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It’s hard to say what the world’s best green tea is. In fact, I’ll go one step further and say that it’s probably impossible to say what the world’s best green tea is. After all, it is a matter of opinion and tastes differ and we all like what we like and so on. But it’s probably safe to say that Gyokuro would rank highly on any list of the world’s best green teas. Japan is primarily known for its green teas and they run the gamut from so-so to stellar. But of the several Japanese teas that fit into the latter category, Gyokuro is one of the most notable. For a brief overview of this tea, see my article from a few years ago.

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

The conventional wisdom when it comes to green tea is that is more delicate than most other types. Many cups of green tea could have been saved from a dire fate by simply adjusting the water temperature and steeping times downward. Gyokuro is even more delicate than many green teas and should be treated with even more care in both areas.

I have to admit that I don’t have a wide experience with Gyokuro, but I’ve tasted enough that when a new sample comes my way I sit up and take notice. The first thing I noticed about this one was that many of the leaves seemed smaller than I recalled. Then I looked back at this review by my Esteemed Editor and found that she’d made the same observation.

However, the smell of these slightly smaller leaves was quite strong (in a good way) and promised a good experience. I’m not sure of the exact water temps I used but it was quite cooler than my standard temps for green tea and I steeped it for no more than a minute.

The end result measured up to what I was expecting, based on that aroma. If you’ve never tasted Gyokuro you might be surprised at the smooth texture and the subtly rich and faintly sweet taste. This one had just a hint of grassiness that I tend to associate more with Sencha, another popular Japanese green tea, but it didn’t do anything to detract from the experience.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When I drink tea, I like to taste the tea and nothing else. Everybody has their own preferences and I’m not saying my way is better than anyone else’s. But I like my tea untainted by any such substances as milk, sugar, lemon, sauerkraut (just seeing if you’re paying attention) and the like – the usual suspects. That goes for flavors too. I drank some flavored varieties back when I was first getting into tea but as time went on my interest in those began to fall by the wayside.

Tea Review - English Tea Store Peach Black Tea (photo by William I. Lengeman, III, all rights reserved)

Tea Review – English Tea Store Peach Black Tea (photo by William I. Lengeman, III, all rights reserved)

Except for peach, oddly enough. As I recall it, way back in the early days I used to drink a peach-flavored black tea that was a made by a fairly well-known tea company and so the notion that peach-flavored black tea was a good thing has somehow stuck with me.

So I thought that I would give the English Tea Store’s peach-flavored black tea a spin. The first thing that struck me, upon opening the package, was the small size of the leaves and pretty much a total absence of a peach aroma. Neither of which is necessarily a bad thing, mind you. I adjusted for the smaller leaves by dialing back on the water temperature just a bit and not steeping the leaves quite as long as I would for a black tea with fuller leaves.

The end result was quite nice, thank you very much. The Tea Store’s site doesn’t offer much in the way of specifics about the tea or the flavoring agents but I’d give them points on both counts. One thing that I did find was that the peach component was a bit much for my likes. However, I tend to prefer that such things are very subtle (a little dab’ll do you) and so I suspect that many tea drinkers won’t share my feeling on this point. Besides, it was easy enough to resolve this by simply mixing in equal measures of a plain black tea with the flavored and thus getting that low-key peach goodness that I sought.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Giving the English Tea Store's Nonsuch Estate Nilgiri a try. (photo by William I. Lengeman, III - all rights reserved)

Giving the English Tea Store’s Nonsuch Estate Nilgiri a try. (photo by William I. Lengeman, III – all rights reserved)

I have mixed feelings about India’s teas. If I had to pick a variety of tea that’s disappointed me the most over the years, I’d go with Darjeeling. I’ve only been drinking tea for about eight years now and in the early days I found myself quite impressed with the unique flavor profile of this distinctive variety of black tea that’s grown in northern India. Lately though, I can barely bring myself to prepare the samples of Darjeeling that come my way. I even went so far as to document my falling out with Darjeeling tea last year.

On the other hand I’m a huge fan of the tea that’s produced in the Assam region of India, one of the world’s greatest single tea-growing regions and my absolute favorite. At my own site over the course of the years I’ve even devoted two separate months to exploring all things Assam.

Then there’s Nilgiri. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, that’s probably not surprising. With all due respect to the good tea growers of India’s third region, it’s safe to say they’re overshadowed by the premium teas of Darjeeling and the sheer quantity of tea turned out in Assam.

My own experience with Nilgiri tea has been somewhat limited and, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say I disliked any of them, my recollection is that I found them to be kind of so-so. Like the teas grown in those other parts of India, nearly everything that comes out of Nilgiri is a black tea. Which is fine by me, as a dedicated cheerleader for all manner of this type of tea.

