Drink Magazine

What Tea is Suitable for Me- Part I?

By Dchew78 @peonyts

This is a question that frequently pops up in our interaction with you guys. Though we mercenary merchant types are often wont to admit it, the answer is usually not “the most expensive type”.

To better address this question, we segregate the answer based on the following:

i)   Based on one’s experience with tea

ii)   Based on one’s personal constitution

iii)   Based on one’s purpose/occasion for the tea in question

iv)   Based on one’s preferences

As the scope is more than what can be covered adequately in one post, we focus on the first sub-category first- choosing tea based on one’s level of experience.

Why does experience matter?

There are 2 main reasons why we would recommend different teas for drinkers of different levels of experience.

Experience shapes our preferences

Firstly, as one progresses as a tea drinker, the things we look out for are different. One of my favorite bloggers MarshalN wrote about it in this post “Drink with your body” where he shares this quote that made perfect sense:

“Beginners drink tea with their nose, experienced drinkers drink with their mouth, and the connoisseurs drink with their body”.

What Tea is Suitable for Me- Part I?
In my interactions with tea drinkers, I find this to be true.

Newish tea drinkers often talk about “味道” or flavors where experienced tea drinkers often use the term “滋味” which also means taste but entails things like texture and mouth feel. Old time tea drinkers often talk about “感觉” or feeling.

This separation warrants a post of its own but let me try to illustrate this with an anecdote.

I had the privilege of drinking a 60-70 year old yancha lately, one pot that would cost approximately $50. It was divine, the sensation lingered in my mouth even though I had 2 types of teas after that. The surge of warmth that gushed to my face after that testified to the ‘qi’ of it.

But had I drank that in my early tea drinking days, I would not enjoy it, the aroma was unspectacular, an old-ish feel about it. The flavor was not particularly outstanding, there are many other teas that would be more flavorful.

If I had known the price, I would flip and never return to the shop, convinced the merchant was a charlatan.

Patrons of traditional Chinese tea merchants will probably have their own tale to tell of how long it took before the shop owner offered them their treasure.

The Weakest Link

As I wrote about in this article, tea only tastes as good as the weakest link. If you start off drinking Dahongpao- assuming you get the genuine stuff as a novice- you will not be able to maximize your enjoyment of it because of brewing technique. Even worse, because of poor storage, tea leaves might deteriorate in quality.

This would be (somewhat) fine if you’re drinking a $12 per 50g Rougui but not so if you’re drinking a $80 Dahongpao.

Unless you live in a world where pecuniary concerns are trivial, it would make sense to go for a variety on the mid-end where one can derive an optimal balance of value and enjoyment.

As a novice, I had not made the most of numerous servings of Xihu Longjing. Even though more than a decade ago, prices were not so high, nevertheless it was a waste, especially considering the care that went into it.

Recommendations According to Level of Experience

New-ish Tea Drinker

This refers to those who have just been exposed to the world of loose leaf tea, experiencing the quantum leap in quality.

Scented teas such as jasmine pearls and osmanthus oolong are perennial favorites among new tea drinkers, as are black teas. Aroma of these teas is distinct and is easily identifiable, making them a hit with new tea drinkers.

There is also a tendency for tea drinkers at this stage to veer towards flavored teas since the flavor is distinct and can be easily picked up.

More Experienced Tea Drinker

After some time, the tea drinker starts to look for other aspects- ‘hui gan’, mouth feel, body and texture.  The tea drinker might also get bored with the limitations of mug/huge pot brewing and venture on to a Yixing pot or gaiwan at this stage.

At this stage, Taiwanese Oolongs, green and white teas are often the recommended teas of choice.

Good aroma and ‘huigan’, a comforting drink that soothes and leaves a lingering sensation.

It would be a good idea to experience with some mid-level Minnan Oolongs at this stage such as Huang Jin Gui, Benshan and other Sezhongs since these are easy to brew, huge leaves make gaiwan brewing easy for a novice. Plus Minnan Oolongs are fairly inexpensive and can offer the drinker much bang for buck.


There’s no real ending point- at least I have not seen one- but my observation is that most experienced tea drinkers either walk towards dark teas- notably Puer- and oolongs- including aged ones.

The focus on ‘yun’ and ‘chaqi’ dominate conversation at this stage. Especially for the aged teas where the aroma is generally more muted, the sensation it evokes becomes the main determinant of tea quality.

Tomorrow we will look at choosing a tea based on one’s constitution

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