It seems that the more I talk to people about loose leaf tea, the more often they ask a question similar to “What teas can I try that will help me understand the difference between the various types?” I can tell people for hours the differences between black and green teas, sheng and shu puerh teas, or the various levels of oxidation in oolong teas that make them so vastly different, but until people actually look at and experience the various types and styles of tea for themselves, they really have little to no idea what I am rambling about.
Thankfully, a new acquaintance of mine, Brenna Ciummo of Seattle Coffee Gear, offered to write a guest post with her suggestions on some diverse teas to expand your palate. Let’s see which teas Brenna suggests sampling to expand your palate further in to the vast world of tea tastes.
Teas to Expand Your Palate
You may have heard it is “tea time in America.” As tea is increasing in popularity and more and more tea shops are popping up around the country, it is an exciting time for tea enthusiasts. However, with a flood of new teas on the market, this can be a confusing time as well. With so many teas out there to taste, where do you start? Or, if you like one type of tea, how do you know what other teas you will enjoy?
The simplest answer is to expand your palate and just start tasting new teas. While there is nothing wrong with having a “go-to” tea, it can also be fun to try sampling a variety of teas since they all have unique flavors. Who knows, you may even find a new favorite. If you’re looking for a place to start, try a few of the following teas; some are more traditional, while others are more exotic.
- Oolong: Since oolong teas are only partly oxidized, they are often not as bitter (generally they have a sweeter taste with fruity or floral flavors). This makes oolongs a great introductory tea for developing your palate.
- Milk Oolong: This unique tea is famous for its sweet milky taste and creamy, smooth texture. Some people even describe this tea as smelling and tasting like butter. If you enjoy sweet or floral teas, this is a good option for you.
- White Peony: Along with Silver Needle, White Peony is one of the most popular white teas. If you haven’t tried a white tea before, White Peony’s mild and sweet flavor make it a good tea to start with.
- African White Bud: A rare white tea from Kenya, this tea is much sweeter than most white teas, with no astringency. African White Bud has a floral flavor with hints of vanilla and lemon, making it a good choice for people who don’t like the grassier flavors sometimes found in white teas.
- Huang Ya Cha: This Chinese yellow tea is sweet with a nuttier flavor and tends to have characteristics of both white and green teas, as it falls between the two categories. Authentic yellow teas are produced in limited quantities, making them very rare. If you get the chance to taste one, be sure to try it.
- Sencha: This smooth green tea is rich in body with a brothy mouth feel. The tea’s strong seaweed and vegetal taste make it ideal for people who like “green” flavors.
- Jasmine Pearl: This green tea is made out of tender green leaves and buds that are hand rolled into small balls to form “pearls” and then scented with jasmine flowers. The flowers give the tea a sweet, floral taste with no bitterness. Jasmine Pearl tea also doesn’t have the seaweed flavor some green teas have, which often causes people to be turned off by them.
- Darjeeling 1st Flush: Darjeeling teas are often referred to as the “the champagne of teas,” and first flush Darjeelings are the cream of the crop. The black tea has a bit of a bite, and a muscatel flavor with hints of honey or sweet florals.
- Lapsang Souchong: This black tea is scented with pinewood smoke during it’s processing, giving it a definite smokey or “campfire” flavor. Since most people have a strong reaction to Lapsang Souchong and either love or hate it, it is a fun tea to experiment with and see which category you fall into.
- Puerh (Pu’er): This post-fermented tea has a rich body and an earthy taste and smell. The robustness of this tea is great for those who are also coffee drinkers.
When sampling different teas, it is important to use all your senses to get the full experience. Note the color, smell, mouth feel and the flavor notes of each tea. When describing each aspect of the tea, try to be as specific as possible so that you remember one tea from the next. Some people jot down their thoughts in a journal so they have a record they can reference.
Since there can be quite a range of flavors, try several different grades to ensure you get a sense of each tea before you pass judgment on a certain type. For instance, when it comes to white tea, some people may find they dislike the grassy flavor of Silver Needle, but really enjoy the more floral White Peony. It’s also a good idea to try sampling teas from different regions and flushes as well, as these teas will all have different flavor profiles.
Since trying a number of different teas can become pricey, one of the best ways to do so is through samplers. That way, if you aren’t a fan of the tea, you aren’t stuck with a container full of tea you don’t enjoy, and if you’ve found a new favorite you can always purchase more to increase your supply. If you are still not sure where to start, try checking out review sites such as this one, so you can get an idea of what other tea connoisseurs like and don’t like. Expanding your tea palate should be fun, not stressful. It is a chance to play around with different flavors and to explore teas you may have never heard of before. So sit back, relax and enjoy a cup of tea.
Brenna Ciummo is a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear and enjoys sharing her knowledge of all things coffee and tea. An avid tea drinker, she is always on the hunt for new teas to try.
Thank you, Brenna, for your suggestions. I do not recall trying the African White Bud, but I can assure you that I will be looking for it soon. If I would be able to add one suggestion, in an attempt to provide one extra level of palate expansion, it would be an orthodox Assam black tea. Although not a personal favorite of mine, tasting the Camellia Sinensis Assamica teas as compared to the standard Chinese Sinensis Sinensis teas is an important part of understanding differences in the various teas. I also believe that it is quite easy to understand, taste, and feel the difference in an Assam black tea compared to black teas from China, Sri Lanka, or the Darjeeling or Nilgiri regions of India.
Excellent post, Brenna. Thank you again for your time and effort, and I hope to be able to post more of your thoughts on tea in the future. Thanks to everyone for reading. You may see more of Brenna’s work at http://www.seattlecoffeegear.com/learn. Cheers!