Tom's Tea Pages

September 18, 2016

My Favorite Teas

Let me say first of all that these are my favorites, not any kind of a list of "best teas", if there should even be such a thing. Don't be insulted when I say for example that I don't care for green tea. The best tea is whatever you enjoy drinking, it is as simple as that.

A long time ago, a friend (Jennifer Shaw) gave me one of the nicest gifts I ever received. It was a sampler with one ounce of about 16 different teas. They were all of very high quality, loose tea, each in a small metal tin. It was not Twinnings, maybe Bigelow or Bentleys, but I don't think so. I have not seen anything like it since.

I have learned that I don't care for green tea. I also find that I don't much care for most oolong teas that I try. However that long lost sampler had an oolong that was one of my favorite teas, and I am still trying to find something like it again. So you will find the following list is predominantly black teas.

Lapsang Souchong

Made out of pine wood-dried leaves from the Wuyi mountains, lapsang souchong is a China black tea with a distinct smoky flavor.
I wouldn't drink this all of the time, and it has a special place for me on camping trips. The Twinnings Lapsang Souchong has always defined this tea for me. My son also enjoys it and calls it "smokey tea". I have recently purchased some from Uptons that I like a lot:

Lapsang Souchong Imperial (China Imperial Grade) ZS80 "The best China Lapsang Souchong we have found. Superior in flavor. Very smoky, yet quite mellow"

I think it is milder than the Twinings, which is just fine actually.

China Congou teas

I experiment and buy a lot of loose teas at a oriental market near where I live. They used to carry some yellow cylindrical cans of Keemun that I thought was the finest tea I had ever found. I have since learned that Keemun is just one example of the class of teas known as "Congou", and have tried a number of these from Uptons:

Ning Hong Jing Hao

Uptons ZK94 ($14.20 for 125g) "Similar to Keemun, this tea from Jiangxi province is called "the king of tea" by China tea experts. Very tippy and slightly sweet, this tea competes for top honors among China Congou. Superb leaf quality, complex flavor and aroma."

When I opened the package and looked at and smelled the loose tea, I thought that "at last I have found the same tea I used to get in the yellow cans." Pretty good, though it is hard to compare with a memory.

Panyang Congou "supreme"

Uptons ZP30 ($12.80 for 125g). "This exceptional tea is produced in northern Fujian province, using time honored techniques."

Smells like a fine Keemun, but so far the tea I have brewed has underwhelmed me.

Keemun Mao Feng

Uptons ZK98 ($9.80 for 125g). "One of the finest black teas from China. Milder and more complex than traditional Keemun style teas.

Zao Bei Jian Congou

Uptons TK55 ($12.80 for 125g). Nice, mild, but doesn't knock me over. I prefer a more distinctive Keemun. Uptons says: "An extremely well-made specialy tea from Sichuan (Szechuan) province. One of the finest black teas available today. Reddish liquor, clean taste, mellow flavor. Exquisite!"

Yunnan Rare Grade

Uptons ZY84 ($15.00 for 60g). "a very high concentration of golden tips yield a cup with complex flavor and pronounced sweetness." This is called an "ultra bold leaf Congou".

Amazing, one of the most distinctive and interesting teas I have tried.

China Black Pearls

Uptons ZK33 ($12.80 for 125g) "In this offering from Sichuan province, dark brown leaves and golden tips have been beautifully handcrafted into distinctive pearl shapes. The aroma is sweet and delicate with hints of malt and wine. The dark amber cup is light yet has a full mouth feel, with a honey note that becomes more pronounced as the tea cools. Hints of cocoa and dark toast are also present in the flavor, which ends with a smooth, clean finish."

That is what they say. I find a a nice light tea with a novel appearance as round pea sized pearls.

Keemun from Peets

I have tried both the Keemun Fancy ($6.45/4 oz) and the Lion Mountain Keemun ($14.95/4 oz) from Peets. Both are good teas, and there is definitely a depth of flavor to the Lion Mountain that sets it apart.

Pu-Erh teas

I had a chance to try a cup and liked it very much. I had been holding back because I was cautioned that this type of tea was unusual and not for everyone, but I like it quite well.

Teas from India

India produces lots of excellent teas.

I have found that I most enjoy what are called "second flush" Darjeelings. First flush Darjeelings are quite mild and subtle and probably wasted on me.

Assam and Darjeeling are wildly different teas, in fact they may even be harvested from different subspecies of the tea plant. Assam teas are grown at lower elevations in somewhat tropical conditions. Many of them are broken leaf or even CTC processed teas (CTC is "cut tear curl"). Assam teas make a very brisk and robust cup that often (to my mind) benefits from the addition of milk. This just isn't quite my thing, although I have enjoyed some whole leaf Assam teas.

