Nick Martin on Tea

Table of Contents


If you know me, odds are good you know that I drink a lot of tea. A number of people have asked about my preferences, so I've decided to publish them online. This page is based on a log I have been keeping of my tea tastings, and I'll be expanding it as I try more teas. I've done a broad study over all of tea space, but I am only now going in depth into various specific teas. In many ways, this page is as much for me as for the reader. It serves as a central point for me to keep my notes on what teas I've tried and what I think of them. As such, it is always a work in progress. Also, I would really appreciate any feedback you would care to give. Be it spelling or grammar corrections, or suggestions of new teas to try. Feel free to drop me an email at nim+tea at nimlabs dot org.

It is hard to describe the taste of tea. There is a standard vocabulary, but words like "bright", "malty", "flowery", and "chocolatey" only seem to make sense to people who have tasted a lot of tea. That said, I've found such descriptions interesting and useful, so I will include some here.

NOTE: I have not followed the ISO relevant specifications (ISO 3103:1980, ISO 1839:1980) during my tea sampling. See the references for a complete list of ISO TC34/SC8 documents.

Buying Tea

The first mistake most people make with regards to tea to assume that the tea bags they buy in a grocery store contain tea. This is only true in the most technical sense. Tea bags tend to contain the absolute lowest grade tea available on the market. Thus, they brew terrible tasting tea.

If you are at all serious about tea, the first thing you have to do is purchase real tea. Real tea comes in "loose leaf" form, meaning you get a pile of dried tea leaves in a tin as opposed to crumbled up and powdered leaf bits from the floor of a processing plant.

I generally buy tea online from Upton Tea Importers and Specialteas. Both have excellent webpages, easy online ordering, and a great selection. There are many other perfectly good tea importers online and in meat space, often with very similar stock.

I also like to visit Teance and The Imperial Tea Court, although they tend to charge a lot more than the online vendors.

Types of Tea

Tea is dried leaves from the plant Camellia sinensis. As the tea is dried, it is sometimes oxidized. "Green", "Oolong", and "Black" teas differ only in their level of oxidization. Black tea is fully oxidized, Green tea is not at all oxidized and Oolong is somewhere in the middle. More information on the process of tea preparation is contained in several of the references.

Most of the tea documented here is "Single Estate Tea". This means that the entire batch of comes from one grower. When tea from multiple growers is blended together or multiple types of tea are mixed it is called "Blended Tea". When people add random crap to tea it is "Flavored Tea". The flavoring agent can be items that are added to the tea during drying and removed later, or it can be essential oils that remain in the final product.

When I was first starting to explore tea, I was a big fan of random stuff in my tea. I grew out of that. With some exceptions (Chai, Earl Grey, Jasmine, etc.), I and most other serious tea drinkers spurn froofy flavored teas.

There are several blended teas that I find worth while. However, most blended teas use lower quality ingredients, which detracts from the overall experience.

A tea's "grade" is indicated using an antiquated system in which lots of silly letters are tacked on after the tea's name. A more detailed description is contained in the reference section, but the only really important things to know about the silly letters are:

Brewing Tea

The most important part of brewing tea is to use water of an appropriate temperature for the type of tea you are brewing. I cannot stress this enough.

Black tea wants to be brewed in boiling water (212°F). When you pour boiling water into a ceramic mug, a lot of heat leaves the water and enters the cup, meaning the tea is brewed at a temperature that is too cool. The solution: pour boiling water into the mug to pre-warm it. When the mug is warm, discard the water and brew your tea.

Green tea wants to brewed at a much lower temperature. About 180°F is typical. Some greens are more sensitive to temperature than others. You really, really want to respect this, otherwise you will end up with bitter tea.

Oolongs are usually brewed between 180 and 200°F.

The Teas


Copyright 2004 Nick Martin
Last modified: Tue Aug 28 14:21:51 PDT 2007