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Welcome to ... First Steep!

So many teas! Iím just going to talk about the basic teas from each of the main categories. White tea is the only tea which Iíve not fully gotten into lately. It has become a 'new' thing to try now, so for those who have tried any of the white teas, please let me know what you think of them.

All teas, except for herbals, come from the Camellia Sinensis plant. Each tea category (Black, Green, Oolong and White) is processed differently. So now to the teas.


My ultimate favorite tea category because of the different characteristics each of them has. Some can be a really smoky, which requires milk ... some are just right without anything. I think black teas are like a dessert. I can have a cup of black tea with a scone or a cookie or even alone and feel like I had a really good dessert. There are so many black teas in the tea world. They may have the rating of second flush or, some estate but you know, if you're seriously into the tea, you would want to know more about how it became a second flush or estate tea. For this you need to ask someone who lives and breathes tea and basically has no life (just kidding). Iím just giving you the common teas that most people are aware of. But if you insist on telling me more about black teas, please do write to me. So here are some basic teas and what they are commonly found in.
  • Keemun - Added to English Breakfast, good Chinese tea with hint of sherry flavor to it.
  • Ceylon Ė This is from Sri Lanka. It's almost like a champagne of teas ... its golden color, full taste (can get bitter if it steeps too long) and a nice aroma. If you have heard of 'Orange Pekoe,' from what I read that its actually the leaf type? So if that is true let me know. But you know of Orange Pekoe bag tea, well maybe that's just Ceylon.
  • Darjeeling - This tea is interesting, depending on the estate where it came from and how it was processed. This tea, I believe, is the fanning for Lipton tea. It can range from smooth to strong.
  • Assam - A malty tasting tea, and one of my favorites. The longer it steeps the stronger it gets, and more flavorful. Irish breakfast.
  • Nilgiri - Canít really describe it but its taste has different ranges all depending on the estate it comes from.
  • Lapsang Shouchong - Smoky black tea ... the second tea which I donít particularly care to drink. If you drink this without milk youíre a brave soul.
The other common black tea is Earl Grey. It's really a scented black tea especially if you like the oils of bergamot. I have a friend who is really into double bergamot. 'Yuck' is all I have to say. It's great as an easy tea to get into because it doesnít have the tones of flavor.

The questions will always be 'What about adding milk to your black teas?' Well, letís just say if you feel that you need to dilute your tea to slowly kill the taste then do so. If you are of British heritage, then adding milk is the norm for you.

If you donít know by now, most of the black teas are produced in countries like India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and surprisingly, China. They produce some really good black tea. Yunnan is a tasty black tea, as is Keemun, which is also known as Hao Ya Keemun or Hao Ya.


Everyone assumes that all green teas are the same ... Wrong, people, there are two distinct types of green tea. When I worked at a teahouse, I was just like others, until I became educated about them.

Green teas are either Chinese or Japanese. The Chinese teas each have a different taste to them. Either they are a real strong green which leaves a taste in your mouth or they can be light. Chinese green tea can also be classified as white, which is all about the processing of the tea leaves. Iím just going to give you the common green tea. Like I said before, they might have different names, so if you can recognize the description of the tea and know another name for it, let me know.

Chinese Green Teas:
  • Longjing - A light and fresh tasting tea with a subtle aroma, this would be a good tea if one wanted to get into drinking green tea.
  • Shou Mei - It has so many names. It's kinda of a green / white tea because the leaves can vary from very light to dark green. To me this is the tea to really enjoy. It's very mellow and doesn't have much of an aroma to it, but its really the perfect tea.
  • Green Peony - This is a fun tea, because of the way it 'blooms' in hot water. Basically, it looks like a pressed (flat) flower, but when hot water hits it, it looks like a flower again. It's got a strong taste if you let it steep too long.
  • Gunpowder - One hears the name but doesnít really know what it is. I personally havenít 'experienced' that tea, but it's round gray pellets and green tea (so one assumes when you get to the bottom of the jar, you would find what looks like 'gunpowder.'
  • Jasmine Tea - I hate to burst peopleís bubble about this tea, but it's really green leaves rolled in jasmine oil to give you the taste and the smell of Jasmine. And not a lot of Chinese restaurants serve this tea ... most of what is served in restaurants is an Oolong.

