Drink Magazine

5 Tea Related Questions You Always Wanted to Ask but Were Afraid to

By Dchew78 @peonyts

5 tea related questions you always wanted to ask but were afraid to

My ex-boss used to say “I rather look like a fool for a moment than to remain one for the rest of my life”.

Each one of us has some silly questions within us but held it within us. Here are some that come to mind (if you have more, please feel free to send me a question via the contact form and I will be happy to answer them directly and use it for the next installment- with your identity anonymous of course)

1)   What is the best tea?

5 tea related questions you always wanted to ask but were afraid to
The most expensive tea I am selling.

Jokes aside what is best depends on who is asking and the context.

When someone is asking this question, more often than not the asker is actually seeking for purchasing advice- in other words: ‘What tea should I buy?’

The easy answer is of course- ‘Depending on your preference’ which personally I feel is superfluous since if the asker has the answer, he or she would not pose the question.

To simplify this- my suggestion is that

i)   If you are looking for something refreshing and light, a tea to drink all day long to refresh and hydrate, you can start with the lightly or un-oxidized teas which are white, yellow and green teas

ii)   If you are looking for a tea that provides more depth and fuller range of flavors within each sip and changes from brew to brew, oolongs are a good start. I would suggest starting with the lighter oolongs like Taiwanese oolongs or Minnan oolongs since some of the heavier oxidized oolongs have a ‘heavy taste’ that may not be to the liking of a novice

iii)   If you are looking for a comfortable, forgiving tea to brew- one that you can build up confidence brewing- Pu-er is one of the most forgiving teas and is generally quite affordable and pleasant

iv)   If you are new to tea, a former coffee addict- black tea offers the closest taste profile, aromatic and more discernible tastes

I would also suggest starting with a middle of the pack price range- for new tea drinkers, some of the differences in the taste profiles of higher end teas may not be easily discernible and appreciable at the initial stage. At the same time, starting with low quality teas may not exactly endear tea to you either.

2)   I am new to tea, how can I learn more about tea?

5 tea related questions you always wanted to ask but were afraid to
Many will tell you, drink, drink and drink which of course is true.

But golfers often will tell you practice makes permanent so similarly it is important to develop good drinking habits as well as get on the right track.

*Self-promotion Alert:

With an admittedly biased view I would plug this site as a good starting point. One of our fundamental beliefs is to help people enjoy their brew- hence we have articles on making tea, tea appreciation, selecting tea and storing tea in addition to history and culture as well as other information on tea.

The 3best free tea related resources in the English language are:

i)   Tea Guardian- a very useful and comprehensive resource. Unlike most of the material on the net in English, the writings are accurate and factual

ii)   MarshalN- in my opinion the most informative tea blog around. Lots of information from a learned tea addict but you will need to search. Don’t worry, it’s worth the trouble

iii)   Teachat- this is the tea forum for serious tea drinkers. Very few flippant topics and lots of seasoned knowledgeable tea drinkers lurk. If you post a question you will probably get a lot of intelligent answers. However it is a bit intimidating for newbies.

I would recommend the above 3 (and ours) as a starting point to learn about tea- many of the popular resources can contain information that is startlingly inaccurate.

3)   How can I learn more descriptors to appear like an experienced tea drinker

5 tea related questions you always wanted to ask but were afraid to
It is a misconception that experienced tea drinkers or drinkers with ‘sophisticated palates’ are those who can conjure up a whole range of descriptors.

“I am picking up an elderberry note hiding behind the brisk hibiscus overtones which quickly evolves into a clover like asparagus fragrance”

Sounds like a work of fiction.

In China, professional tea assessors- you know people who taste tea for a living- use very simplified terms such as fruity aroma, chestnut aroma, caramel aroma and so forth- just over 20 each for aroma and taste.

This is notwithstanding the complexity and diversity of the Chinese language simply because they only focus on descriptions that add value to the tea assessment.

For example- chestnut fragrance for Longjing would mean Zhejiang longjing as opposed to Xihu which is described as beany; a difference that can be at least 10 times in price.

In short, you don’t need to take a degree in literature. Tea appreciation is a lot deeper than a game of who can pick up more notes and flavors.

4)   What is the difference between green tea and black tea?

5 tea related questions you always wanted to ask but were afraid to
Or between black tea and oolong or so forth.

To cut a long story short- the main difference is due to production methods:

a)   Green teas undergo ‘shaqing’ (heating to halt oxidization) almost immediately after plucking so it is substantially un-oxidized

b)   Yellow teas production method differ across region but all of them have a ‘heaping’ stage when damp and heat will cause the leaves to turn yellow and lose its grassiness

c)   White tea is only withered and dried (baked or sun-dried depending on which area) hence its partially oxidized and its appearance is quite au naturel.

d)   Oolong teas are shaken to expedite its oxidization

e)   Black teas undergo an oxidation stage which causes it to turn black and gives it a more pronounced flavor

f)   Dark teas (often erroneously known as Pu-er which is a type of dark tea) undergoes fermentation or ‘wo dui’ to give it its unique taste and appearance

More on this topic can be found here

5)   Are un-flavored teas boring?

5 tea related questions you always wanted to ask but were afraid to
Not at all- they are flavored by nature and the firing skills of the masters.

Take the Phoenix Dancong (Honey Orchid Fragrance) Mi Lan Xiang for example- it has a natural honey and orchid fragrance. When you brew it up, the fruity aroma carries and intoxicates. When the liquid enters your mouth, there is a slight but tantalizing astringency which quickly morphs into a sweetness that wells up from the throat and lingers in the mouth. Minutes later, you can suck on your teeth and the fragrance is still there.

Compare that with any flavored tea.

Then you can brew it for at least 7 times without the flavor or aroma disappearing- no flavorings or additives can come close to that.

Boring? Not even close.

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