Thread: Tea OT | Drink Deep
Welcome to a new Tea OT. @Dr. Farnsgoth mentioned that I should revive the thread so here we are.

Tea is my daily beverage. Right now I'm drinking some four seasons black tea from eco-cha, third steep. Quality tea is an inexpensive indulgence that can be brewed many times before it needs to be thrown out. Here is a thread to plunge into the habit and to source good info / good tea.


EzEnjzT.gif


Brewing improperly will ruin a good cup of loose-leaf tea. The USA is still fairly tea-shy and one of the most common complaints I hear is that the tea is "too bitter". Learning to brew helps to avoid this issue and is not difficult or time consuming.

You need:

- something that boils water
- some kind of basket to contain your tea leaves
- a mug or cup, maybe a teapot too

Don't buy a brewing basket that restricts your tea leaves. I recommend against using something like this:

BmUtGku.jpg


(pass. The leaves won't fully expand)

You want this:

Yl1siND.jpg


(inexpensive and significantly more room for your tea to brew)

Open-topped baskets are essential to allow the tea leaves to unfurl and expand.

Your first task is to brew a cup of loose-leaf tea that doesn't taste bitter or scorched. Some tea connoisseurs insist on 175F/80C for White / Green tea, 195F/90C for Taiwanese oolongs, 205F/96C for wuyi yancha and certain sheng pu'erh, and 208F/97C for black tea...

Into the garbage with that.

Here's the hard and fast rule: 200F/93C or hotter, brew 10 seconds, add steep time in 10 second intervals for each successive brew.

That's it.

If it's too bitter, you brewed it too long or used way too many tea leaves.

"But I like my tea really strong," I hear. Add more leaves, then. Don't ruin a good cup of tea by oversteeping it. Water temperature, water quality, the tea cup used, and even tea quality aren't going to matter if you steep your tea too long.

You certainly can brew lower than 200F/93C, but that should be something you choose, not something dictated by the tea. I've noticed that even the most delicate green teas will handle a few seconds of boiling temp just fine as long as the tea is a good quality. Low-quality tea vendors may suggest you brew their teas at a lower temp, often to mask the imperfections.

I don't brew tea longer than 10 - 20 seconds on the first couple of brews. Tea contains 'tannins', the source of that bitter taste when you forget about the teabag left in the pot for too long. You don't want tannins to seep into your tea any more than necessary. Hot, quick brews of large portions of leaf is the way to go. You can rebrew loose-leaf tea several times. I usually get 5 or 6 cups of tea out of each batch before it begins to get bland. Compare that to tea bags which often are discarded after only 1 or 2 uses.

Alternatively, you can use small amounts of tea and long brew times. A common brew method in China -- colloquially called 'grandpa style' in the West -- involves throwing a small portion of tea leaves into a teapot, cup, or thermos and adding hot water. No filters or baskets or teabags. Just throw it in. It's important to use a small portion because the tea will be sitting in water the whole time. As your teacup gets low (about 25% or less), refill with hot water and go about your day. The high water-to-tea ration will prevent the tannins from overpowering the rest of the flavors.

However you decide to brew your tea, tweak the process if it isn't turning out to your liking.

Omit the milk and sugar. Don't buy blended teas with chunks of apple and orange peel and hibiscus. Or, if you really do wish to add in the fruity, tangy extra ingredients, save yourself a lot of money and buy them in bulk separately, then mix them yourself. Pre-blended teas are overpriced, as a rule.

Dry licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is an exceptional sweetener. Steep a few chunks with the tea leaves.

A good cup of tea will taste good with no additives.

pT2mNUE.gif


Picking a tea is up to you. Oh sure, I'll offer some suggestions, but you have to get both feet wet and decide your own threshold of quality.
Unlike many extravagant pleasures in this world, a high-quality tea from a small farm is affordable and accessible. It is more important to avoid the overpriced stuff and the duds than to find the "perfect farm" because there's a tremendous amount of high-quality tea out there. With a bit of knowhow and some trial-and-error, you can be sipping high-grade tea at a fraction of the cost of getting it at a café or buying it in a fancy tin.

The tea plant -- camellia sinensis -- is generally what we're speaking about when we say "tea", but the term has expanded to cover non-teas like rooibos and cousins like camellia taliensis. If the farmer has bothered to specify, you might see camellia sinensis var. sinensis or camellia sinensis var. assamica specified on the tea.

