Oolongs: Part 2 (Anxi Oolongs)

Anxi Oolongs: Again, similar to the Wu Li Rock Mountain oolongs, Anxi oolongs are grown in the Fujian province. Unlike the Wu Li Rock Mountain oolongs, they are typically on the lighter end of roasting, and as a result are usually classified as green oolongs. Below is a list of the most common Anxi oolongs and their attributes. There are a number of fake Anxi teas hovering around in the market, so be sure to buy from a good dealer. These are exceptional candidates for Yixing teapots and the Gong-Fu steeping method in general (more on those at a later post.) Fortunately, unlike Wu Yi Rock Mountain oolongs, these teas are generally a forgiving steep, and easy to prepare.

Tie Guan Yin: Translates to Iron Goddess. It is the most famous Anxi oolong. It’s a light tea, sometimes mistakenly labelled as a green tea. It can taste crisp, bright, and floral. Sometimes mellow. There are many varieties on this kind of oolong, so it’s almost a subcategory in itself (which as a side note, is the same for many oolongs) It’s among my favourite teas. According to legend, there was a poor farmer who once went on a contemplative walk to a temple. At the temple, there was an iron statue of a goddess standing erect and commanding, amongst the otherwise dilapidated temple. The farmer thought the temple ought to be in better condition, as it was housing a statue of a goddess. He couldn’t afford to rebuild the temple, but went back the next day with a broom and some incense. He swept away all the twigs and the dust; did the best he could without spending money. He then offered the incense to the statue, and went on his way. The farmer repeated this process every so often, almost becoming a caretaker for the temple. One visit, the goddess spoke to him. She told him there was a treasure behind the temple, and he should look to go to find it. The farmer did, and the treasure was a cutting from a tea bush. The farmer planted them, cultivated them, and got filthy rich. The tea, as a nod to the goddess, was named Tie Guan Yin.

Ma Liu Mi: Translated as – and I will say perhaps a bit misleadingly – Monkey Picked Oolong tea. I will firstly say these leaves are not picked by monkeys, despite what the odd mall-boutique tea dealer will try to imply. Often these are blends of various Anxi oolongs, though they may not always be. A good dealer will be able to tell you if it is blended or not. It tastes extremely light, usually, and floral; a descriptor which is common for green oolongs. It is a very green oolong, so it could be a gentle introduction to oolongs, for you green and white tea drinkers out there. According to legend, there was a tea bush on a mountain, which happened to produce extraordinary tea. The mountain was too difficult to climb by themselves, so they decided training monkeys to pick the leaves for them was less effort. I dislike outing specific tea dealers; I instead like to recommend good ones. But I can’t go on with a good conscious without mentioning this. I don’t think I’ll publish it in my book, but I need to say it at least in my blog. I have found that Teavana greatly misleads you about their monkey picked oolong. I have been flat outright told that theirs was officially the best oolong in the world, and have been told monkeys pick this tea. And though they’re tricky with the wording, they also highly imply the same thing on their website. These things simply are not true. They gravely overcharge for this tea, and lead you to believe – quite convincingly if you’re not yet a shrewd judge of tea – that it’s picked by monkeys. I have heard this complaint again and again, and I’ve heard of many a times people are tricked into spending more money than it’s worth. You are able to get much higher quality monkey picked oolong for greatly lower prices at the dealers I list at the bottom of the page. But of course this is just my opinion, and I don’t claim this as fact (he-he-he, try suing for libel now, Teavana)

Huangjin Gui: Translated as Golden Osmanthus, as it tastes and smells similar to osmanthus flowers. Because I like flowery teas, this also goes up on my list of favourite oolongs. Depending on the tea, it has honey notes to them. It’s a green, sprightly oolong that tastes like honey and osmanthus. It tastes as appealing as it sounds.

Li Li Xiang: Translated to Every Leaf Fragrant. Similar to the monkey oolongs, it is often blended with other Anxi oolongs, though that means it usually is a bit less expensive. It makes for a lovely every day oolong tea, which you don’t have to break the bank buying. It usually tastes pretty “standard” for green oolongs, meaning floral and fruity; of apricots or other stone fruits.

