon teas (Sri Lanka), ★★★
Earl Grey is a Sri Lankan (Ceylon) tea blended with highly-fragrant bergamot oil.
The blending process is crucial to the final taste, and every tea manufacturer will blend their Earl Grey differently. This blend, from T2 in Australia, is particularly pungent.
Unfortunately, bergamot oil is slightly toxic. Studies have shown that it interferes with any medicines you might be taking, and makes your skin blush and sunburn more easily. Check this example from Wikipedia:
In one case study, a patient who consumed four litres of Earl Grey tea per day reported muscle cramps, which were attributed to the function of the bergapten in bergamot oil as a potassium channel blocker. The symptoms subsided upon reducing his consumption of Earl Grey tea to one litre per day.
I thus remove two stars. Drink it only occasionally.
That said, Earl Grey pairs well with either milk (best in winter) or a slice of lemon (very refreshing in summer). It suits traditional, British tea/garden party in summer, and ices well, too!
I’m don’t usually support adulterated tea (see my reviews of Gorgeous Geisha or Ginger Baimudan) but I do like Earl Grey. This is one of few tea-innovations that, taste-wise, the West should be proud of—even if it isn’t good for your health. ★★★
* It’s technically not a Scented Tea because the fragrances have been blended with the leaf and not infused.
** The “Indian” branch of my Tea Types 2012 chart represents teas from the Indian subcontinent (of which Sri Lanka and three Indian regions are all sub-categories). It’s geographically rational, but politically wrong. I do this because tea trees don’t care about politics.
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. ★★★★★
Darjeeling’s cousin. Light, fruity and heavily-oxidised for an oolong.
Oolong tea » Traditional » Taiwan, ★★ Also known as: 东方美人茶, Dongfang Meiren Cha
Oriental Beauty is very highly oxidised, with a few furry tips included. The dry leaf looks a little like two teas blended together. And the taste more closely resembles a light, fruity black tea (such as Darjeeling) than an oolong. A quick look at this tea’s Wikipedia page helps us to explain why:
“Dongfang meiren is the chhiⁿ-sim tōa-phàⁿ (青心大冇) cultivar grown without pesticides to encourage a common pest, the tea green leafhopper (Jacobiasca formosana), to feed on the leaves, stems, and buds. These insects suck the phloem juices of the tea stems, leaves, and buds, producing monoterpene diol and hotrienol which give the tea its unique flavor. The buds then turn white along the edges which gives the tea its alternate name, white tip oolong. The insect bites start the oxidation of the leaves and tips and add a sweet note to the tea.” — Wikipedia.
I can feel the muscatel flavour (reminiscent of grape skin), and a fruitiness similar to that of fruit infusions (or “fruit teas”) in later brews. The medium-tannin, low-caffeine taste lasts for many hours on your tongue after drinking.
Oriental Beauty would appeal to playful tea drinkers. These are the tea-drinkers who like to add fruit, nuts, popcorn and milky flavours to the leaf, or even create their own tea-blends. In producing this tea, the farmers have done exactly that: they’ve introduced insect species with the specific intention of altering the tea’s flavour. Personally, I prefer simplicity.
I’ll give this tea two stars, but those who prefer black teas, dark teas, fruit teas and rooibos infusions could possibly give it all five. ★★
First, you’ll notice a milk chocolatey taste and mouthfeel. It’s pleasant and would handle lemon or milk and sugar very well. Traditional, British tea-drinkers would love this Ceylon.
Second, you’ll feel a very slight smokiness that becomes a little more evident in later brews (as the sweetness wanes). It’s not overpoweringly smokey—it’s not a smoked tea. By comparison, the smokey taste is on a similar level to that of Gunpowder Green (another unsmoked tea).
I have no clue as to what those letters in “Ceylon FBOPFEXSP” stand for. That’s not because I don’t understand the grading nomenclature, but because there is no such acronym for describing a grade of tea. Google the acronym on its own and you’ll be directed to the product page for my local tea store, T2. I’m wondering whether “Ceylon FBOPFEXSP” is just another clever marketing trick by T2. Bless them.
I would definitely buy this tea. ★★★★
* the “Indian” branch of my Tea Types 2012 chart represents teas from the Indian subcontinent (of which Sri Lanka and three Indian regions are all sub-categories). It’s geographically rational, but politically wrong. But tea trees don’t care about politics.
Overwhelmingly thick, smooth and fragrant. Pralines and crème liqueurs. Scented tea » Jasmine » Traditional, ★★★
I never expected a traditional jasmine tea to have such a heavy scent. Yet, I feel a powerful praline and crème liqueur taste in this brew.
I say “liqueur” because the vapour feel (茶气) is thick and heavy, rather like breathing in over a shot of alcohol. It’s unique to find such a deep aroma in tea.
The jasmine scent here is a rich one, not a light, floral one. The aroma closer resembles praline than flowers—again, unusual for a jasmine tea.
It’s a good-quality tea, and many people would love it. But the 茶气 is just too heavy for me to enjoy regularly. While the overly-heavy aroma dissuades me from buying White Monkey Jasmine, there are plenty of people who would select it especially for that trait. ★★★
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. ★★★★
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:
Sencha (煎茶) — a steamed Japanese tea with a fresh seaweed flavour
Dry rice (干米) — gives a roasted, nutty, popcorn flavour which dominates the brew (these first two ingredients together constitute Genmaicha).
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. ★★★★
Not as good as they look. Scented tea » Jasmine » Modern, ★★★
Maybe I didn’t brew these right. They have very little taste.
Jasmine Pearls (Buddha’s Tears) are tight, hand-rolled ‘pearls’ that open when brewed. The ‘pearls’ looks beautiful when it’s dry (when you can see their two-tone colour—a mixture of tender buds and young leaves), and wet, when they extend their long, spindly leaves vertically in the glass.
Brew around 3 grams of this tea (that’s about 25 pearls—I weighed them) in a tall glass. Don’t obstruct the leaves (with a filter or tea infuser); just brew them directly. These leaves won’t float because they’re packed so densely—so they’ll stay away from your lips when drinking! Do not follow T2‘s directions, who recommend “4-5 pearls per cup”.
Jasmine Pearls (Buddha’s Tears) is similar to Jade Ring Jasmine in that it looks good but is uninteresting to drink. I’d prefer to drink Rolling Clouds (a green tea) or, better still, Organic China Jasmine, whose leaf isn’t rolled, but tastes better than all of the above. Maybe I care too much about taste. ★★★
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. ★★★★★