Please enjoy the original writing, Christian travel journal, and photography by a hapa haole named Gail Rhea.

Original Writing & Photography

by Gail Rhea

 

 

 

ESSENTIAL TEAS & TISANES TO TRY

 

With over 3,000 varieties, this list is just enough to get you started with the basic teas available. The categories are black, oolong, green, yellow, white, blends, flavored, & scented, and tisanes. Following the list are a few online vendors that sell them. I suggest that you dedicate a notebook, small journal, or index card file in which to record your explorations because there are many teas from  many retailers. If you sample a tea, fiddling around with amount/time/temperature, and decide that it's "okay" but not something you'd repurchase, I suggest that you get other samples from different prices/grades/estates/vendors/etc. because the slight change might move you from "been-there, done-that <yawn>" to "must reorder!" 

In my tea journal, I start with the item code if the vendor uses them, name of tea, vendor, and date. Next are brewing details: x tsp. in x oz at xxx for x min. and my opinion of the results. After my trials, I note at the bottom whether I want to reorder that particular tea from that vendor or not. I note on the tea's label the best amount/temperature/time and highlight the same in my journal for the teas that I keep on hand 'cause sometimes I forget and highlighting makes it easy to find the combo that works best after the tea's gone and I've received another packet and need to redo the taste trials (because tea varies from season to season and year to year even from the same estate due to changing climate conditions). I like to rotate ink colors so that it's easy to find where the journal entry for one tea quits and another one starts.

On the last page and working back towards the front, I list the tea, sometimes vendor, and page number in the same color ink in which I did the entry. This index makes it easier to locate an entry when I want to review what I previously wrote.

I also record stupid things that I don't want to ever repeat like when I added vanilla extract to cherry bancha in a warped attempt to make cherry-vanilla bancha. I also record attempts at creating my own blends and recipes, whatever pertains to tea. 

You don't have to keep a tea journal, of course, or if you do, it doesn't have to be as detailed as mine, but with all the teas that are out there, it's easy to forget which ones you've tried over time without some way to remind you.

 

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Black - Of the four types, black teas are oxidized the most. The more popular black teas are:

Assam - from the district of Assam, a northeastern province of India, the base for traditional Irish Breakfast.

Ceylon - from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), a base tea for English Breakfast, some versions of Earl Grey, and other blends.

Darjeeling - the "Champagne of Teas" is from the district of Darjeeling in India. Darjeeling has four flushes, or growth and harvest periods: The first flush is during early spring and is more like green tea than the other flushes. The second flush follows. Then, comes the summer flush which is generally ignored by individuals because it's of inferior quality and is typically only used by companies for teabags and blends. Finally, there's the autumn flush highly prized for it's distinctive muscatel flavor. 

Lapsang Souchong - from the Lapsang district in China, noted for its smoky aroma and flavor ranging from mild to heavy.

Keemun - the "Burgundy of Teas" was first produced in the Quimen precinct of Anhui province in central China. This is at one end of the range of black teas known as China Congou, called red tea by experts.

Kenya - rich and robust like Assam, this Africa tea is growing in popularity.

Nilgiri - similar to Ceylon with a distinctive difference, Nilgiri comes from southern India.

Pu-Erh - a tea that is fermented as part of its process, named for the town of Pu-Erh in the Yunnan province of China, this tea has a memorable earthy taste. Available in leaf, tuo cha (a small bowl, literally "bird's nest"), or brick form, it may be an acquired taste for most people. The better Pu-Erhs will be smooth, not bitter, and may leave a sweet, long-lasting, aftertaste.

Yunnan - instantly recognizable as a base tea in popular supermarket teabags, Yunnan is at the other end from Keemun in the range of China Congou.

If you're wondering why you're not seeing the Orange Pekoe tea listed as an ingredient on boxes of Cain's, Lipton, Luzianne, and others sold in supermarkets, it's because OP, in spite of what those companies would have you believe, is a designation of leaf size and whole leaf at that, not broken leaf, fannings, or the dust that's actually in those bags.