The curious thing about this Nilgiri variety from the Nonsuch Estate is that it could (and did) pass for a Darjeeling tea. I’d somehow formed the mistaken impression that it actually was a Darjeeling and my first version of this review treated it as such. The first time I sampled it I liked it well enough and I was actually willing to re-revise my opinion of what I thought was Darjeeling tea, but I wasn’t exactly blown away.

The second time I tried it I found that I liked it quite a bit more than the last time. Like so many actual Darjeeling teas, it has a light (for a black tea) flavor profile but with a very smooth texture and mouthfeel and none of the bitterness, thin flavor, or astringency that I still tend to associate with that type of tea.

So you can call it Darjeeling if you’d like or you can refer to it by its correct name but I’d give it a thumbs up either way.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I investigated Pouchongs in some depth a while back on this blog, having previously not known very much about them. However, although I had researched them thoroughly, I had not had a chance to sample them as much as I would like, and as such they featured on my list of five teas that I would like to explore more. Following up on this list, I decided to give the English Tea Store’s Spring Pouchong a try.

Spring Pouchong in the cup (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

Spring Pouchong in the cup (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

Grown, processed, and packed in a small remote town in Taiwan, this pouchong is produced entirely by hand, using the same traditional methods followed by generations of tea growers in this area.

Pouchongs are lightly oxidised oolong teas, although the low level of oxidation means that they often taste like, or are grouped with, green teas. As such, they are at their best when brewed in water that has been lightly boiled (165-190°F or 74-90°C), and they often have a slightly shorter steep time than regular oolong teas.

The recommended steep time for Spring Pouchong is 1-3 minutes­– quite a large time frame, which leaves a lot of room for personal preference. For my first steeping, I decided to err on the side of a shorter steep and left the leaves for 1 minute. The result was a lightly fragranced brew with floral overtones, which had more similarities to a green tea than to an oolong tea.

Pure pouchongs such as this one can be resteeped several times, and so on my second brew from the same leaves I left them to steep for 2 minutes. On the third resteep I left them for 3 minutes. As the second and third steeps tend to be lighter, the resulting brews were of about the same strength as the first as they steeped for longer. I found that Spring Pouchong re-steeped very well, and provided excellent second and third cups of tea.

I wanted to experiment with a longer steep the first time around, and so, starting with a fresh batch of leaves, I left them to steep for 3 minutes. The result was a tea that tasted like standard strong oolongs that I am used to. The subtle floral overtones that were present in the lighter brew were masked in this stronger brew. That is not to say that I preferred one to the other, but I feel that the unique qualities of Spring Pouchong are lost slightly when brewed for a longer period of time and the resulting brew is more recognisable as an oolong.

This range of steeping times means that Spring Pouchong is a very versatile tea that can suit tea drinkers who prefer pouchongs that are closer to green teas, or who prefer them closer to oolongs. It could also be good for those who enjoy both, as they can opt for a shorter steep on some days and a longer steep on others.

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Type of tea: Green
Loose or bagged: Loose
Recommended steep time: 3 minutes

Another of the teas I wanted to explore more, Earl Grey Green tea from The English Tea Store was something that I approached with slight trepidation; the bergamot flavouring of Earl Grey is something that I associate so strongly with black tea that I was not quite sure how I would respond to it as flavour for green tea. I also had a vague memory of having tried an Earl Grey green tea before, and not having been that pleased. However, I decided to face my quasi-fears and delve into this interesting tea.

Earl Grey Green (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

Earl Grey Green (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

The English Tea Store’s version of Earl Grey Green uses Ceylon green tea and all-natural bergamot oil to flavour the tea. Although the recommended steep time is 3 minutes, I never usually steep my green tea for more than 1 minute, and so decided to compromise and try a 2-minute brew.

As I suspected, this was already too strong for me. A second try (with fresh leaves) for 1 minute and 45 seconds yielded much better results, although I feel that I could even go for less time than that. This reflects my personal tastes for green teas, so if you are one of those tea drinkers that enjoys strong green teas, you may well find that 3 minutes works well. However, I would caution against trying 3 minutes straight off, as it does tend to produce a brew with a little bitterness.

The bergamot flavouring in this tea is distinct, but manifests itself very differently in a green than in a black tea. Since I always take my black tea with milk, the absence of milk had quite an affect on the flavour. I noticed the floral tones much more in the green tea, and that might be partly down to the absence of milk, but it might also reflect the fact that I am used to drinking black Earl Grey; perhaps I do not register the bergamot flavouring as much in black tea as I am so accustomed to it.

Like many green teas, Earl Grey Green can be re-steeped for multiple infusions. I found that it re-steeps very well, and I enjoyed my second and third infusions (both steeped for 1 minute 30 seconds) even more than the first, perhaps because these brews were a little milder.