Reccomended Tea Dealers

Seven Cups

Tea Spring

Oolongs: Part One (Wu Li Rock Mountain Oolongs)

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Though some say oolong tea is oxidized anywhere from 1%-99%, – and given the definition of a semi-oxidized tea, they’d be right – it nearly always ranges from 10%-85%. A green oolong refers to the lighter variety of that range. It’s also known as a light oolong. or jade oolong; however, jade also refers to a particular kind of green oolong, so its usage is not recommended as a synonym to the previously mentioned terms. A dark oolong refers to the darker portion of that range, and less commonly, a champagne oolong refers to the middle potion. The official Chinese translated spelling is wulong, and you will see both spellings when dealing with the tea community. It’s entirely about preference, which seems to be true for many tea terms, as the community is usually a fairly laid back one.

As my teacher put it, “oolong teas are the most arts-and-crafts” and arguably, he is correct. With a range of 75% oxidation to take in account for, in addition to the already complicated tea production process, you truly have to know what you’re doing in order to make these teas. If tea is an art, then oolongs are one of the most impressive mediums you can use in serving and production.

Oolong tea was invented sometime around 1650 A.D. My favourite origin myth is as follows: a tea farmer was busy picking leaves, and there happened to be a deer wandering around his garden. The farmer was so taken by the deer’s beauty, he got distracted and couldn’t help but observe it for a while. He observed it for such a long time, the tea leaves partially oxidized. Panicked, he fired the leaves immediately after, and thus, oolong was born.

If not by taste, you can usually tell an oolong’s quality based on observation of the wet, unfurled leaf: they should look healthy, fresh, and tender. If the leaves look too old, it probably means the leaves were picked later in the year and aren’t a good quality (note: will do comparison picture before publication.) Oolong plucks are a nontraditional, ranging anywhere from three to five leaves, compared to the standard “two leaves and a bud” pluck in regular tea picking. Oolongs are usually good for several steeps, and are exceptional candidates for Yixing tea pots or gaiwans.

The four most common oolong growing regions, the teas, and their attributes are as follows.

Wu Yi Rock Mountain: This is a Chinese region located in Fujian, which is one of the more renown tea growing regions. I find that all of these teas make wonderful, hearty winter teas.

Da Hong Pao: Translated to Big Red Robe. The most famous oolong for Wu Yi Rock Mountain, and for good reason. This is a dark oolong, and tastes toasty, smooth, sweet, and some traditionally produced da hong pao will taste smoky, as its roasted over charcoal briquettes. According to Wikipedia, a crop of da hong pao once sold for $1,250,000 per kilogram. Usually it’s not quite that expensive, but, there’s an impressive anecdote nonetheless.

Shui Xian: The English name is Narcissus, as the leaves have a flowery aroma and notes in its taste, comparable to that of a Narcissus flower. Originally it’s not from Wu Yi Rock Mountain, but the tea was transplanted to its current location. The tea is a dark oolong, and it’s full-bodied and floral. In Chinese restaurants, they will often have this tea, though it will more often go by the name “Shui Hsien” so be on the lookout.

Rou Gui: Translated to Cassia, which is a type of cinnamon. Good rou gui is a difficult steep to accomplish, but it’s astounding if you get it right. It’s a dark, roasted oolong, and can have chocolate and cinnamon notes to it. To add another level of complexity to serving this tea, you need to age some kinds of rou gui in order to get a better flavour.

Huang Guan Yin: Translated to Yellow Goddess. This is a new tea; only ten years old. It was a hybrid experiment done by tea scientists to combine two different oolong bushes (Ti Guan Yin and Huang Jin Gui.) It has flavours reminiscent of osmanthus and stone fruits such as apricot, all tied together with a sweet flavour and long aftertaste. It is a green-champagne oolong.

Recommended Dealers for Wu Yi Rock Mountain Oolong:

Seven Cups

Jing Tea

Other Green Tea

Many people associate green tea to be a Chinese or Japanese variety. While it’s true the most popular greens are indeed grown and produced in one of those two terroirs, the trait which defines a green tea lies in its production method, rather than the growing region or the kind of Camellia Sinenesis plant. With this in mind, we can assume there are plenty of regions that may also produce green tea.