Similar to wine, the flavor of the tea depends on many factors such as location, varietal, terroir, weather during the growing season, and expertise from the farmer. The farmers who produce good tea put in a lot of attention after the leaves are harvested.

Therefore, a good tea is equal parts good farming and good craftsmanship after the harvest.

A word of advice before we dive in: don't blow your cash.

The tea market is hundreds of years old, packed full of cool-sounding names, wild promises, and exotic labels. You are not the first hipster to swagger up to the tea ceremony with more money than sense. You can spend $100s on tiny yinxing clay teapots (genuine Yixing clay, we promise!) and well-aged 20-year-old bricks of shu pu'erh (secret batch of late 90s Malaysia wet-storage, discount price just for you!) and genuine Da Hong Pao from the highest elevations of Wuyishan (picked by monks, and assured to be from trees over 100 years old).

Don't be eager to spend a ton of money on nice-sounding names. Spend a bit of time learning about the market. You will save money while drinking better-quality than the saps who got suckered by the storefront and glossy photos. Doubt my advice at the peril of your wallet.

Many common labels like "monkey-picked", "Imperial grade", "Jade", "snail shell", "earring", and "tribute tea" are essentially meaningless and are aimed at impressing people who don't know any better. The name should be a guideline, not a stamp of quality. That isn't to say that teas with those names are bad. Just be aware those are marketing terms, not specific guarantees of quality and flavor. Avoid buying the "Emperor's Red Robe" tea. Buy "Da Hong Pao" instead. Western vendors tend to translate the names to make it sound more exotic. The good farmers usually don't know English and don't even bother. They know they have the good stuff anyway.

Go fresh until you know your stuff. Purchase something harvested within the last 12 months. I regularly buy older (18+ months) black teas, white teas, and hei cha, but that's because I know what I'm looking for. You'll want to drink fresh tea to understand what changes as the tea ages. This is most important for green teas and less important for everything else.

Start by looking for a "daily drinker", something you plan to drink regularly and therefore something that isn't too expensive. Please believe me when I say that you will be happier if you have a few good teas that you can rely on rather than a cupboard full of 60 different varietals. I've gone down that road and it's a money-sink unless you've developed your taste and know what to buy.

0jBXzLZ.png

A Yunnan black tea (dianhong) is often recommended for its cheap price and strong flavor. Don't be fooled by fancier grades: this stuff is grown by the metric ton and is a very common tea over in China. You can get a kilo between about $45 and $100 depending on the grade. A kilo of tea is... a lot. There are plenty of other black teas available, but a solid dianhong is the best bang-for-your-buck black tea, for my money.

The fuzzy golden buds of a typically Yunnan dianhong adds to the mouthfeel of the tea (makes it creamier) but otherwise doesn't affect flavor much. Keemun produces its own sort of dianhong that many tea-drinkers prefer. Another excellent black tea is 'Laoshan black', boasting a flavor similar to raw cacao. Lapsang souchong is a rather famous smoked black tea that became popular with European traders.


aSvwV5t.png

Many are familiar with green tea and white tea. These teas do not go through as many processing steps as a black tea or an oolong, lending them a lighter flavor and stronger aroma. Look for something grown within the last 12 months. Japanese green teas like matcha and sencha have a distinct taste compared to the mainland teas. Bi luo chun, mao feng, and dragonwell are three of the better-known Chinese green teas. I'm rather partial to greens (and blacks) grown in Laoshan.

Drink white tea fresh (12 months after harvest or younger) or aged. There is an apocryphal saying in the tea community specific to white tea: "One year is tea, three years is medicine, and seven years is treasure". Aged white tea isn't very widespread in the West. White tea tends to be very light in flavor but full of soothing aromas and smooth mouthfeel.


nrFdiOT.png

Oolong is a broad category, ranging from nearly-green tieguanyin (pictured above) to high-fired Hong Kong-style yancha. These teas share some common preparation techniques such as roasting and aging, but otherwise they taste very different from one another depending on the country of origin and terroir. Chinese oolongs of note are tieguanyins, yancha (Wuyi region), and dancong oolong (Phoenix Mountain, Guangdong). Aged oolong is a rather choice beverage but can get expensive.