 

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Oolong/Wu long (literally "black dragon") - the original "wu long" was transformed to "oolong" by indiscriminate western tongues, but "wu long" remains in common usage. The oxidation levels of these fall somewhere between black and green teas, typically 15% to over 70%. Oolongs with higher oxidation are known as black oolongs while those with lighter oxidation are called green oolongs. The highest quality oolongs come from Taiwan and are noted for their peach-like flavor and aroma. The more popular oolongs are:

Jade

Pouchong

Se Chung

Tie Guan Yin/Ti Kuan Yin (literally "Iron Goddess of Mercy")

Tung Ting

 

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Green:

Bancha - a bold Japanese tea, possibly an acquired taste.

Chun Mee (literally "precious eyebrows") - a Chinese tea.

Gunpowder - a style of Chinese teas, so named because leaves are rolled into small pellets resembling gunpowder.Pearl tea has smaller pellets. Black tea is also available as gunpowder, but when tea people talk about gunpowder, they're usually referring to green tea.

Lung Ching/Long Jing (literally "Dragon's Well" from a myth about a well in the original area of production in China) - the "Cream of Tea."

Pi Lo Chun/Biluochun (literally "Green Snail Spring")

Sencha - a popular Japanese tea, most all are mild.

 

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Yellow - yellow tea has an additional processing step compared to green tea and is usually sweet and delicate. Since it's practically unknown in the West at this time, yellow tea may be difficult to find. Because it is also very expensive, I refrain from recommending it to those who don't like white tea:

Huo Shan Huang Ya/Mount Huo Yellow Sprout/Ya Cha - the most affordable.

Wei Shan Mao Jian/Mount Wei Fur Tip - this has a smoky aroma and flavor compared to other yellow teas.

Meng Ding Huang Ya/Mount Meng Yellow Sprout - authentic Meng Ding Huang Ya comes from Mount Meng's misty peak areas. Like Darjeeling, this tea is popular and other teas are often passed off in its stead.

Jun Shan Yin Zhen/Mount Jun Silver Needle (literally "Silver Needles from Mount Jun") - this comes only from Jun Shan Island in the Hunan Province; authentic Jun Shan Yin Zhen tea will have a numeric code on the foil.

 

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White - these are oxidized the least and are known for their delicate taste, pale color, and high cost. The renown white teas are:

Shou Mei/Sowmee - the most affordable

Pai Mu Tan/Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) - a still-affordable, popular tea

Snow Buds

Yin Zhen/Yin Chen/Silver Needles/(Peony) White Needles.

 

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Blends, Flavored, & Scented:

Chai - black tea with various spices such as anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and pepper. Originally simmered in milk, some versions may be steeped in water like regular tea.

Chai Green - Chai made with green tea instead of black.

China Lychee - China Congou with lychee fruit.

Earl Grey - There are many versions for the origin of the Earl Grey tea and the overall flavor of this favorite depends greatly upon the base teas used. For many years, the single constant has been that it's flavored with the oil of bergamot, a citrus fruit, in varying amounts. If you don't care for one version, try another. Common base teas are China black (Congou), Ceylon, and Assam or a blend. 

Earl Grey Green - green tea with oil of bergamot.

English Breakfast - Ceylon and Assam are typical base teas.

Genmaicha/Gen-mai Cha (literally "brown rice tea") - Sencha with toasted and partly puffed brown rice.

Irish Breakfast - the classic Irish Breakfast is a blend of Assams, but other versions may include other teas such as Ceylon.

Jasmine - green tea with jasmine flowers.

Lotus - oolong/wu long tea scented with lotus blossoms.

Prince of Wales - Originally developed for the Duke of Windsor with a blend of Keemuns, now, like Earl Grey, various teas may be used as the base; the single constant is the black currant flavoring. For example, one version consists of Keemun with oolong while another uses Assam, Young Hyson, and larkspur-flavored gunpowder.

Rose Congou - China Congou fermented with rose blossoms.

Rose Green - green tea with rose blossoms.