Growing locations and conditions of the plant account for nearly all of the diversity in a variety of tea. For instance, if we had one Camellia Sinensis plant and grew it in Japan, and grew another one in China for an identical amount of time; then plucked, withered, fired, shaped, and performed each step in production identically, the final teas would still taste vastly different.

This is even the case on a smaller scale, such as in the case of elevation. I have heard of an instance where the price of tea shifted nearly $30 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) not because of higher quality production methods or workers, but simply because the road was on an incline, and the elevation shifted slightly higher in the 100 metres (328 feet) the prospective purchasers drove. It usually isn’t quite as dramatic; however, it does illustrate my point that location in teas greatly change the final product.

If a tea can change in taste because of a 100 metre drive down the road, we might not be at fault to assume there lies a great, vast potential in many exotic green teas in places where you might not expect them to pop up. And indeed there are those.

Below are a list of some different terroirs and their green teas.

Korea: This country is not given enough credit for its tea. They have their own tea ceremony, their own tea accoutrements, and a healthy tea culture, so it’s odd we don’t hear more from the country, not to mention import more Korean greens. The grades of Korean greens are Woojeon, Saejak, and Joonjak, listed from highest to lowest, and the best teas are grown in the region of Jirisan. This is an exotic green tea, which can combine traits of both Chinese and Japanese green tea. Now, for an unbeknownst reason, despite its lack of healthy tea culture, the Czech Republic is probably the best place to get Korean greens outside of Korea. They import handmade, artisan, organic greens by some of the most renown Korean tea masters. Unfortunately, it’s currently unknown whether or not any dealers are willing to ship internationally. A good international dealer is Hankook Tea.

Taiwan: This country is admittedly more known for its oolongs than its greens. They have their own versions of Bi Lo Chun and Long Jing, however, they are across the board with their inconsistencies. Some estates can produce great tea one year, then not-as-great the next year. In addition to this, there are few vendors which stock good Taiwanese greens consistently. For this reason, I would recommend looking into it on your own, if you are inclined to. Otherwise, and this especially goes for those who are not quite the tea masters yet (and I include myself in that category), I would recommend sticking to Taiwanese oolongs until you are ready to branch out into obscure subcategories of the beverage.

India: Specifically, I want to talk about green Darjeeling tea. Darjeeling tea is typically a black tea – or perhaps more accurately, an oolong – so it’s an interesting thing to know that there is Darjeeling green tea. It’s odd, because it has many traits of its black tea brother, but it also tastes fresh and crisp like a green tea, sometimes even more than a first-flush Darjeeling black. It’s worth a try for broadening your tea exploration. A good dealer is Darjeeling Tea Express.

Nepal: Specifically, Nepal. I had the opportunity to talk to Kevin from The Camellia Sinenesis Tea House in February, and he was mentioning about one of his projects. Yes, he has tea projects, and yes, they are amazing. The tea project he was mentioning was, essentially, connecting a Japanese tea grower and a Himalayan tea grower so they could share knowledge. What the goal was, and what ended up happening was that the Himalayan tea grower wanted to implement Japanese production methods to his Himalayan crop which would in turn, create a cup of tea which tasted almost like a Darjeeling cup of tea with the Japanese green tea flavours. It would be interesting to a whole new level. The leaves are not ready for the international marketplace, but when they are, they have potential to be wonderful. If you want to read more about the project, click here. Other than this, there are other Nepalese greens; however, they are generally somewhat comparable to the Darjeeling greens.

Vietnam: An often overlooked growing region. One of the noteworthy types is a lotus tea. Green tea leaves are taken, then scented with Lotus flowers or blended with them. It is almost always a high quality green tea, which is interesting as most scented teas are typically lower quality. Here is the most legitimate business which appears to sell Vietnamese green tea. Note that I, nor anybody I have encountered has ordered from them, but the prices are shockingly reasonable. I will order some before publishing time, and update accordingly. Here is the store.

Africa: Yes, I know Africa isn’t a country. In my defence, African green tea is so uncommon, it might as well be a footnote at the bottom of the page. The only tea of this variety I’ve heard of is a green tea from Malawi. Apparently, in 1921 the British planted a Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis seed in Malawi, and they started to cultivate it. It’s steamed Japanese style, and it’s grown in an unexpected region. Though I have not tried it personally, apparently it’s a beautiful cup, not to mention a rare one, as only a few kilograms are produced per year. Here is the only dealer I’ve found for it.