If you want something cheap and tasty a "nuclear green" tieguanyin is your best bet. Genuine tieguanyin using the old methods of preparation will go through several gentle roastings to bring out a nuttier flavor and is therefore more expensive. Fresh tieguanyin has a sharp -- almost sour -- flavor and a strong aroma and will produce a cup of tea that is neon-green. This type of tieguanyin is much cheaper to make and therefore you shouldn't overspend on it. Purists have complained about how "true tieguanyin" is being supplanted by cheap "nuclear green" stuff, but both are a tasty treat if the quality is good.

Yancha (rock tea) is a huge subcategory unto itself. Tea produces in the Wuyi region bears the name yancha in reference to its smooth, minerally "yan yun" characteristics. Yancha is also roasted and aged, especially in Hong Kong. This results in a thick, powerful brew that many people find too strong.

With oolong in particular, you will see labels like "grown at an elevation of..." on many teas. Higher elevation leads to more floral, softer teas without strong flavors. This isn't worth fussing too much about.

d9vyijM.png

Lastly, we have Hei cha, a category even larger than oolong. This encompasses fermented and aged teas like pu'erh, fu brick, liu bao, and tianjian. I often recommend shu pu'erh to someone who likes coffee, since the flavor of shu is earthy and roasted. These teas are pressed into bings for long-term aging and storage, though tianjian and liu bao are typically packed loosely into bamboo baskets

Pu'erh gained some notoriety as a "weight loss tea" in the West. Setting that aside, pu'erh consists of two different types: shu (post-fermented) and sheng (raw). Sheng is the traditional method and a high-end sheng aged for 10+ years will cost you some money. The Shu method hastens the process by post-fermenting the tea leaves prior to being pressed into bings or bricks. Both types of pu'erh offer something different than the other kinds of tea.

Personally, I like tianjian the best. It is sweeter compared to most other hei cha.


Guidelines when purchasing tea at a storefront

Not recommended if you're trying to save money. Perhaps you have a local scene with wonderful tea, or perhaps you're certain that your tea-shop proprietor is really knowledgable. But this is a really simple matter: a physical storefront costs money. Your tea will be marked up to help pay for it, and the proprietor is likely to overhype and overplay the cultivar and quality of the tea in order to pay for that storefront.

Am I saying you should never buy from a shop? No, spend your money how you want. I'm merely pointing out that you will end up spending more money for a tea that might not be good quality. And all this assumes you have a nice tea shop, not some strip-mall Teavana...

Guidelines when purchasing tea online

Double-check if they have a storefront and apply the logic from above if that's the case.

Otherwise, you want to go to shops that source from farmers themselves. There's a lot of marketing and hype. I will tell you the sites I personally buy from. This isn't meant to be comprehensive or authoritative:

yunnansourcing.com -- good all-around site, staffed and operated in China. They maintain good quality control, though like most large vendors they mark up the fancy stuff far above what it's worth. This is good place to buy several different teas in one big batch.

chaceremony.com -- high-quality yancha. These folks know their stuff and their cheaper options are still top quality. I'm a big fan of their bricked da hong pao and their shui xian.

tealifehk.com -- situated in Hong Kong and my go-to source for high-fired yancha. Coffee drinkers, beware: aged oolong is incredibly tasty.

eco-cha.com -- Taiwanese oolongs that rival anything from Mainland China. These folks can be a bit expensive, so also try...

mountaintea.com -- cheaper Taiwanese oolongs compared to eco-cha. Get your inexpensive dong dings here.

chawangshop.com -- best place for hei cha if you know what you're looking for.

Two reliable mega-brands from China are Sea Dyke (cheap but decent) and Wuyi Star (more expensive and still decent). These are not my favorite teas but I have several 500g tins of Sea Dyke ming xiang oolong to tide me over during the apocalypse. You can get those brands at a lot of online vendors.

This list is incomplete. I don't bother with matcha or high-end pu'erh, which will send you into a completely different direction. Do your homework. Don't overpay.

Misconceptions about high-grade tea

Three common misconceptions about high-quality tea. If you keep these in mind, you can be sipping high-quality, inexpensive tea without overpaying for fancy vendors to have a storefront in San Francisco.