Earl Grey Green Tea (ETS image)

Earl Grey Green Tea (ETS image)

All in all, if you enjoy floral teas, you will most likely enjoy Earl Grey green. But even if you don’t tend to (and I am one of these), it is worth a try– it might just surprise you!

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Type of tea: Black
Loose or bagged: Loose
Recommended steep time: 3-8 minutes, depending on preferred strength

One of the teas featured in a list of teas I would like to explore more, Scottish Breakfast tea from the English Tea Store is a bold, strong black tea without flavouring or scenting. It can be brewed as hot or iced tea, although as the weather here in the UK just took a chilly turn I decided to limit my exploration of this tea to hot brews.

The amount of tea and steeping time, as for many black teas, is left up to the tea drinker’s discretion, and the more tea used and/or the longer it is the left to steep, the stronger the brew.

Scottish Breakfast Tea (ETS image)

Scottish Breakfast Tea (ETS image)

To start with, I went with my standard ratio of 1 teaspoon of tea for every 8oz of fluid. For my 16oz teapot, this meant 2 teaspoons of Scottish Breakfast. I poured in the water which had just reached a rolling boil, and left it to steep. Wanting to experience a range of strengths, I initially removed the infuser after 3 minutes. Already, it was a pretty strong brew. I am definitely of fan of strong black teas, and this tea has a slight suggestion of a woody taste, perhaps tending towards smokiness.

I took a few sips without adding milk to get an idea of the tea in its pure form, but since I always take my black tea with milk, I added some. As with many strong black teas, smoky or otherwise, the milk cuts some of the harshness that these bold teas can have.

Scottish Breakfast with milk (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

Scottish Breakfast with milk (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

The next brew I made up (with fresh leaves), I left for 5 minutes, and although there was no bitterness, it was a little too strong for my taste, even after adding milk.

The third brew (also fresh leaves) I left for 4 minutes. Whilst a little stronger than my initial 3-minute brew, I enjoyed it equally. Perhaps this brew is a good choice for those mornings when I need a little extra boost to get me going, and the 3-minute brew for a gentler, but still intensely black, morning cuppa.

For those who like to re-use their tea leaves, this tea does resteep. As to be expected, the second infusion is a little weaker, a little lighter, but still makes for a good cup. It is more like one of the less bold breakfast teas- such as English Breakfast- and so if you want to experience the unique characteristics of Scottish Breakfast tea, the first infusions are the ones to go with.

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ceylon Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Ceylon Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Ceylon tea is still something of an unknown (or perhaps lesser known these days) quantity for me, but that’s gradually starting to change as more samples start to trickle in. I sampled a few from another merchant a while back that were good but not great. Most recently I took the English Tea Store’s Organic Ceylon out for a spin and I liked that one better.

Which brings me to the Tea Store’s Lovers Leap, which is also a Ceylon tea. Which are primarily black teas from the island nation formerly known as Ceylon and now known as Sri Lanka. This one is grown in the Nuwara Eliya district there, which is located at about four thousand feet above sea level. As coincidence would have it I ran across an article from the Chinese press recently about this very same region. According to the article it’s one of the most important tea production centers in the country and is sometimes referred to as Little England, a reference to its colonial roots.

My first reaction upon steeping a batch of this tea was disappointment. The Tea Store’s blurb refers to it as “a high grown lighter flowery flavor tea, very good after dinner” and I found it to be very light indeed, much too light for my tastes. Realizing that the leaf was a little larger than many of the black teas I’ve been drinking lately I decided I’d try using a little more of it and things improved considerably.

Well, now that’s more like it, I thought to myself, as I came up with a much darker brew and a flavor to match. I’ve been drinking a lot of bold and heavy Assam tea lately and prior to that one of my everyday teas was a very strong black variety from Yunnan. I’m not typically a fan of the more delicate black teas. While this one is a little lighter than what I’m used to the revamped formula made for a great batch and I’m sure I won’t have any problems working my way through the sample pack.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ceylon Black Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Ceylon Black Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Most of us have probably heard the term terra incognita, but perhaps you’ve never thought much about where it comes from. As the story goes, once upon a time the phrase was inscribed upon those areas of maps that were an unknown. Nowadays, of course, these areas don’t take up as much space as they once did, in those days of yore before you could ship a package halfway around the globe overnight.

On my own personal map of the tea world, it’s Ceylon that still has a hint of terra incognita to it. That’s the name still given to the tea grown in what was once called Ceylon and is now known as Sri Lanka and which is a small island nation off the coast of India. While I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the teas of India, China, or Japan, I have to say that I’m quite a bit more familiar with them than I am with the Ceylon varieties.