So, conceivably, if you ever manage to taste every Japanese and Chinese green tea available, you’re still nowhere close to tasting every green tea. The list is just a compilation of the most common of the rarest. Start tasting!

 

EDIT: Fixed the Sri Lanka issue. There is an update on the Czech Republic ambiguity which I will update soon. Thanks to Stu from The Tea Catcher for pointing out these issues.

Chinese Green Teas

Covering Chinese green tea is a daunting task. It’s the reason why we have tea period. There is so much history behind it, and unfortunately I, nor anybody, can ever truly do its justice, especially because tea history isn’t always documented, so there are many parts which remain lost forever in the past.

With that in mind, the first tea, as we know it, was a Chinese green. Prior to tea as we know it, tea was a convoluted brew. The leaves were crushed up in a powder, similar how they are in Matcha, but the powder was blended with unexpected ingredients, not limited to rice, onions, ginger, and orange zest. After the tea was blended, it was steeped in salt water. This brew was popularized anywhere from 206 BCE – 220 CE. It wasn’t until somewhere between 760-780 CE where tea became more similar to the beverage as we know it today. During this time, a man named Lu Yu was present, and his presence was so important, he was awarded the title Sage of Tea. He came along and improved tea as a beverage, making it less like, in his words “rinsing water of gutters,” and more appealing; taking out all of the added ingredients to the brew. Essentially, the artful simplicity of tea, and the culture surrounding it is largely due to Lu Yu.

In the time of Lu Yu, tea was compressed into cakes. Though the production then was different than the production now, the tea cakes were technically green teas, as the oxidation process was halted immediately, which is a trait unique to the genre.

As mentioned in the white tea post, in 1391 tea cakes were outlawed as they were being used for currency, and a sort of tea black market emerged which had a negative impact on the economy. All existing tea cakes were ordered to be destroyed, which left the tea industry in an awful place for 150 years. Out of this ban, though, modern tea production was invented, and loose leaf green tea as we know it was first made.

Chinese green tea is so vast of a category, it’s a difficult nail to specifically hit. I can’t find the exact number, but most tea estates in China produce green tea. The geography of China makes for much variety in tea, which can make it intimidating for newcomers and veteran tea connoisseurs alike. Here is a list of some of the most common Chinese green teas and their attributes. Note that there are not pictures of all of the teas. This will be addressed when it comes to publish officially, but for now, unfortunately I don’t have my own pictures, nor royalty free ones for all of them.

Long Jing: Translated to Dragon Well. It’s perhaps the most common Chinese green in the Western world. Good Long Jing is processed almost entirely by hand. Its flavour is full-bodied but gentle, sweet and grassy. When being steeped, Long Jing leaves “stand up” straight, rather than float around in every which direction like most other tea. For this reason, you may want to enjoy Long Jing in a small glass teapot or gaiwan; however, it’s said that you will get the most out of the flavour in a Yixing teapot (more on this at a later post.) I have not tried this personally, but apparently you are able to eat Jong Jing leaves after steeping. Pictured below

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An Ji Bai Cha: Translated to An Ji White Tea, which is confusing as it’s a green tea. So, I recommend to forget the translation. Most dealers will label it by its Chinese name, anyway. An Ji Bai Cha is said to be some of the most sought-after Chinese green tea. It wasn’t until the 1980s where commercial cultivation began. It’s a green tea with a rich history – possibly originating more than 900 years ago. It has a clean, subtle light steep, and gorgeous aroma. It is a light tasting tea, so some may find it a little tasteless. I think that’s probably why the translation is “white tea,” I would recommend steeping this in a gaiwan.

Huang Shan Mao Feng: Translated to Yellow Mountain Fur Peak, as the processed leaves look similar to a mountain peek, and the leaves themselves are covered in tiny hairs. It’s a great day-to-day standard Chinese green tea. It’s fresh, grassy, and can be mild or strong in flavour. According to legend, a young scholar and young tea picker fell passionately in love. The scholar was murdered by a businessman who wanted the girl for himself, then forced her to marry him. During the night before the wedding, the girl snuck out of the businessman’s house and wept at the scholar’s grave. She cried so much, she turned into the rain. The rain, which was a manifestation of the girl’s longing turned the scholar’s body into a tea tree. The tea tree became the Huang Shan Mao Feng tree, and they are now together in the manifestations of a tea tree and the rain. This tea can be enjoyed to much of its potential in a variety of means; a teapot, French press, gaiwan. Pictured below.