First, aroma and mouthfeel are considered important characteristics and will be factored into the price of the tea. Lots of my "daily drinkers" are simple, inexpensive green teas and black teas that have strong flavors. Fancier stuff usually has the same flavor as a cheaper version but with stronger aroma.

Second, high-grade tea is just as much about what it omits. When someone drinks a really expensive tea, they may react "that's it?". Sometimes high-grade tea isn't expensive because it boasts a strong flavor, but because it lacks "imperfections" like slightly bitter finish or overly mineral mouthfeel.

Third, organic =/= best. In China, organic certification is often seen as a pesky administrative hurdle, not an actual set of guidelines to follow. If you want the best, cleanest tea, then you should buy from smaller farmers and vendors who buy from smaller farmers. Tea farms that are far away from major megacities are your best bet.

FohpQ29.gif


---

More details on specific types. Not meant to be comprehensive.

Japanese tea
Matcha -- powdered green tea whisked with a bamboo implement.
Sencha -- traditional Japanese green tea is steamed instead of pan-fried like in China.
Gyokuro -- grown in the shade, this tea takes on a much "grassier" flavor.
Genmaicha -- mixed with popped brown rice, this hearty tea tastes malty and a bit sweet
Kukicha -- a green tea composed of twigs and stems. Don't be fooled: it's a great alternative to sencha if you're trying to save money.
Oolongs and Black teas -- Japan isn't known for its oolongs and black teas, but I've have some from yuuki-cha.com that I enjoyed.

Chinese tea
Pu'erh -- pressed, aged tea. Sometimes 'sheng' is consumed 'young' but many find it overpowering
Dragonwell -- a famous green tea. Leaves are flattened
Yancha -- a term that covers "rock tea" from Wuyi region.
Shui xian -- a cheaper yancha that makes for an excellent daily drinker
rou gui -- a yancha with tones of cinnamon
tieguanyin -- famous oolong that can be consumed lightly- or medium-roasted
Da hong pao -- "Big Red Robe", a famous tea that is often blended to achieve the desired flavor and texture
Duck Shit oolong -- supposedly named to scare away travellers from tasting and falling in love with this tea
dianhong -- typically refers to black tea grown in the Yunnan region
phoenix dancong -- "dancong" means single bush; this typically refers to oolongs grown in the Phoenix Mountain, Guangdong province.

Taiwanese tea
Li shan / ali shan -- considered a representative of typical high-elevation Taiwanese oolongs
Dong ding -- a medium-roasted oolong similar to tieguanyin
bao zhong / pouchong -- a barely-fermented oolong that should appeal to green tea lovers
Sun Moon Lake tea / #18 Red -- a cultivar unique to Taiwan; has a fruity flavor
GABA oolong -- developed by the Japanese, Taiwan produces a lot of GABA oolong at a cheaper price
Feng Huang Gui Fei - "bug bitten" oolong, another tea unique to Taiwan
 
Last edited:
Alternatively, if you want to do it properly:

Teabag.

dx14cuX.jpg


Boiling Water.

iAPd3cT.jpg


A minute or two to brew depending on how strong you like it.

y6JOLmd.jpg


A dash of milk. I prefer skimmed.

aWeFt68.jpg


Bish bash bosh, perfect cuppa.

hvEd8IQ.jpg


Repeat 3-11 times a day as required.

Acceptable alternatives are brewing in a pot, in which case add the milk to the mug first, then pour the tea, or a herbal tea if you're feeling a bit ill, are a middle aged woman, or are a big poofter.
 
Alternatively, if you want to do it properly:

Teabag.

dx14cuX.jpg


Boiling Water.

iAPd3cT.jpg


A minute or two to brew depending on how strong you like it.

y6JOLmd.jpg


A dash of milk. I prefer skimmed.

aWeFt68.jpg


Bish bash bosh, perfect cuppa.

hvEd8IQ.jpg


Repeat 3-11 times a day as required.

Acceptable alternatives are brewing in a pot, in which case add the milk to the mug first, then pour the tea, or a herbal tea if you're feeling a bit ill, are a middle aged woman, or are a big poofter.


images
 
Best tea I ever had was a GABA oolong. Gave me some kind of mental superhero shit all day. I couldn’t sleep at night though.
Oh for sure, you got "tea high". The GABA and l-theanine in tea offsets the jitters of caffeine but without sacrificing the energy and alertness of caffeine.

