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description: Teas I have drunk, with reviews and future purchases
I order a lot[^orders] from [Upton Tea Imports](!Wikipedia) because they specialize in loose tea & I'm a sucker for their catalogue. Their prices seem pretty reasonable too, so I don't bother shopping around^[Which is pretty unusual for me. On the other hand, in ages past, back when I was on the `` Usenet group, a fair number of other people also ordered from Upton.], even buying my tea kettle from them.^[How does an electric tea kettle differ from ordinary [electric kettles](!Wikipedia)? Principally they have temperature settings - a little knob to choose between temperatures for black, oolong, green, and [white tea](!Wikipedia). The less oxidized the tea, the cooler the water should be - white tea water should be dozens of degrees cooler than black tea water.] Upton allows reviews if you've bought at least a certain quantity, but otherwise your notes are private. This strikes me as a little unfair (a sampler of 10g is more than enough to judge a tea!) and my reviews are a valuable guide to me in ordering, so I keep local copies of my reviews & notes.
[^orders]: Looking through my history, I order tea on a roughly annual or semi-annual basis:
1. 10/16/2006
2. 12/17/2007
3. 1/8/2008
4. 2/15/2010
5. 7/5/2010
6. 5/14/2011
7. 12/4/2011
Thinking back, the 2 year gap between orders #3 and #4 was probably due to a Christmas where I received more than *2* pounds of tea, which took me a very long time to drink.
# Tea
## Oolong
When I was young, I was a great fan of hot chocolate, but hot chocolate is troublesome to make if you are making real hot chocolate (with milk & everything). I tried coffee once or twice, but it was even more disgusting than beer. [Herbal teas](!Wikipedia) were drinkable, though, and I slowly graduated to [green tea](!Wikipedia). Then one day a my mother bought a [Bigelow](!Wikipedia "Bigelow Tea Company") box set of teas which happened to include an [oolong](!Wikipedia) tea.
I instantly fell in love with oolong - not quite as raw and grassy as [green tea](!Wikipedia) but not so bitter & disgusting as [black tea](!Wikipedia). (Not that green tea is *bad*; I still liked it, and all my favorite oolongs tend towards the green side of the oolong spectrum. I just prefer oolongs.)
In no particular order:
- [Tie-Guan-Yin Oolong First Grade](
A very nice [tieguanyin](!Wikipedia) (which is one of my favorite areas of the oolongs). The flavor is straight oolong: in between green and black, with a tiny bit of sweetness. One of the best I've had. Handles re-steeping well. (It is largely the same as the second-grade, but the second had a sort of 'woody' taste to it that the first doesn't)
- [Tindharia Estate Oolong](
Nothing memorable.
- [Bao Jun](
Like the Tindharia, nothing memorable. In fact, this was pretty weak in flavor.
- [Formosa Heavy-Baked Ti-Guan-Yin](
Far too bitter and dark and 'burnt' tasting!
- [Formosa Jade Oolong Imperial](
Extremely good! But also tremendously expensive. But still so good I'm tempted to splurge on 100g anyway.
- [Tie-Guan-Yin Oolong Second Grade](
Just slightly woody. Otherwise, a solid good oolong.
- [China Oolong Buddha's Palm](
Too smoky.
- [Osmanthus Oolong Se Chung](
It's a solid oolong, but the floral taste (I don't know how to describe the [osmanthus](!Wikipedia) flavor) really makes this for me. I like to mix a little of it into some of my other oolongs, though it's not the best re-steeper I've ever had.
This was my default oolong for a long time because 500g was just $18. One of the downsides of buying in such bulk is that the osmanthus fragments exhibited a [Brazil nut effect](!Wikipedia) and the last hundred cups were more osmanthus than tea.
- [Fen Huan Dan Cong](
The description promises a strong flavor, but perhaps I prepared it poorly because the flavor struck me as weak, nor did I particularly notice any peach. I was disappointed; I'd've been better off buying some more of the Osmanthus or 1st-grade Imperial.
- [Season's Pick Tie-Guan-Yin #132](
A solid oolong somewhere between the Second and First Grade oolongs
- [Fancy Oolong Imperial](
Very good; similar to the First Grade Imperial oolong.
- Benshan
I bought this and the roasted barley tea (see [later](#tisane)) from the [Rainbow Grocery Cooperative](!Wikipedia) when I was visiting my sister in San Francisco. Benshan is a fairly green oolong and right up my alley, although it struck me as lacking the slight sweetness and floral overtones I expect from the best oolongs. But regardless, it was pretty tasty, and adding a little bit of the barley made the benshan oolong even better.
- Iron Buddha (from [Teavana](!Wikipedia))
Standard oolong; nothing memorable.