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Liu An Gua Pian: Translated as Liu An Melon Seed. The processing is unique, as while most good quality Chinese greens utilize the bud of the leaf, this tea utilizes the second leaf on the branch. The centre vein of the leaf is removed, and then the leaves are rolled to shape. This is a rare tea, and possibly my favourite Chinese green. It tastes rich, soft, delicate, and the flavour lingers in your mouth for a long time. This tea is best enjoyed in a gaiwan or small teapot. Pictured below.

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Tai Ping Houkei: Translated to Monkey Leader. This is an exceptional tea which has won many awards for its qualities. In addition to being a wonderfully tasting green tea, it also looks beautiful when it’s being steeped. It has long leaves, sometimes as long as 8.5cm (3.3 inches), and they gracefully dance around the steeping vessel when water is added to it. Traditionally, it’s picked early in the season, which creates a subtle taste, but a lot of Tai Ping Houkei on the marked is picked later in the season, which causes it to have a heavy full-bodied flavour. Because of the pretty leaves, as well as their size, this tea might not be as well suited for a gaiwan. This tea will be enjoyed in a glassware, to appreciate the visuals as well as the taste. With this tea, you can even steep it directly into a mug or, more romantically, a tall glass.

Bi Lo Chun: Translated to Green Snail Spring as its shape resembles that of snail meat. It is a highly regarded tea in China, with some authorities ranking it the best darn green tea period. It tastes fruity, floral, subtle, and overall is a gentle tea. Now, I’m not sure why this is the origin myth for this tea, but it just is. So bare with me. There once was a tea picker who was exceptional at her job, and filled her basket full of tea leaves in no time at all. She discovered a new looking tree, and figured she should try it out. Unfortunately, she had no room in her basket, so she instead put the tea leaves between her breasts. The body heat from her breasts warmed the leaves, and let out an aroma so unique, so wonderful, that it startled her. Originally, the name, because of this myth, was actually “Scary Fragrance”, but it was changed to “Green Snail Spring” by an emperor who thought the origin myth was too vulgar, and wished not to acknowledge it. Pictured below.

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Zu Cha: Translated to Gunpowder Tea, and you will almost always see it as its translation in the west. There are a few theories about why it’s called Gunpowder Tea in English, as the real translation is “pearl tea”. The first theory is that the tea leaves themselves look like little bits of gunpowder, and they open up or “explode” when steeped. The second theory is that since it has a smokey flavour, us Westerners said “Hey, do you know what else is smokey? Guns!” The third theory is that there’s a phrase in Mandarin which means Freshly Brewed. It’s “Gang Pao De” (say it out loud), and when westerners visited China, they mistakenly thought that was what the tea name was, rather than just a descriptor. I say, why not all three? As mentioned, Gunpowder has a smokey flavour, but has this almost coppery aftertaste to it. It’s thick-tasting, and overall hearty. It is often blended with mint. This is a resilient tea for steeping and can be enjoyed in many ways, similar to the Huang Shan Mao Feng. Pictured below.

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Jasmine Green Tea: Often it is in a pearl shape, and is such also called Dragon Pearls, Phoenix Pearls, Jasmine Pearls, things like that. Essentially, it’s any green tea which was wafted with the scent of Jasmine flowers. Typically, the green tea base is not a high quality, especially given that the Jasmine will overpower much of the flavour. As such, tea snobs don’t tend to gravitate especially towards this, but if you like jasmine, then I wholly suggest you indulge yourself. It makes a lovely evening tea or a tea to have after a meal. Like Gunpowder, it is a resilient steeper, so feel free to steep it in many ways. Pictured below.

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I have left out many teas. You could write volumes of books on different Chinese Green teas alone, and that’s part of the fun. You could go your whole life touring around China, trying to taste all the different Chinese Greens, and you still wouldn’t get all of them. Listed are just some of the most common ones. Start tasting!

