Can someone help me understand teas and what I ordered?

I’m very new to teas. My sister recommended Harney & Sons. So I bought a bunch of samples. I just picked ones people said were good in the reviews.

However, after tasting them all, I got a sense that they all smelled kind of earthy or plant like (not a smell I enjoyed). And, many of the teas tasted earthy or vegetally (words I hope I am using correctly.)

The teas I did like where far from those tastes. Can someone look at the list below and tell me what it is about these teas that made me sense that feeling? And guide me in the direction of trying new teas?

The first two teas I ever tried I really enjoy by Teavana. Jasmine Oolone – my favorite and I keep comparing most to it and English Breakfast Teavana.

My favorites were the Wedding Tea and Wenshan Baozhong. I want to retry Indian Nimbu.

Here’s my Harney & Sons List and My Notes:

Da Hong Pao – Earthy, Vegetaly,

Formosa Oolong – Earthy, Vegetaly, similar to Hao Y B

Wenshan Baozhong – Taste like warm bread. A little bit of sugar made it nice smooth buttery.

English Breakfast – Vegetaly

Darjeeling – Like a lighter Hao Ya B

Indian Nimbu – Like Hao Ya B with faint caramel and lemon flavor

Vanilla Black – Subtle, little sugar does sweeten it. Maybe try with milk?

Chocolate Tea – Kind of fake tasting but ok

Wedding Tea – Lemon and vanilla. Vanilla after taste. Buttery.

Hao Ya ‘B’ – Tastes like regular lipton tea growing up

Panyang Congou – Smokey, good for fall/winter

13 Replies
SarsyPie said

Hmmm. I am not that experienced with tea myself, but I personally tend to find that greener teas taste more vegetal. If you’re trying to get away from that, you might try some black teas, or flavored teas with black tea as the base. Some I have tried recently have had a very malty characteristic that I really love.

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yyz said

It seems that you prefered the greener teas and green Oolong’s, but as far as the dark teas the earthy vegetal taste ( especially if it was bitter) may because they were over steeped or overleafed, or maybe black teas just taste that way to you. Sometimes it is trial and error. I generally prefer shorter steeps when brewing teas in a western style ( usually under 3 min). A lot of black teas often taste sweeter if brewed closer to 90*C.

the directions on the back of the tea bag said 4-5 mins. I think that is what caused them to taste bitter, earthy and bad. I tried again but this time all of them at 3 mins and the strong bad tastes were not there. However, I still didn’t like the same ones.

yyz said

Know what that is totally OK! It helpsbyou Identify which teas you like! The panyong is a Fijian black tea. You may want to experiment with more teas from that region. I haven’t had that tea before, but if you liked the smokiness and chocolate notes in it you might want to look at the newer form of lapsang souchong’s that have reduced to no smoke tones and are often very fruity to chocolatey, or some of thekeemuns that have strong chocolate notes. If you like sweet potato notes, than you might want to investigate tanyangs. Other teas from that region zhenge gong fu, and bail in gongfu. Yezi tea has some teas from this region available as samples and their are countless others. I noticed that you preferred teavanas English breakfast over Barney’s. Barney’s is a Chinese based blend whereas teavanas says only that it is from high grown teas. If you liked the sweetness in it or the classic tea taste. You may want to experiment with ceylons. They often have sweet potato, and plum notes and can be really fruity. If you liked the malt and robustness of it, experiment with Assam’s. In the states Upton’s has several affordable teas from this region. If you liked the base tea in the Nimbu experiment with Darjeeling’s. You may also want to try a Yunnan black as your Barney experiment didn’t have any of those. If you want to experiment with greens Teavivre has some nice affordable samples of Chinese greens and dens tea has a great starter pack for Japanese.

Oh wow that’s a ton of information. I didn’t know tea was so complex :) seems like there are so many different directions to take

yyz said

Oops. I really didn’t look at this after I posted but I think you may have figured out that Fijian is Fujian and Barney is harney. Gotta love autocorrect. The best advice is to experiment and even then you will probably find your preferences change as you exploration continues.

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weegeebee1 said

most important thing when starting out is to experiment with amount of leaf, length of infusion, and water temp.

Those 3 factors together or even individually drastically change the flavor.

There’s a bunch of rules of thumb, but best way is to experiment.

The greens should be around 170-185 range. The oolong in the 185-205 range. Black 200-205. But there’s exceptions to all of these.

Amount of leaf is a whole other beast. Too many variables but forget about the “teaspoon” rule.

Time is another tricky one too. I’ve got teas I steep for 10 seconds. Others 5 minutes. But time is fixable as you can pour out little sips in increments until you get to the flavor you like.

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I found that the best way to understand tea is to read as much as I can about it, on the internet and with books. Also if you have any tea shops around you that offer tastings, they can be a wealth of information also.

It seems like the teas that are your favorites so far tend to be on the lighter side. there is nothing wrong with that, maybe it’s just your personal preference. The oolongs and the black chinese teas you mentioned may benefit from a shorter steeping time. If you look up “gongfu tea method” on Google you’ll get some hints about how to do this. Have fun!

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carol who said

You seem to like a few of the ‘lighter’ or more dessert teas. You might want to find a local shop and talk with the owner/staff. They should let you smell and taste some of the teas that they suggest. You will be able to find out the vegetal ones (I don’t like vegetal either) and narrow down your preferences. The steeping and temperature do make a big difference so read directions. It’s not that hard. This is a really good site for finding people who will swap or share so you can try some different teas. Follow me and I’ll PM you with some ideas.

just followed you. now what? im total newbie :)

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Cwyn said

One good thing about Steepster is the site is for talking about all types of tea, and most of us can find people here who share our tastes to compare notes,

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Uniquity said

That is a really interesting list and set of flavour profiles. Before I saw which ones you were liking, I was going to suggest you avoid greens and green oolongs as they tend to taste very vegetal (a taste I personally hate). BUT, one of your favourites is an oolong and a lot of the blacks were what seemed earthy and vegetal to you.

Going off your initial favourites, if you enjoy English Breakfast then I suggest Indian black teas, as they are darker, roastier and a bit more better. They tend to be the base of English Breakfasts.

Another point which is crucial and addressed above is steeping parameters. If you made all those teas with boiling water, some of them were burnt. If you steeped everything for five minutes, many of them were over-steeped. Both of those factors can make things more bitter and create the flavour I think you identify as vegetal. My technique is to use cooler water for everything but blacks, and only steep for 2 – 3 minutes. You can add a bit more time if you find it bland, or add some milk/sugar to taste. It’s easier to add a bit more than to remove.

It also seems like you prefer a couple unflavoured teas, so maybe keep exploring the territory of straight teas and see what bases you like. Best of luck!

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It seems I do like the lighter teas. I have an English breakfast tea from Teavana that is no where as strong as any of the ones I tried from Harney & Sons. And I like that black tea a lot!

I have some more samples coming from Adagio now…. I went lighter and less black. Will report back :)

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