Beautiful write up @Stilton Disco ; do you have a brand / flavor that is your daily drinker? I know you English like it strong, bitter, and offset with milk. Haven't had a cup of earl grey w strong bergamot in awhile 🤤
 
I actually have multiple tea pots, tea balls, dozens of herbal teas, loose leaf blends and make my own teas from scratch with fresh and/or dry ingredients when needed.

Here's the simple fact of the matter though, a normal, bog standard cup of tea, that are drunk in greater numbers by the peoples of the British Isles than every other type of tea, drunk by everyone else in the rest of the planet combined, just plain tastes better.

We've got it down to a fine art, it's the rest of you that are struggling with inferior, overly complicated faffy knock offs, that result in a worse drink at the end of it.
Oh for sure, you got "tea high". The GABA and l-theanine in tea offsets the jitters of caffeine but without sacrificing the energy and alertness of caffeine.

Beautiful write up @Stilton Disco ; do you have a brand / flavor that is your daily drinker? I know you English like it strong, bitter, and offset with milk. Haven't had a cup of earl grey w strong bergamot in awhile 🤤
Twinnings Strong English Breakfast or Assam, or Clipper Organic.

Just PG Tips will do in a pinch though.

I prefer mine stronger, brewed for at least 2 minutes, with a little skimmed milk.
 
Last edited:
Alternatively, if you want to do it properly:

Teabag.

dx14cuX.jpg


Boiling Water.

iAPd3cT.jpg


A minute or two to brew depending on how strong you like it.

y6JOLmd.jpg


A dash of milk. I prefer skimmed.

aWeFt68.jpg


Bish bash bosh, perfect cuppa.

hvEd8IQ.jpg


Repeat 3-11 times a day as required.

Acceptable alternatives are brewing in a pot, in which case add the milk to the mug first, then pour the tea, or a herbal tea if you're feeling a bit ill, are a middle aged woman, or are a big poofter.
I think I've only ever had loose leaf tea once or twice in my life. I just prefer the convenience of using tea bags, so I'm with you on that one.
But I don't know how people enjoy tea that's been brewed for less than two minutes. I call it “NHS tea” because that was how the hospital tea ladies I came across tended to make tea (brewing times between 30 seconds and one minute were common). The patients must have hated the stuff.
 
The detail in the OP is starting to make me wonder if I'm a massive philistine though.
lol nah. The info is to steer people away from nonsense if they do intend to dive into nicer loose-leaf tea.

tbh it is pretty remarkable to me that a healthy drink like tea is so widely available. Folks used to travel long distances and colonize far-off places to ensure a supply of it, but now you can buy it at a local store.

I think I've only ever had loose leaf tea once or twice in my life. I just prefer the convenience of using tea bags, so I'm with you on that one.
But I don't know how people enjoy tea that's been brewed for less than two minutes. I call it “NHS tea” because that was how the hospital tea ladies I came across tended to make tea (brewing times between 30 seconds and one minute were common). The patients must have hated the stuff.
Gotta load up more leaves + shorter steep time. Some people double tea-bag for the same purposes. Weak tea is weak!
 
I sipped all day on some of that taiwan oolong that arrived recently, a pretty standard varietal in Taiwan, something they grow a ton of each year. Smooth and smells like springtime. Definitely one of my favorite teas, a good daily drinker.

I've also been nursing on one of these little sheng cakes from 2016. Sheng was traditionally aged at least 5 years before being enjoyed. This is one of the teas that I drank in 2018, 2019, etc and can appreciate how the bing has aged over the years. I guess I can understand wine enthusiasts who also do so. The bright head-clearing sharpness of the tea when it was younger is gone. It's smoother and less bitter now.

 
  • Like
Reactions: Dr. Farnsgoth
I started drinking unsweetened tea as an alternative to coffee and and the staple of the South sweetened iced tea.

Tried most of the Bigelow brand flavors. Eventually just settled for green tea.

Couple months ago I discovered Hibiscus tea. It’s tangy almost like lemon flavor tea but with more aroma. Plus it’s supposed to be very healthy.

 
  • Strength
Reactions: DonDonDonPata