The world of tea is a vast one. For those happy with basic black tea in teabags (or loose) it’s pretty straightforward; every supermarket in the country stocks black tea teabags and loose leaf English Breakfast, Assam and Darjeeling are just as easy to find; Earl Grey (black tea with the addition of essential oil extracted from bergamot orange) is also universally available.
But what if you discover that oolong or green tea are more to your taste? Perhaps you hear about yellow and white teas, aged pu-erh (dark fermented tea made in China’s Yunnan province), genmaicha (Japanese green tea with roasted rice)? You’ve read that matcha and sencha are both green teas but aren’t sure how they differ? How do you learn more about them, and more importantly, how can you sample a wide range to help you narrow down which styles of tea you personally enjoy the most?
Finding out about the different teas is not too complicated. It’s a topic that wikipedia is very useful on – just search for wiki oolong, wiki matcha, wiki sencha… you get the idea. And obviously, many online tea retailers also have guides to the teas on their websites. There are specialist blogs aplenty and if you become really keen, you can buy a specialist book or two. I’ve been eyeing up this one, Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties by Kevin Gascoyne, published earlier this year.
Regular readers know I have been exploring the world of teas for some years, and I have a particular fondness for oolongs and green teas. You can look back through my many tea posts, or take a look at my Christmas tea gift guide from 2012. In that post, I mentioned Adagio Teas, a US company that started to also sell in Europe a few years ago, amongst others.
Adagio Teas offer an extensive selection, covering the range of tea styles.
They’re a great option for those looking to expand their tea repertoire – not only can you pick and choose your own selection, they also provide 9 Tea Samplers, each box containing small packets of four different teas.
The Samplers include Silk Road (Chinese black teas), Raja (Indian and Sri Lankan black teas), Chai (teas blended with a variety of spices and herbs), Tropical (teas blended with fruit), Formosa (Taiwanese green and dark oolongs), Samurai (Japanese green teas), Emperor (top quality green teas) and two more that cover herbal infusions, Garden and Rooibos.
I put three of the Samplers to the test along with two individual teas chosen from the full range.
Emperor Sampler Set
The Emperor Sampler Set is £13. Note that the two of four teas currently listed differ from those in my set, delivered a few months ago.
Silver Sprout brews to a pretty amber and has a rich sweet aroma that reminds me of rice pudding. The taste is mild, smoky and more like an oolong than a typical green tea.
Dragonwell brews to a greeny yellow and smells like a typical green tea – it has rich intense grass, hay notes. On the palate, the grassy taste comes through, but so too does a mild dairy umami that wasn’t obvious to the nose. It’s rich but refreshingly vegetal at the same time.
Gyokuro brews bright yellow and has an uncomplicated green vegetal aroma. The flavours are gentle, a soft grassiness with a mere hint of umami savouriness.
Jasmine Yin Hao is a jasmine-infused silver tip tea – “tip” in this context refers to tiny unfurled buds, given only the lightest of processing. It brews orangey yellow and the only aroma I can detect is a strong floral scent of jasmine. On the palate too, jasmine dominates. This is a lovely floral tea, but be aware that the green tea beneath doesn’t come through very clearly.
Samurai Sampler Set
The Samurai Sampler Set is £9.
Genmaicha is a popular tea in Japan; a combination of green tea and toasted rice. This one brews to a greeny yellow and has a fabulous aroma of roasted rice, like popcorn and marshmallows. It tastes as you’d expect, the rich roasted rice flavours and underneath, the clean vegetal notes of green tea. It’s rich, savoury and very comforting.
Kukicha is a blend of tea leaves and tea leaf stems. It brews to a similar greeny yellow as the genmaicha but could not be more different. The smell is lemon citrus and freshly cut grass. The citrus is on the nose only, the taste is a very light green tea. The umami savouriness is very muted, there’s no bitterness at all, this is a much lighter green than most.
Sencha Overture is a delicious green tea, and a good introduction to the style; sencha is harvested in spring and early summer and steamed rather than sun dried, which results in a clean but rich vegetal flavour. This one brews pale yellow. On the nose, it delivers a really intense sweetness, like caramelised milk and a mild vegetal scent. On the palate the green vegetable taste comes through clearly.
Sencha is produced in spring and early summer. After that, the full summer harvest creates bancha. Roasting these bancha tea leaves creates Hojicha. Adagio’s hojicha brews a dark red brown. The smell is smoky and woody. On the palate it’s rich, smoky and with hints of tobacco and wood. Very much like a well-flavoured black tea, I find.
Formosa Sampler Set + Hsinchu Oriental Beauty + Formosa Ali Shan
I find the Formosa oolong (sampler set) disappointing. It’s smoky, one-dimensional black tea, with no richness or complexity of flavour. I don’t get any hint of the raisins or ripe fruits in Adagio’s description.
The Formosa Bai Hao (sampler set) brews to a paler amber than the oolong. It has a slightly more interesting aroma, milky with a little smoke. On the palate it’s a little lighter and sweeter in flavour, with a hint of milky umami. But it’s still not very complex, rich or interesting.
The Hsinchu Oriental Beauty is a world apart from the two above. It’s a highly oxidised premium grade bai hao from Taiwan’s Hsinchu county it is made up of white, green, yellow, red and brown leaves. The colour when brewed is a pale greeny brown and the aroma is amazing, a burst of floral, fruitiness. The taste is even more phenomenal than the smell with intense fruits, flowers and honeyed sweetness. I don’t have the vocabulary to do justice to the roundness of flavours, it seems to satisfy more of my tastebuds than the other teas.
Jade oolong (sampler set) brews yellowy green and has a grassy aroma and smells like sweet milk. The taste – vegetal grassiness and the hint of umami savouriness – is a more typical of a green tea than an oolong; it’s the lighter side of the oolong style.
Pouchong (sampler set) is another lightly oxidised oolong that brews to a yellow green. The smell is intense, much sweeter, like semolina halwa with a hint of vanilla. The taste is less complex than the smell lead me to expect, in fact it’s a disappointly mild and light.
Like the pouchong, the Formosa ali shan has an intense sweet flavour, the same semolina and vanilla – I even took both cups into different rooms to check the scent of one wasn’t influencing the other! This time, the promise of the aromas comes through on the palate. It’s rich, fruity, a little sweet and with the merest hint of green grass, and it fills the palate, much like the Hsinchu bai hao.
To recap, the samplers provide a great way to try lots of teas without breaking the bank. Of the ones I tried, the Samurai was my clear favourite. Or, of course, buy any of the teas individually.
Adagio are currently running a pre-Christmas offer of free standard UK delivery on orders over £20 (usually it’s a £30 minimum spend to qualify for free shipping). This offer is available on their website till December 14th!
Kavey Eats received product samples from Adagio Teas.