- [Oolong Fine Grade](; standard oolong
- [Formosa Amber Oolong](; too black-tea-like
- [Formosa Jade Oolong](; quite tasty, in the same vein as the First and Second Grade oolongs (although obviously not as good)
- [China Oolong Se Chung](; as described, too woody for me
- [Ruan Zhi Thai](
I didn't expect much of a Thai tea, since I've never heard of oolongs from Thailand before. To a little surprise, I found it to be a completely normal oolong. Nothing floral to the taste, just a plain ordinary oolong. I would not have suspected you of lying if you had told me it was a Formosan oolong.
- [Superior Competition Tie-Guan-Yin](
Very good oolong. Comparable to the First and Second grade Imperial oolongs, without doubt.
- [China Oolong Organic Eastern Beauty](
A disappointment; nothing special - the subtle notes are too subtle for me.
- [Tie-Guan-Yin Special Tribute](
Rolled leaf-balls. Similar to the Oolong Fine Grade; but has a somewhat mysterious floral taste I can't really compare to anything. Doesn't seem to re-steep very well.
- [Wuyi Golden Guan Yin](
Loosely rolled long leaves; weak flavor with nothing of interest about it. (I'll agree with the Upton's description that it's not *bitter*, but calling it 'sweet' or having a 'raisin-like' flavor is just hyperbole.) Disappointing.
- [Floral Jinxuan](
At first, I thought this was ordinary, but upon resteeping I noticed the promised floral notes - they reminded me strongly of the osmanthus oolong.
- [Formosa Oolong Spring Dragon](
Like the Special Tribute, but weaker in flavor, I think.
- "Tea at the Empress"; I picked up this dark blue cylindrical tin of teabags somewhere or other. It doesn't even specify what kind of tea it is, but apparently it has something to do with a [hotel](!Wikipedia "The Empress (hotel)"), and claims to be from ["The Fairmont Store"]( (although no item is listed similar to the tin).
It's not very good oolong. It starts off fairly bitter and doesn't improve, but at least it doesn't get too horrible as it resteeps. Regardless, I don't know where I would get more and I would not get more if I knew.
- [Empress Guei-Fei Oolong](
At 5 minutes of steeping, a pretty ordinary oolong; by 10 minutes, a strong floral taste had developed. Continued steeping made the flavor weaker and bitterer (as one would expect), but no other changes. It reminded me of the osmanthus oolong. During the second tasting, the floral flavor was not as overpowering; I was careful to use the same tsp amount of tea for each of the 9 teas, which suggests that perhaps last time I used too much of the Empress. Not bad at all, I may order it again.
- [Oolong Choice Grade](
At 5 minutes, another ordinary oolong, but by 10 minutes, the flavor has not become bitter but rather continued to develop into a very *oolong* flavor. Little change with re-steepings. In the second tasting, I noted that it was 'a sharper blacker flavor than Anxi and Empress'. A good oolong, might be a candidate for my 'standard' tea (but would need to check prices of the others).
- [Formosa Oolong Choicest](
The 5 minute steeping tasted both woody and floral, an odd combination which bothered me (I had expected more - it cost twice what the Oolong Choice Grade did). The 10 minute steeping wasn't much better: it was sweeter tasting, but the stem/wood flavor was even stronger, and it didn't improve or change very much at any subsequent steeping. It's possible I prepared it wrong or picked a pinch of stems, but it seems unlikely I will pay the premium for this tea when I am not sure I can even describe it as 'good'. (In the second tasting, I noted only that it was 'slightly sour'.)
- Anxi tikwanyin
Another gift from my sister. This is a mild medium oolong with relatively little floral taste compared to everything else I've been testing. As expected from the [Anxi county](!Wikipedia) tea region, their Tie-Guan-Yin is perfectly acceptable.
- Amali oolong 'African Queen'
## Green
- Williamsburg gunpowder; rather grassy, the tightly rolled gunpowder seems to easily oversteep.
- [Xian Shan Pouchong](
Rolled green tea; strongly reminiscent of oolongs and definitely on the border. Fairly good considered as a green/oolong cross, but nothing memorable about the flavor - similar to Oolong Fine Grade.
- "Green Tea Pomegranate", [English Tea Shop](
Korean greens:
- [Dae-Jak](
After 5 minutes, struck me as rather grassy, akin to gyokuro, but with a weaker flavor. By 10 minutes, it was still grassy but a certain unpleasant edge had crept in, which was still there after the resteep. Not impressed. During the second-tasting, the unpleasant edge was weaker than I remembered, but otherwise both the Dae-Jak and Jung-Jak tasted the same.
- [Jung-Jak](
Very similar to the Dae-Jak, but less sweet (when tasting them side by side); the sweetness passed Dae-Jak at 10 minutes, and at 15 minutes, I wasn't noticing the unpleasant edge. Better than the Dae-Jak, but I still doubt I'll be ordering it again.