Recommended Dealers:

Seven Cups

Camellia Sinensis

Japanese Green Tea

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When I first started at the tea shop, the owner asked me what my favourite kind was. I told him I was really into Japanese greens, and he sort of mumbled “ah. Okay,” and shot a disappointed look in my direction. The shop owner was a vehement dark oolong and pu-erh drinker, which was just about the total opposite of what I said. He had over one hundred varieties of tea available at the shop, and only one of them was a Japanese green. When I got around to tasting the tea, it was awful and it wouldn’t shock me if he admitted to not changing it in three years. He had quite the distaste for Japanese greens, but I happen to be rather fond of them. You should be, too.

Green tea is the only variety of tea Japan produces, so over there, they just call it “tea”. In 806 A.D., a monk named Kukai brought back tea seeds with him to Japan, after his study in China. He cultivated some tea and served it to the emperor. Emperor Saga was so impressed by this beverage, that he ordered mass cultivation. Tea became a drink of the upper class.

In 1191 A.D., a Japanese Zen priest named Eisai came back from his study in China, and brought two things back with him: scriptures which he later turned into the Rinzai school of Zen, and tea seeds. Rinzai is one of the three sects of Zen Buddhism in Japan, and certainly the most popular. Eisai planted the tea seeds in Uji, which is where some of the highest quality Japanese green tea comes from. Eisai wrote a two volume book on tea, and was adamant in its prospects, with the opening sentence being “Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete.” The man liked tea. He introduced the beverage to the warrior class, the well-cultured, and the monks. This link between Zen and tea set the foundation for the Japanese tea ceremony. Many political negotiations were carried out in the setting of the tea ceremony, and by the end of the sixteenth century, the “way of tea”, a way of spirituality involving a fusion of both Rinzai Zen and tea emerged. Tea was now given to the public at large, and grew to be the most popular beverage in the country, next to water.

From 1641 A.D. – 1853 A.D. Japan had a policy which forbade contact with other nations. They were more-or-less isolated from the rest of the world, which lead to a development of much of Japan’s unique cultural flavour, not to mention new tea production methods. In 1738 a man named Soen Nagatani invented means to roast leaves using steam instead of dry heat. This, combined with the fact that the sea is never more than 120km away in Japan, lead to one of the most noteworthy traits of Japanese tea; it tastes like the sea. Japanese tea often has marine-like qualities to its aroma and taste. Seriously, drink Japanese greens.

Modern Japanese tea production is almost entirely done by mechanization. A mechanized scissor contraption plucks the leaves instead of plucking it by hand, for instance, and all of the tea production is done by factory machines. Because, well, robots.

Here are a list of the most common Japanese greens as well as their attributes.

Sencha: This is Japan’s most common tea, making up about 80% of the country’s total tea production. Most tea is of medium quality, but there are certainly high quality Senchas out there. Typically, they are known for their crispness and subtlety in flavour.

Bancha: This is a lower grade of Sencha. The leaves are usually picked in the late summer or early fall. They’re blended with the stems of the leaf, which denotes a lower quality.

Hojicha: This is a Bancha, but the production is a little different in that the leaves are roasted for a longer time. This kills much of their marine qualities, but a new nutty flavour emerges, which is interesting in a green tea.

Gyokuro: If you’re an important visitor to the country, it’s said they’ll serve you Gyokuro. And for good reason; there’s much care taken in the growing and production of this tea. The best is grown in the province of Uji, which is a location that is surrounded by mountains. The mountains help shade the tea, as well as help subdue harsh weather conditions. In addition to this, it is a shade grown tea, which means that farmers erect a canopy over young crops, progressively adding more and more shade to protect the leaves from sunlight. After three weeks, the buds of the leaves are picked. The shading process is done to increase levels of theanine and caffeine in the leaves, while decreasing catechins. Catechins are what makes tea astringent, so it increases the flavour profile while lowers the astringency. The shading process combined with the use of buds instead of mature leaves, makes Gyokuro among the most caffeinated – comparable to a typical cup of coffee.

Tencha: It is grown using a similar shade-grown model to Gyokuro, however, mature leaves are used more typically than in the instance of Gyokuro. The leaves are not shaped, so they remain in their original leaf shape. They are used exclusively for Matcha.