Japanese Green Teas:

Now I find that anything with a CHA tagged to the name means its Japanese, and it seems that is the case ... well in my mind. So here are a few of the well known green teas.
  • Genmaicha - Known as the 'popcorn tea' because it looks like little popcorn mixed with green leaves. Actually, those popcorns are rice ... yep its rice. It's an easy green tea to drink. It doesnít over power you with a 'green flavor.'
  • Hojicha - One of my favorite green teas, Hojicha is basically roasted leaves that don't get too strong if you steep them long. It really is nice and subtle. Great with a snack or meal.
  • Kukicha - 'Twig' tea ... not a green flavored tea, but nice, subtle and sweet.
'Special' Japanese Green Teas:

The following green teas, in my mind, are really special because of the conditions you should be aware of when it comes to getting a good tea from them.
  • Sencha - A really good green tea. It should be kept in a cool place ... the leaves are sensitive to air and temperature, so storage is a big deal. When serving the tea the water should be boiled to 180 degrees in order for the leaves to fully open up. Donít let it steep too long or you will end up with a somewhat bitter taste.
  • Bancha - Like Sencha, it too should have water boiled to 180 degrees to get the full flavor of the tea. Be aware of the time you let it steep, though, as it too can get a bit bitter. Bancha isn't as sensitive to air and temperature as Sencha, though.
  • Matcha - This is a great green tea. The method of making Matcha is an art in itself. One has to see the preparation of Matcha ... it's amazing that a little whisk, so delicate, can make an amazing whipped tea drink. Iím sure this is the tea used in the Japanese tea ceremonies, because the whole method of making this tea is great. Iíve not been to a Japanese tea ceremony, but I highly encourage you to try it ... eventually, I will.

One note about green teas ... one shouldnít add anything to green teas, because it just takes away from the various flavors of green ... no milk or sugar. If you want to add those things to your tea, make sure its black or herbal.


The 'mysterious' tea ... some people donít really know about these teas. The only difference between black and green is in the processing of the leaves. Oolong is the 'middle child' between these two. Youíll be surprised to know that Chinese restaurants serve oolong tea instead of green tea. Well, what can I say about this category of tea? It's definitely different from others. China and Taiwan seem to produce good oolongs. Each oolong has some sort of distinct hint of flavor. The following ones have made a definite impression on me.

  • Bao Jong - You might know it by a different name, but I know that this oolong is light and has a nice hint of lavender to it.
  • Bao Hao - To me it's like toast ... seriously ... its toast with a bit of honey added to it. It also has hints of other flavors but they aren't overwhelming. Like I said, this might have a different name.
  • Tung Ting (Dung Ding) Ė Oh what can I say about this oolong ... I really like it. I find it to be like a watered down green tea with a toasty taste to it.
  • Nantou Dawn - Oh, itís the 'oolong of all oolongs' in my mind. I love this oolong. It's buttery ... not sweet, but real smooth. It's not like the liquid butter you put on popcorn, but the smell alone makes it tasty.
  • Ti-Kuan Yin - The most important oolong, I think, is Ti-Kuan Yin, which can be spelled so many ways. Anyway this is a great tea to drink with any food.
  • Pu-erh - Just a brief note, this can be considered as an oolong or a black tea. Pu-erh can come in either loose form or 'cake' form. I know that Pu-erh is a great digestive tea; it makes your stomach feel much better if youíve eaten a lot.


OK, if you donít all ready know, herbal teas donít come from the Camellia Sinensis plant. All herbal teas are made from fruits, leaves of herbs and flowers. There are so many herbals out there ... Iím just going to mention the common ones.

  • Ginger Tea - Well, if you use fresh grated ginger you have a wonderful, cold killer ... over all good tea to have when your not feeling well.
  • Peppermint - This mint makes a great tea. Like ginger, it's great for making you feel better, or a good sedative to help you sleep.
  • Chamomile - A flower from the daisy family, this once again makes a tea for helping you feel better after eating a meal, itís the softer version of Pu-ehr.

So these are the basic herbals that I know of. Some tea houses have their own special blends to make things interesting. There are some herbals so strange that even I wonít venture to try them. The latest herbal trend is Rooibos, a caffeine free tea which apparently is tasty, but which is not recommended for pregnant women, as it can cause premature contractions (if this isn't true, let me know). Anyway, there are tons of herbal teas out there, so use your taste and discretion. If people would like to tell me what their favorite herbal tea is, let me know, and Iíll post the results.

I hope these brief descriptions will help you in your next tea selection and that they will encourage you to try new teas. Enjoy!

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