Which are almost all black teas, mind you, with anything that’s not being the rare exception to the rule. I’ve tried a few Ceylon teas over the years and can remember one or two that were quite exceptional, and yet I still have this faint and almost subconscious bias against this sort of tea. I think it’s because I tend to equate it – rightly or not – with certain tea giants who mostly seem to make tea that’s not all that exceptional.

So I shouldn’t be all that surprised when I find myself pleasantly…surprised by a fine tasting Ceylon tea, but I usually am. I might have tasted a Ceylon or two that tops this particular one but I’d rank it right up there and certainly wouldn’t object to drinking it on a regular basis.

One of the qualities I’ve always associated with Ceylon tea (again, rightly or not) is briskness, or the quality that tends to make your mouth want to pucker. It’s a quality I don’t like in tea. Fortunately this one had little or none of that, but rather had the fullness of flavor that I associate with my favorite black teas – like those from Yunnan, in China, or Assam, in India. And while I might never find a Ceylon that tops my favorite Assam varieties, the ones like this at least make the search a little more pleasant.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The China Tea Book - it doesn't take a village, just an engine hoist! (stock images)

The China Tea Book – it doesn’t take a village, just an engine hoist! (stock images)

I’ve run across a few tea books in my time and, while it’s only a rather modest 212 pages in all, Luo Jialin’s The China Tea Book takes the cake when it comes to sheer bulk. I don’t think I’ve ever run across a heftier volume on tea, and it would certainly qualify as coffee table book. But under the circumstances the term hardly seems appropriate – not that tea table book really has a ring to it either. But I digress.

In addition to being one of the biggest books on tea that I’ve encountered, I’d also have to rank The China Tea Book as one of the most visually impressive. It combines a rather sparse and minimal design with an embarrassment of riches as regards the outstanding photography, historical drawings and whatnot.

Luo Jialin is a Chinese scholar and a tea-making master who holds a certification from the Taiwan Luyu Tea Culture Institute. He breaks the book down into two major sections – Tea and Tea Culture. The first of these devotes a chapter each to green tea, oolong, black and pu-erh. All of which are produced in China and of course we’re treated to sections on such classics as Dragon Well, Wuyi Rock Tea, Dian Hong and Keemun as well as lesser known (at least to me) varieties like Mount Meng Sweet Dew and Frozen-Summit Oolong.

When reading the section on Tea Culture, remind yourself that China is the place where this concept was born. The author starts with a chapter on somewhat esoteric principles such as Time, Space, Teaware and Ambiance, before moving on to a look at Ancient Chinese Tea Culture. After that it’s a chapter on Tea and Zen and then one on Dissemination, which takes a look at the Japanese tea ceremony and the Ancient Tea Route.

While this was a highly impressive work overall I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to someone who’s looking for a broad overview on tea or a first tea book. Given that this volume is limited to China, there’s obviously a lot that’s not going to be covered. But if you’re looking for a great volume on the place where tea and tea culture first came to be, you probably can’t do much better. Plus you can buy it at Sears, of all places.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

As I noted recently in a tea review at my own site, the final few months of 2012 were quite a bonanza to a black tea-loving fellow such as yours truly. A pile of samples came flooding in (okay, just a slight exaggeration), and some of them were quite good, thank you very much. Among these were a number of quite nice Assam varieties – always a big favorite with me.

Borengajuli Estate Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Borengajuli Estate Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

I rarely let an opportunity pass to discuss Assam tea, in general, but I’ll be brief. The Assam region in India is one of the world’s largest tea-growing regions and turn out almost exclusively black tea. From the point of a black tea connoisseur, a lot of this output is perhaps not quite what you’d call top-shelf stuff – and that’s putting it mildly. On the other hand, some of the best black tea I’ve ever had the pleasure to sample has come from Assam.

One of the last Assam teas I reviewed was also from The English Tea Store. I was quite fond of their Organic Assam TGFOP, which I covered here not so long ago. But as good as that one was I’d have to say that their Borengajuli Estate is on an entirely different level.

Lesser varieties of Assam – and there are many – are marked by a distinct lack of flavor and usually tend toward astringency (that quality that makes your mouth want to pucker) and especially bitterness. None of which turned up in this particular variety.

While you can’t always tell if a tea is going to be good simply by smelling the dry leaves, sometimes you can and this was one of those times. As soon as I opened the package the strong aroma of the leaves jumped out at me, and I knew this would be a good tea-drinking experience. Steeping the tea and drinking it didn’t do anything to change my mind on this point. The rich full-bodied flavor was everything the aroma promised and then some. As is so often the case when I review tea, I found that there was a flavor note here that I couldn’t put my finger, no matter how hard I try. But the bottom line is that this is a great black tea and I’m happy to have had a chance to sample it.

For some additional perspective on this tea, refer to this archived review by our Esteemed Editor.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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