Daniel Lui's Blog

So Many Teas! Which Ones Will You Like?

People coming to my tea shop are always amazed by all the Chinese teas they have never heard of before. As they walk around the shop checking out our oolong teas, puerh teas (or pu-erh teas), and white teas (to name a few!) they ask “What does this one taste like?” or “What does that one taste like?”.

To help, I developed four simple questions which may help you find a new treasure on your next tea expedition:

  • Do you like tea that is strong and full-bodied or light, subtle, and elegant?
  • Do you like tea that is calming or tea that gives you energy?
  • Do you prefer a taste that is fresh and new or aged and mellow (as in wine or cheese)?
  • Which tones and notes do you like? (Sweet, Nutty, Grassy, Fruity, Woody, Spicy, Honey, Earthy, Floral, Buttery, Smokey, Roasted, Herb, or Chocolate)

Describing taste is a difficult skill to learn but this quick approach has helped many people find new teas that they really like. Many people return again and again to buy “their” tea and try new ones.

So we built an online version for everyone called The Tea Wizard that tells you all the teas that suit your taste with a few clicks.

There is also a great book called “The Tea Drinkers Handbook” by Delmas, Minet, and Barbaste (Abbeville Press) which will amaze you with the hundreds of terms that professional tasters use to describe aromas, flavours, and textures.

Contact The Chinese Tea Shop team today to learn more about all the exciting teas and tea accessories available at the shop, or try The Tea Wizard now!

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    Chinese Tea Quality Versus Taste

    Is it possible to tell the quality and taste of a tea without actually tasting it?

    In the previous The Chinese Tea Shop’s Blog post (“Welcome to the World of Engineered Teas“) I commented that there is a way to tell the quality and taste of a tea (like Oolong Tea, Puerh Tea (Pu-erh), or White Tea) without tasting it.

    If you’ve ever watched professional tea tasters at work or have seen the Chinese method of tea-making called Gong Fu Cha (Tea With Great Skill), you may have noticed tall and slender cups being used.

    These are smelling cups and they can tell you a lot about the quality of a tea and how it will taste – without even tasting it.

    The aromatic compounds in tea dissolve in water at different rates. This is the basis for Gong Fu Cha where a small amount of leaves is brewed many times to concentrate the flavour. Each brew reveals a different taste as the different compounds dissolve. A similar thing happens when tea oils are exposed to air. As tea oils oxidize, the aroma changes. This is the same thing that happens with perfumes. This oxidization of oils approximates what will happen when the leaves are brewed in water.

    A tea that may start with a spicy aroma and ends up with a flowery aroma will taste spicy in the early brews and flowery in the later brews. Using a smelling cup allows the tea maker to know what to expect from a new tea they have not made before and how to brew the leaves to get the best taste.

    When you rinse your tea leaves (see Gong Fu Cha), pour out the tea into a smelling cup and then empty the cup and smell. You will smell the “top notes” of the tea which are the most delicate compounds that oxidize quickly. These notes are what you will taste on the first brews. After a minute, smell again and you will notice the aroma has changed. And a few minutes after that, still more changing.

    A low quality tea will cease to have an aroma after a few minutes because the oils are of poor quality. They oxidize quickly and will dissolve quickly in water and you will get fewer brews from that tea. The aroma from a high quality tea will last many minutes showing that you will get many good tasting brews from it.

    If you’re looking to explore the best Chinese teas the city has to offer, visit The Chinese Tea Shop online now. 

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      Welcome to the World of Engineered Teas!

      The other day I visited some tea shops with one of my students. We really noticed how western marketing techniques have impacted how tea is sold.  But more importantly, we noticed how this is affecting what consumers are really getting for their money.

      In the 16th century, it was the Portuguese, then the Dutch and the French, and finally the British who brought Chinese tea to the West. The British especially have been able to make tea an inexpensive commodity worldwide and it is Indian Black teas which are consumed in the West more than any other. A fascinating history of Black Tea and its impact on history is here, in The Chinese Tea Shop’s website resources section.

      Today, consumers want more and more variety. Tea manufacturers have responded with an incredible selection of scented and flavoured teas with fruit, berries, spices and all sorts of other natural and synthetic enhancements. It is now possible for a tea shop to offer a new tea flavour every day of the year and still not exhaust the selection that is available.

      Many of these teas are made from low grade Indian black teas which are designed to have a good aroma from the package. Western consumers are now being conditioned to purchase tea based on aroma rather than on the taste. This has been a bonanza for tea shops, making things more efficient and profitable as they no longer have to make tea before customers buy, as has been done at better tea shops for centuries.