Russian Caravan - This blend features the smoky Lapsang Souchong and has the intriguing ability of being either light or heavy depending on the individual palate.

 

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Tisanes (herbal teas) - aren't real teas simply because they don't come from the tea plant, Camilla sinensis, but are commonly referred to as herbal teas because of the similarity in preparation. The list of herbs used in beverages is extensive; the most popular are:

Chamomile - relaxing; related to ragweed, loose chamomile is harder to clean out because it sticks to everything so you may want to stick with teabags for this one

Ginger - good for settling upset stomachs

Honeybush - a South African bush

Lapacho (Pao d'archo)

Lemon grass

Lemon verbena

Peppermint - good for digestion

Raspberry - thought to be good for the bowels

Rooibos (literally "red bush") - fine, needle-like leaves of the South African plant, very relaxing; some companies have begun calling this "red tea" but it is not tea and is not to be confused with China Congou

Rooibos Earl Grey - rooibos with oil of bergamot

Spearmint

Yerba Mat (Brazil or Paraguay) - an herbal beverage that contains caffeine, from the South American mat tree.

 

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Online vendors - When you're in a brick-and-mortar store, you should be able to look at the leaves and inhale their fragrance, maybe even sample a cup of the resulting beverage before you buy. Good teas will have a brightness to both the leaf and beverage; a dull brew indicates poor quality and a grainy, flat taste indicates staleness. There should be few to no stems as they only increase weight without providing flavor. Dry leaves that have little to no aroma and brew up extremely weak even at the maximum recommended brewing time or longer, are old and stale. Black teas retain full flavor for about a year while green and white teas start losing flavor about six months after harvest. Buying from a quality vendor ensures that you're receiving the freshest teas possible and if you don't have a local store, there are many good vendors online. A few websites are:

Adagio - www.adagio.com - the samples and teas have been stale to the point of exasperating me and they've been slow on refunding me for teas I returned, but Adagio's Irish Breakfast is my favorite and they sell the 32 oz. IngenuiTea teapot.

Culinary Teas - www.culinaryteas.com - the Wild Blackberry I got in 2003 was stale and had too many stems, although other teas I bought have been very good with few to no stems. I like their Prince of Wales and Earl Grey Green the best of all I've tried and the dripless teapot gadget is indispensable for a couple of teapots I got from other places.

Devo-Tea - www.devotea.com - has a wide range of cozies as well as tea and other related items.

English Tea Store - www.englishteastore.com - has authentic Brown Betty teapots and one of the lowest prices for the Empress Tea Strainer.

The Fragrant Leaf - www.thefragrantleaf.com

Imperial Tea Court - www.imperialtea.com

In Pursuit of Tea - www.inpursuitoftea.com 

SpecialTeas - www.specialteas.com - a sample of the #611 organic oolong that I received early in 2005 had a distinctly fishy aroma and flavor to it, but other teas and products were fine.

TeaSpring - www.teaspring.com 

The Tea Table - www.theteatable.com - check the website for details on how to receive five free samples with any purchase. In the beginning, I bought teaware from here and got hooked on the decaffeinated Sencha with apricot (DGTA).

Upton Tea Imports - www.uptontea.com - you may be overwhelmed by the wide variety, but the samples costing only $1.00 are an ideal way to become acquainted with many teas as well as the estates that grow them. I usually start with the more affordable teas (under $7 per 100/125g packet - the cheaper, the better :D) that have descriptions/reviews that match my tastes. For example, because I know that I enjoy delicate teas a whole lot more than robust, I look for words like "delicate, mild, smooth, sweet, drink/enjoy straight/plain/without milk" and avoid teas described with words such as "pungency, tartness, lemony." I do it this way, not only to avoid characteristics I'm sure I won't like, but because I don't want to get hooked on a whole bunch of teas that I can't afford to keep around as my standard stock. Upton also has a large range of Chatsford mugs, teapots, and parts as well as the lowest prices for the Finum/Teeli brew baskets that I've found either online or in brick and mortar stores. Excellent service.

 

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