In September of 2016 I bought a bunch of sample packets of second flush Darjeelings from Uptons to try. Here are my thoughts, with the teas ordered with the ones I most enjoyed first.

Margaret's Hope Est. 2nd Flush FTGFOP1 SPL CH

Uptons TD31 - "A great everyday selection from one of our favorite tea gardens. Dark brown well-twisted leaves yield a golden amber liquor, fragrant with floral notes and honey sweetness. The full bodies cup is well balanced with hints of spice and toast. The finish is clean and crisp with a light pungency.

One of the best teas I have ever enjoyed. And this is a significant bargain at $9.80 per 100 grams. They offer some more select and expensive teas from this estate.

Margaret's Hope Est. 2nd Flush FTGFOP1

Uptons TDC1 - "The attractive and well-twisted leaf style is complemented with tender silver buds. The dark liquor has an inviting fruity aspect, with muscatel hints and nuances of ripe, red apple. The finish has a delicate crisp note and clean character."

A very fine tea, almost tasteless (i.e. almost lost on my overworked palate). An excellent tea, but for me, the less expensive TD31 might be a better choice. $16.80 for 100g.

Balasun Estate 2nd Fl SFTGFPO1

Uptons TD78 = "This superlative selection from Balasun Estate was harvested at the height of the second flush season. The dark brown leaves are accented with an abundance of downy silver tips, and yield a top notch cup with a sweet fruity character. The aroma is fragrant with hints of ripe grape and spice. Flavor notes of stone fruit and a suggestion of baked apple make this a delightful tea for any time of day."

I found this a nice second flush Darjeeling, but actually prefered the economical Margaret's Hope selection at half the price! This is $22.80 for an 80g packet.

Castleton Estate 2nd Fl FTGFOP1 Moonlight

Uptons TDC6 = "The long, twisted leaves of this bold tea have variegated tones of pale wheat, bronze and dark chocolate-brown. The aroma has notes of muscatel and apple, with a hint of flowers. The light cup is silky smooth, with notes of apricot and honey, complemented by floral and walnut nuances."

An exotic tea at $20 for a 40g packet (even the sample was only 5 grams). I am waiting to try this.

Badamtam Estate 2nd Fl FTGFOP1 CL Tippy

Uptons TD40 - "This second flush selection boasts some flowery and fruity hints in the aroma, as well as in the cup. The dry leaf has a tippy appearance and pleasing fragrance with notes of cocoa. The honey-colored liquor has a medium body, with light evergreen nuances, and is balanced with a lively pungency."

I am waiting to try this. $13.40 for 100g.

Putabong Estate 2nd Fl SFTGFOP1 Musc

Uptons TD57 - "Both the dry leaves and the deep amber liquor of this offering have a rich, inviting aroma, which portends the excellent cup character. The flavor is quite smooth with notes of honey and stone fruit as well as hints of muscatel and toasted almond. The finish lingers with a mild lemony quality. "

I am waiting to try this. $18.20 for 100g.

Mangalam Estate FTGFOP1 Cl

Uptons TA31 -- bought as part of a sampler, no longer available. TA16 looks similar: Uptons TA16 ($5.40 for 100 grams) - "A fresh, bright character distinguishes this fine selection from the Mangalam Estate. The liquor has a light malty aroma with hints of citrus. The sweet cup is accentuated by a clean astringency and hints of dry red wine in the finish."

It was worth getting the Uptons Assam sampler, just to learn exactly what Assam teas are and that I prefer other sorts of tea. Most of the teas in the sampler were CTC style teas. These brew fast and strong and yield a cup of tea that is best tempered with a bit of milk. This is fine if that is what you are looking for. This Mangalam Estate is different. It is more of a whole leaf tea with a more balanced and mild cup. I could see buying this again and the price is excellent.

Gulabi Tea

For some time I have been buying some decent tea from my local "oriental market". It is in 500 gram pink bags labelled "Gulabi tea". It turns out that this is tea from Assam, it is OK and an excellent bargain. Apparently this tea is packaged for the Arabic and Iranian market. Gulabi is a trade name. Kalami (Ghalami) indicates whole leaf assam tea, whereas Barooti indicates broken leaf assam.

I have containers of both on hand, and indeed I find the whole leaf "Kalami" noticeably better than the broken "Barooti".

Some people say that the quality varies, and probably they are right.

Assam from Peets

I have also been drinking "Assam Extra Fancy" from Peets for $12.45 for a 4 oz can. It is quite good and very smooth.


Have any comments? Questions? Drop me a line!

Tom's coffee and tea pages / tom@mmto.org