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teamax said

Help finding "type examples"

I’d like to sample some teas that exhibit the characteristics that their regions are known for. The ratings help me find teas that others liked, but not ones that are great examples of a keemun or ceylon or assam black tea. What is a gyokuro that is an example of everything a gyokuro is supposed to be? I would appreciate your suggestions.

5 Replies

I’d love to help but your kinda chasing a unicorn. Regions are big places and a few miles, or less, can make a huge difference in flavor. While yes its true that regions do have general characteristics, soil and climate are not bound to political boundary lines. And teas within a region can be night and day.

For instance dian hongs are often characterized as being earthy and smooth and many assams are said to be dynamic and robust. I currently have two very high quality assams in my cupboard, both are fantastic and some of the better assams to come out of India, they however don’t taste anything alike, its like apples and oranges. I could say that either of them represent a good assam, but if you didn’t drink them both you would miss something amazing as they are two very different teas.

As far as recommending a tea that best represents a region, you kinda have the same problem that the ratings present, again your subject to peoples individual palettes and what they like. We could recommend teas all day long and you would probably end up with a very diverse list because like peoples palates, teas from a region can vary wildly.

My personal thoughts on the subject is to taste a wide range of teas from a particular region, then you will see common characteristics and ways they differ. Then you will have a good representation of what a region has to offer and be able to see what you enjoy the best.

Its sort of like asking what Italian dish best represents Italian food, many might say spaghetti, and sure that is a good representation of Italian food, but that only gives you a very small image of it. Without trying many different dishes you wouldn’t be able to understand what Italian food is.

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Like you, I would love to understand the ideals of a particular tea type or region. What is the goal here? What were the makers of this tea thinking of or hoping for when they made it? Once I can understand the basic or ideal type, then those teas that move beyond type in an exemplary or unexpected way become even more beautiful and enjoyable because I can see how they have all of the ideal qualities and then move on from there.

I wish I could compile a giant list for you of ideal types and where to find them, but I don’t know if I can. For one, I’m only really familiar with Chinese teas, and even then, there are so many different kinds and regions, I feel like I’ll always be a beginner. Also, from the teas I do feel familiar with enough to judge, I feel like the real pinnacle ideal types just haven’t made it into most teashops (with a few exceptions: you’ve tried Verdant Tea’s stuff- the pu’er in particular is a complete re-education).

I only feel competent in understanding the profiles of Anxi green tieguanyin, lao shan green, pu’er, and I’m just getting to know Da Hong Pao style roasted oolongs. How did I get this magical knowledge? I lived in China for a year, and went to the tea market every weekend (more often that that, if I could). I had several very good friends with shops there who were themselves dedicated to particular kinds of tea. One friend spent a long time having me try probably hundreds of TGY’s in a row. We’d spend about 8 hours a day, tasting and talking about the flavors. She’d send me home with three different little 7gram packets, and then ask me all about them when I came to see her again. Another friend has the most incredible taste for pu’er, and taught me so much (so much still to learn!). You’d describe the flavor you were looking for or thinking about, and she’d think about it for a moment, and then pick out one brick from the hundreds on her shelves, and it would be exactly the right thing. Other friends were committed to Lao Shan green, and had me taste that for weeks at a time (if you added it all up in one go), and yet another only had the finest pu’ers and Da Hong Pao in his shop- he wasn’t interested in anything else (except for exquisite yixing!!) I didn’t get to spend as much time with him, and so I am still re-drinking all of his teas and trying to piece together an education for myself.

All that said- what can I summarize or offer? I’d suggest just trying everything you can, as much as you can that sounds intriguing or that come from companies you trust. If you accumulate enough experience (especially if you are drinking the tea and talking with others), you will begin to see ideals or at the very least trends emerging. Definitely talk to others about what you’re tasting, because putting tastes and ideas into words helps them to become more manageable and useful.

Go to the place where the tea is from. Make friends. Drink the tea. Hear from the farmers and shop owners themselves what they think the tea should taste like. See if you think the tea tastes like that.

I second your wish for an exemplary Gyokuro. For this reason, I’ve just started ordering sample packs from Japanese tea companies to try and get a feeling for the ideals. I am also saving up money, because I know I need to travel to Japan some day soon and spend time drinking the tea and talking to people about it. Guess I need to learn some Japanese, too, huh? Or get really lucky with a serendipitous connection.
But in the meantime, I’ll just try as much tea as I can.

Folks out on Steepster: what’s the most ideal Gyokuro you’ve ever had? that exmplifies what a gyokuro should be? Inquiring minds wnat to know! tell us, please.
Or I could just go through Steepster, searching for “Gyokuro” and try the ones that look most intriguing. Either way, I hope to keep educating myself.

Tastings are also fun and educational. I love going to them, so I recommend any local ones near you wholeheartedly.

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SimplyJenW said

You might try emailing some of the websites and asking opinions of those who specialize in selling the type of tea in which you are most interested. Chances are, they will have very good recommendations. Check out the ‘favorite tea vendors’ thread for great places to try.

I usually go the DIY route…. When I am looking for ‘type’ teas, I really think of it as more a ‘range’, I tend to go for samples and lots of them. All different price points helps, too, if you can get them. I am at a loss for where to start on gyokuru, but for the others, I would pick and choose someplace like Upton Tea with an extensive variety. Or even where you normally shop picking up a few samples here and there. I chose about 12 or 13 Chinese Blacks (non keemun and non yunan, more like congous) from Upton and had a little tasting tour going several months back. Now my Keemun sample collection is big enough and spans all the price ranges that I think I can get a good feel for the range of Keemuns. You just have to drink lots of tea….

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teamax said

Thanks for the advice. It’s time to order some sample packs and start the unicorn chase.

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teamax said

I thought more about what my goal in this would be. There isn’t enough time in a life to be an expert at every tea type and growing region. I am too intrigued by the exciting variety available to become an expert palate for one type and region, able to distinguish great batches from even better ones. I think my goal at this point is to be able to taste a blend containing X and Y and be able to say, "Ahhh, I taste the X and I taste the Y, and I think I can see what the goal was of blending these two together.

Sample packs make my heart go pitter-patter. I think I will start ordering some for black teas for one region and green or white from another. I think white teas from one area might be an interesting place to start because there should be a smaller universe to navigate.

Visiting a tea region and going on some tastings is an intriguing idea. I hope I have the opportunity some day.

Also, I think everyone participating on steepster (that is, poring over tea reviews and taking time to write their impressions of teas) is doing some level of unicorn chasing.

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