Matcha: These are ground up Tencha leaves. In the old age, leaves were ground between millstones, but today, this processed is mechanized. Matcha is used for the Japanese tea ceremony (a subject which warrants a post in its own right.) Matcha was originally used for monks as an aid to remain awake during meditation. There are but a few single origin Matcha teas, as it is believed that blending of different crops can bring out the best taste. Like Gyokuro, the caffeine content can be similar to that of a cup of coffee, but unlike Gyokuro, Matcha is consumed traditionally in three sips, so caffeine enters your body much sooner.

Genmaicha: I like to call this the “sushi tea” because it’s the tea you almost always get when eating sushi in the west. It has grains of roasted puffed rice blended into the tea, which as you might imagine, gives it sort of a rice base flavour, which, incidentally, is why they pair it with sushi. The flavours match beautifully.

For preparation of every sort of Japanese tea apart from Matcha, it’s best done in a Kyusu (literally translates to teapot,) which is pictured below. If I have to be honest, I can’t tell you why it’s better, just that it’s better. For Matcha, you should always always always prepare it with a whisk, and I highly recommend you use a Matcha bowl as well (second picture below)

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Recommended Dealers:

O-Cha 

Camellia Sinensis

Den’s

DAVID’sTEA Specifically for their Matcha. If you live in Canada, it’s a great place to get some decent Matcha for a good price. Plus, no shipping costs if you have one around you. Their Gyokuro isn’t bad, either. 

Yellow Tea

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Yellow tea is the rarest genre of tea available, with only three existing types and only, according to my teacher, six estates which produce it. Evidently, eastern agriculture is not exceptionally documented (or I suck at research) because I have been unable to fact-check this figure properly, but at risk of discrediting my journalistic ability, there are certainly, at most, only “several” tea estates which produce yellow tea – all of them in China. To give you some scale, there are more than seventy thousand tea estates in China alone. On top of this, yellow tea is almost exclusively consumed locally in its region, which makes it uncommon on the international marketplace. It’s a rare tea.

The reason gardens are unlikely to produce this tea stems from economical reasoning. Because of the production method, many tea leaves are damaged and unsellable. Economically speaking, it’s more viable to produce high quality green tea than it is yellow tea, so estates usually stick to that. It’s the neglected middle sibling of tea.

The production method differences are as follows:

  1. Buds are typically only used, as they are the highest quality stage of leaf.

  2. Once the buds are picked, they are immediately fired, which temporarily halts the oxidation stage

  3. The buds are wrapped in cloth or paper, then left out to cool.

  4. The leaves naturally oxidize slightly while cooling, which yellows the leaves. (This, combined with the liquor colour of the steeped tea gives yellow tea its name)

  5. Steps 2-4 are repeated for as much as three days

  6. A final drying is done where the leaves are roasted gradually.

The steps are finicky to a whole new level, and a substantial amount of buds will die during this process. Thankfully there is a small amount of local demand for yellow tea, as without that demand, it would possibly only exist as a heritage leaf, meaning only a couple of farmers would produce it to keep the tradition alive; however, local demand can only go so far. If there isn’t a larger demand for yellow tea elsewhere, it could very well become extinct. We have lost many Taiwanese oolongs because of an similar situation, as shifting in local demand is not only a reasonable assumption, but is expected. If I may interject my own opinion, I believe yellow tea is still very much unknown to many people outside of Asia. How could people buy it if they don’t know it exists? At the same time, if people do discover it, they can be dissuaded by the price. Seven Cups, one of the dealers I recommend at the bottom of the page, sells their rarest yellow tea at $33.55 for twenty five grams. Contrast that to DAVIDsTEA and you will note that you can purchase many of their teas for about $7.00 per fifty grams. Yellow tea is almost ten times more expensive than a lot of popular teas in the west. No wonder people are hesitant to buy it, especially if they’ve never heard of it. The tea connoisseur market is only so large, and there is not enough demand to sustain it.

Let me offer this solution for you. Using the $33.55 example above, let’s do some math. If we assume you use a standard two grams of tea per cup, you can get twelve and a half cups per twenty five grams. Okay, not the worst, but let’s take that further. Seven Cups informs us we can get five reliable steeps out of two grams of tea, so we need to multiply twelve and a half by five. Sixty two and a half cups for $33.55. That means it only costs $0.54 per cup of some of the rarest tea you can get on the public marketplace. In Ontario, that is three times cheaper than a can of Coca Cola. That is my solution.

