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Recommending great teas, here, now (LONG)

Katerina | Jan 15, 2002 06:14 PM

I am in such a good mood today, I'll just post here something about a few of my favorite teas, which nobody asked for, but anyway. Some of these might be good even for people who watch their caffeine intake.

An unusual low-caffeine tea that I've been drinking a lot lately is the Japanese Genmaicha. It's essentially Bancha (a standard type of leaf green tea, as opposed to matcha, the powdered kind) mixed with roasted grains of rice. This gives it a heady, popcorn-like fragrance, not very "tea-like" at all. The color is a beautiful yellowish green, and the aroma is so evocative that this tea even works for me as a bit of a meal substitute (well... more of a "meal postponement agent"). But the lingering flavor, once you finish your cup, is that of the tea leaves. Use water below boiling point, and steep briefly (2 mins.) It's VERY good for you. I find that the best types (based on Sencha, a bettter grade of green tea) are sold in small sealed bags, about 2oz. each, at Japanese foodstores, but I've bought decent Genmaicha in bulk, too.

A type of black tea that seems to be relatively little known (undeservedly!) is Yunnan, from China. (That despite the fact that Yunnan province is the cradle of the tea culture, and the oldest tea tree grows here.) A good Yunnan has a compex, layered taste: it's "warm" and biscuity, a little malty, but underneath there is a fragrant spiciness reminiscent of black pepper. Unlike Indian teas, China teas will not become bitter after prolonged steeping (so if you are new to tea, they are pretty "safe"), and most also take a dash of milk pretty well. I love Keemun (the other famous Chinese black tea), and Assams and Darjeelings etc., but a great Yunnan is a transporting experience. I've been meaning to try the Yunnans from the Imperial Tea Court (, pricey but supposedly top-notch. But the Yunnan Royal Gold from isn't half bad either (last year's lot was great, but is gone now).

And finally, I thought until about two years ago I could never "get into" jasmine tea. I never liked the stuff served in Chinese restaurants, it was always either watery or bitter. But then I discovered higher grades of jasmine tea (Yin Hao, Chueng Feng) and I couldn't believe the difference. These teas are incredibly subtle, only very very slightly astringent, with a clean, "green" taste; the jasmine fragrance is full but not overwhelming (the really good kinds of jasmine tea don't have jasmine petals IN them; they had been added and removed numerous times, and finally removed altogether; only the fragrance remains.) The whole experience of drinking these jasmine teas is - for lack of a better word - transporting. I find that in the middle of winter a pot of this tea will make me feel like I'm in a lush, green garden, with a waterfall nearby and Chow Yun Fat at my side... For the true sensualist, buy the Yin Hao pearls, brew them in a glass pot and watch them unfurl. Mesmerizing.

BONUS TRACK: Do you like chocolate? Well then you might well like Keemun Mao Feng. This tea is usually produced as a green, but over the past few years they (the smart Chinese) started processing it for black tea as well. It is smoooooth, rich and sweet... Also, the Golden Needle (grown in Fujian) is very chocolate-like, with a deep, intense flavor and aroma, no bitterness whatsoever... and beautiful to look at... they have it at

A fine tea deserves a fine teapot. (So what if I have six or seven...?) For many reasons, I recommend the Tetsubin (Japanese cast-iron pots). They are beautiful, nearly unbreakable, retain heat amazingly well, and (important!) often come with a steeping basket, which is an absolute must for proper tea preparation. (Unless you are doing it Gong-fu style... but I digress.) Tetsubin are not cheap, but you can always tell yourself that it will be a "family heirloom passed down for generations", blah, blah, blah. But really: they are great. A good source is, again, Holy Mountain:

OK, anyone got any questions? (Such as: And which kinds of Oolong do you like? What should I serve with tea? etc...)

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