- Satori Tea Company's [Sencha Klaus](
Gift from sister; a tin of variegated green (long thin leaves, stems, broken leaves) mixed with flakes of thin orange peel or skin. The flavor is interesting; after the first few minutes, it struck me as a sweeter kind of green but I can't figure out the flavor - minty? Floral? Some sort of citrus orange? After another 5 minutes, it's much stronger and I feel confident identifying it as an orange flavor. It's strong enough that I don't think I want to drink it on its own, but perhaps I could mix in the Dae-Jak. (Satori's description identifies the contents: "almond bits, cinnamon bits, natural flavor and orange blossoms". Makes sense.)
## White
- [Special Grade Shou Mei](
Fairly twiggy (little in the way of leaves proper). Very white - tasted like a weak green with a certain floral overtone. In its favor, it handled re-steeping very well, not becoming bitter even slightly & tasting the same over multiple cups.
- [Organic Pai Mu Tan](
The Pai Mu Tan tasted like the Shou Mei or Yin Zhen Bai Hao, but much more so, and so gets more approval from me; probably won't buy it again, though. (I don't actually dislike the general white tea flavor, it's just usually far too weak to be worth drinking.)
- [China Yin Zhen Bai Hao Downy White Pekoe](
As promised, the pekoe is indeed 'downy' - the leaves & branches are downright fuzzy. However, it tastes almost identical to the Shou Mei.
- [Peach Momotaro](
A gift from the littler sister. I was quite amused at the title - a clear allusion to Japanese folktale [Momotarō](!Wikipedia) (literally "Peach Tarō" or "Peach Boy"). I didn't have much hope for this [flowering tea](!Wikipedia), but it improved on my expectations: the bloomed tea ball was a lovely white stalk on a grassy green base, and the peach flavor was respectable and comparable to the other peach tea I have. Flavor-wise, the tea was pretty weak (I was under the impression it was either a green or oolong tea) and overpowered by the peach, but at least it *had* a flavor and so was better than the previous flowering teas. It improved a little bit by the 10 minute mark, having sweetened a little. The weak tea flavor was explained when I learned it was a white tea; such a flavor is pretty par for the course for whites.
## Black
- "Ginger Peach Tea", bag-tea by English Tea Shop
It is a black tea mixed with 'ginger pieces and peach flavor'. To my surprise, it was fairly good. The black tea is a pretty weak black and as far as I can tell, towards the oolong end of the spectrum. The peach flavor is entirely dominant over the ginger, which is as I would prefer, peach being an old favorite of mine. The first steep is good, but it falls off very quickly and needs replacing by the fourth steep or so.
- Satori Tea Company's Amali [African Queen](
Another gift; this one confused me because it was clearly labeled oolong, but when I tried it out, it tasted very much like a black tea and the leaves were pretty oxidized and produced a black-tea-looking liquor (extremely dark as opposed to amber), and quickly began thinking of Earl Grey. My confusion was resolved when I began to look up the teas and found that the African Queen was in fact a black tea (as opposed to a peculiarly black oolong).
# Tisane
Tisanes are any 'tea' which does not incorporate _[Camellia sinensis](!Wikipedia)_ - so this category includes barley tea or mint tea or 'red tea' ([rooibos](!Wikipedia)) or [honeybush](!Wikipedia). (I once ordered rooibos & honeybush from Upton's for my mother; I found them so unmemorable I can't even review them here.)
- [Roasted barley tea](!Wikipedia)
Like the Benshan oolong, bought from Rainbow Grocery Cooperative. I was initially going to only buy some [genmaicha](!Wikipedia) but then I saw their oolongs, so I went with plain roasted barley instead and combined it. The barley was very... nutty and barley-ish on its own. Not entirely drinkable, I thought, although it added some strength and robustness to the Benshan oolong in small amounts.
- [Ginger](!Wikipedia) herbal tea
This [Royal King product]( was, as it promised, very gingery indeed. I'd have to say I don't actually like the flavor of ginger *that* much, and couldn't drink it very often.
- [Rooibos](!Wikipedia):
- [Rote Grütze]( disgustingly sweet and fruity ("accented with dried blackcurrants, blueberries, strawberries and wild cherries" is an understatement). The best I can liken it to is drinking one of those potpourri or stuffed pomegranates old women buy. It initially seemed to re-steep well but I realized it was somehow ineffably becoming more and more offputting with each steep. I can't see it really motivates me to try any more kinds of rooibos.
- [Superior Organic]( much better than the Rote Grütze, with just the right amount of sweetness.
- [Honeybush](!Wikipedia): [honeybush vanilla]( reminded me a little of rooibos (though different species entirely), but much toned down, sweet like its name suggests, and the vanilla combined nicely. I actually liked it a little. Good for occasional breaks or when I want something hot to drink but caffeine would be a bad idea (eg. past 7 PM).
- Oolong:
1. [Tie-Guan-Yin Oolong Special Grade](
2. [Magnolia Blossom Oolong](
- Green (_[gyokuro](!Wikipedia)_ sounds interesting):
1. [Upton's standard gyokuro](
2. [Organic gyokuro](
![Taste-testing 9 teas side by side](/images/2011-teatasting-5.jpg "Taste-testing 9 teas side by side")