Like much of tea history, the specifics aren’t often accounted for, leaving much of it shrouded in ambiguity. The origin of yellow tea is one of those specifics. The most commonly accepted belief is that yellow tea was invented in the Qing dynasty- anywhere from 1644-1912.

The three types of yellow tea are called Jun Shan Yin Zhen (translated as Silver Needle, and should not be mistaken for the white tea of the same name), Meng Ding Shan, and Mo Gan Shan. All of them are listed from least rare to rarest.

Yellow tea will be most enjoyed in a gaiwan, and this steeping method is highly suggested, given the rarity of the tea.

Yellow teas have exotic and satisfying flavour profiles and aromas. Sometimes with sweet, nutty, and floral notes. Given the uncertain future of yellow tea, I recommend you try some if you have any inkling.

Recommended dealers for yellow tea:

Tea Spring

Seven Cups

White Tea

ImageWhite tea was popularized in the West in the 1980s. There was quite the fanaticism going on. Green tea was popular in California at the time, notably for its health benefits, but there was a new, previously unheard of tea which was even less processed than its green brother. White tea hit California in a big way. So big in fact, the supply couldn’t keep up with the demand, and the West dramatically raised the price of white tea, leaving it among some of the rarer types. They used white tea for just about anything they could use it for: yoga mats, lip balm, lotion, skirts, things like that. It’s only recently we’ve seen the prices and accessibility of white tea return to normal.

White tea was discovered some time between 1392 and 1542. In the year 1392, cake teas were outlawed in China for an inexplicable reason, which destroyed the tea industry. Cake teas were the only way Chinese cultivars knew how to produce tea, so they were forced to learn other methods of tea production, subsequently inventing red tea, oolong tea, and white tea.

Most teas have origin myths associated with them. According to legend, white tea was discovered in 1292 by a goddess named Tai Mu Niang Niang (Niang Niang means mother) atop a mountain called Tai Mu Shan (Shan means mountain). She used these tea leaves to cure local children of a deadly fevers.

Chinese white tea is principally grown in Jian Yang, Fuding, and Zheng, all of them being north-eastern territories of Fujian, which is a province well-known for producing certain great quality teas. Recently there has been a popularization of Indian white tea as well.

True white tea production was not invented until between 1772 and 1782. Until that time, white tea was pan-fried and shaped. Modern white tea production involves neither of that. These changes were done for economical reasons.

Modern white tea production goes as follows:

  1. Tea buds (and leaves) are picked
  2. The buds are left out to dry in the sunlight
  3. The buds are brought indoors, then left to wither on bamboo racks in an arid environment of about 40° C
  4. The buds are slightly roasted, graded, then packaged.

When you contrast the production to normal tea production, white tea is minimally processed.

There are four main categories of Chinese white tea: Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle), Bai Mu Dan (White Peony), Shou Mei (Longevity Eyebrow… seriously…), and Gong Mei (Tribute Eyebrow. Also serious.) They are listed from highest quality to lowest quality.

White tea is usually viewed as low in caffeine content for some reason, but just the opposite is true. A high quality white tea is the highest in caffeine content, as only tea buds are used. Tea buds are the youngest form of the leaf, and contain the highest caffeine content, not to mention that the production promotes further caffeine content. A cup of shade-grown green tea can be comparable in caffeine content to a shot of espresso, and some white tea contains even more caffeine than that. Do not drink white teas for a lack of caffeine. Drink white tea to feel the sweet, sweet caffeine high.

White teas are delicate and subtle in taste, with many I find, as I once described to a curious individual “like hay, but in the best way possible.” They often have fruity notes to them, cherry, apricot, and the like. It’s a pleasurable summer tea or evening tea, if you can ignore the caffeine content.

White tea is resilient when it comes to steeping temperature, as you can steep the leaves in boiling water without issue, however, you will enjoy your tea more if you steep it anywhere from 80°C-90° C.

White teas are best prepared in a gaiwan to taste their subtle flavour profile.

Recommended dealers for white tea:

Seven Cups

Camellia Sinensis


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