Top 10 teas to expand your tea palate

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Market researchers continue to predict the continued rise of tea consumption in the US. Of course, this will mean that a wider audience will come to experience teas, but there are few predictions about the depth of those experiences.

In order to more fully appreciate the hundreds of teas available, here are 10 that will serve as guiding lights and points of comparison. As there can be distinction even between retailers’ teas, it is recommended that you try the same kind of tea from at least 2 different retailers or sources.

The list includes teas from the main 4 categories of tea: white, green, wulong (or oolong) and black.

  1. Silver Needle: this white tea originated in China, although other countries are developing silver needles. Silver needle consists of the downy tips that are light green to silvery color.
  2. Bai Mu Dan (sometimes Pai Mu Tan, White Peony): White Peony is the bridge between white and green teas. It includes more mature green leaves, silvery tips, and the stems that connect the two.
  3. Dragonwell (or Long Jing, Long Ching): This Chinese green is pan-fired and shaped to give it a “grasshopper wing” shape. Fresh long jing has flavors reminiscent of steamed wild rice.
  4. Sencha: A Japanese green. Sencha often resembles emerald green sewing needles. A good sencha, when prepared properly, delivers a creamy or brothy coating in the mouth and brings savory hints of seaweed and sweet spinach notes.
  5. Li Shan: A Taiwanese oolong with fragrant floral scents. Li Shan usually consists of 2 leaves and a tender bud on a stem that is lovingly rolled into a compact ball resembling a small paper wad.
  6. Tie Guan Yin (also Tie Quan Yin or Ti Kuan Yin): While the ali shan offers fragrant flower reminders, tie guan yin has a stronger roasted element with a rich woody or smoky touch. TGY resembles li shan in its paper-wad shape, but is distinguishable by its roasted smell and its browner colors compared to ali shan’s brighter green leaf.
  7. Darjeeling 1st flush: While this Indian tea is usually classified as a black tea, it bears similarities to oolongs. 1st flushes deliver fruit notes of grape and some of the briskness of a black tea.
  8. Golden Monkey comes from Southwest China, the suspected origin the tea plant. The name of this tea comes from the dried leaves that range from gold to a lighter brown. Golden monkey steeps to deliver a black tea liquid with malty, sometimes chocolate tastes.
  9. Keemun: Keemun teas stand as shining examples of Chinese black teas. Several variations exist, most notably keemun mao feng and keemun hao ya, and they offer a range of aromas that extend from chocolate to peach/plum notes.
  10. Puer (also pu’ erh): Puer is unique in its processing. While many teas depend on an oxidization process to develop flavor, puers rely on a bacterial process for fermentation (think wine or cheese). The result includes both sheng (i.e. raw) puer and shu (aged), the latter one known for earthy tastes and a dark, inky brew.

As you begin to taste these teas, don’t forget to make notes on the smells, textures and colors. A journal can help you immensely when you search for your perfect cup.

Guest post provided by Jason Walker of Walker Tea Review.  Jason’s site hosts online tea tastings and video tea reviews.

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4 Comments

  1. Great post! Like the idea of guest posts, too. I have not had White Peony or Golden Monkey. More interested in trying Golden Monkey. Any suggestions for sources/ retailers?

    • I’d say Teas Etc.’s Golden Monkey would be a good place to start. Good quality with reasonable price. It won 2nd place at the 09 World Tea Championship in the Signature Hot Teas class.

  2. I love to try new teas. Thanks for these suggestions. When I worked at an Indian restaurant, they used to pan fry a creamy tan colored tea that seemed to have slightly euphoric properties. It was delicious. Not sure why they heated it in a pan, but it worked. Do you know what that tea was? I don’t recall what they called it. It was very sweet and creamy and beige.

    • Steven- can’t be sure of the tea you experienced. Pan heating would help release oils, especially in spices. If it was a chai composed of spices, the heat would bring out those wonderful flavors. There are many variations on the chai recipe, so there could have been a variety of spices used.

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