      This is a shame for consumers because, as tea experts know, many of the finest teas have little or no aroma. Of those that do, the aroma may not indicate the complexity of what a tea has to offer. The only way to assess the taste and quality of a tea is to taste it!  (There is another advanced technique but more about that on another day.)

      Scented and flavoured teas are an old tradition and there are some well known tea houses that make very high quality blends.  The new designer teas do give consumers lots of choices but for the most part, they are really just a way for the tea industry to disguise low grade tea leaves at designer prices and consumers are not likely to experience the best of what tea drinking has to offer.

      Click here to learn more about all types of Chinese tea, including Black Tea, Oolong Tea, Puerh Tea (or Pu-erh Tea), and White Tea.

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        How To Store Chinese Tea To Make It Last Longer

        Did you know that it’s actually possible to improve the taste of any tea by following a few simple rules for storing? It is!  

        A good storage location should:

        • Be cool and dark
        • Have good air circulation
        • Have  little fluctuation in temperature and humidity
        • Be kept away from odours

        Kitchen shelves might be convenient but are not the best choice for storage.  I have conducted many experiments over the years and with some of my students and we have found there are specific techniques you can use to make your tea taste better.

        Non-Fermented and Partially Fermented Teas (Green Tea, Yellow Tea, White Tea and Oolong Tea)

        These teas have the least amount of processing during manufacture and so most closely resemble the original leaves. Store these teas in a refrigerator in an airtight container. But there is a catch: Once you commit to refrigeration, you must keep the leaves there. You cannot put the tea back on the shelf for a while and then put it back in the fridge. Tea leaves like stable temperatureS and humidity and any changes must be gradual. The airtight container is also a must as tea leaves absorb odours, and fridges can be very smelly places. If you follow these simple rules, your tea will actually improve in taste and last much longer.

        Fully Fermented Teas (Black Teas)

        Black teas use more processing in their manufacture than Green teas and do not respond well to refrigeration like green and Oolong teas. Keep in a paper bag or cardboard container that breathes a little but make sure these have no odours from printing or glue as these will be absorbed by the tea over time.

        Post-Fermented Teas -Pu-erh Tea

        Storage is the same as Black tea but the best method is to store in unglazed clay containers. Clay allows some air flow, mitigates the changes in temperature and humidity and the taste develops more fully and quickly. Read more about storing pu-erh tea.

        Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) and Aged Oolongs

        These are Oolong teas that can be stored like Black teas, but we have found that these teas do best when kept in a non-airtight porcelain container.

        Learn more about tea (including puerh tea (or pu-erh tea), oolong tea, and white tea) and how to best store tea for improved taste.

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          Why Expensive Tea Is Cheaper Than Inexpensive Tea

          Though counter-intuitive, it’s true: expensive tea is actually cheaper than inexpensive tea! This may come as a surprise to many people, but inexpensive tea is often more costly to use than its more expensive counterparts in the long run. There are 3 reasons for this:

          1. You use less. You only need to use a fraction of the amount of a high quality tea compared to a low quality tea, whether you are using an old English teapot or the traditional Chinese method of tea-making known as Gong Fu Cha (Tea With Great Skill).

          2. High quality tea lasts longer. A high quality tea will make many more good tasting brews than a low quality version before the leaves expire.

          3. The tea always tastes better – not just for the first few brews but from the first to the last !

          Every retail business offers products that range in price from high to low, and tea shops are no different. Typically, more expensive teas are higher quality than inexpensive teas. For the most part, you will enjoy tea much more and actually save money when you buy the more expensive teas rather than the cheaper ones.

          But are you getting a high quality tea just because it is expensive? Not necessarily. From a store’s perspective, their most expensive tea is high quality tea. What they really mean is their most expensive tea is their highest quality tea. This may or may not mean the tea really is high quality, so shopping around and comparing will tell you pretty quickly.

          Never be fooled by fancy packaging either. This may make you feel better about your purchase but has little to do with whether a tea is good quality. In fact, it’s often the opposite.

          If you want to learn about tea, look at buying new teas as a cost of getting an education. If you can’t taste a tea before you buy and you are not buying from someone you know or trust, always buy the smallest sample you can first.

          Learn more about choosing, buying, brewing, and storing all types of Chinese tea (including oolong tea, puerh tea, and white tea) in The Chinese Tea Shop’s Complete Guide to Buying Chinese Tea .

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