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Tasting of White and Green Teas- Guest Article by Alan Liebshutz

Green and white tea tasting varies from that of Chinese blacks in a number of ways.

Since the brewing temperature, as for Chinese blacks, is not fixed, this adds another variable parameter. Normally, the temperature ranges employed are:

  • Green and white teas: 170-185 F
  • Bud-grade greens (Bi Lou Chun, Lung Chun, Jasmine Pearl, Sencha): 140 - 150 F

Some greens require a quick wash to remove the overwhelming vegetal taste. A "quick wash" means a rinse at the brewing temperature, filling one gaiwan one-third full with the hot water and immediately pouring liquor into second gaiwan, and then discarding. (We use this quick-wash process with oolongs, too, but for another reason -- to activate the tea.)

Green and white teas can be infused multiple times. We normally can get three infusions out of a single sample, but have obtained as many as five and as few as two, depending simply on the remaining taste and aroma in the leaves.

It is generally more difficult and requires additional experimental steeps to determine the optimum tasting parameters for these variables.

  • Brewing temperature: I normally try to bracket the optimum temperature with three temperature values at 10 degrees apart, starting at the lowest temperature.
  • Steeping time: This is normally a critical parameter; a 30-second difference in steeping time can make the difference between an ordinary and an exceptional cup. (With some delicate greens brewed Kung Fu style, 15-second steeps are the norm.) So I steep in intervals of a half minute, usually 3 per brewing temperature. I find the range from 2 to 3 minutes to be normally correct, so I steep at 2, 2 1/2, and 3 minutes for whites and greens. (For Chinese blacks 4-5 minutes -- sometimes 5 1/2 minutes -- is usually correct. Some oolongs require much longer times.)
  • Tea amount (per 6 oz of water): For whites and greens I start with 3 grams and sometimes increase to 3 1/2 grams. I measure in grams, not teaspoons, because a very fluffy or low-density tea like White Peony requires much more tea volume than a compact or high-density tea like Nantou Oolong. And a teaspoon is a very inaccurate measure whose size easily varies by more than 10 to 20 percent. (Chinese blacks normally require only 2 to 2 1/2 grams per 6 oz of water).

Water

I use bottled spring water in order to have an analyzed water source that remains constant. The water is surely one of the three most important determinants within the above three parameters -- brewing time, temperature, tea amount -- the next two factors are individual tastes and the tea itself, which I'll discuss later. James Norwood Pratt in his book, The New Tea Lovers Treasury, defines a perfect bottled water as one with the following properties: no hard chlorination; a pH near 7; and a level of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) between 10 and 30 parts per million (ppm).

There is a lot of discussion and controversy about these last two attributes being necessary. Trying to find a bottled water with a TDS below 30 is difficult and expensive. Therefore I would recommend using a bottled spring water (or at least a Brita-filtered water) that has the analysis on each bottle, and is bottled at the source from the spring to maintain the quality and freshness. All bottled water is not equal; some is purely filtered tap water. The particular bottled water I use is easily and cheaply available, is bottled at the spring source, and has an analysis on each bottle. Mine has a pH of 8 and a TDS of 140 ppm.

Tea

Tea, unfortunately, is not a constant. It depends on the time of the year it is picked, which leaves are picked, the processing, the tea vendor, and the growing region. Tea will vary from vendor to vendor, season to season, and year to year.

Realizing that the tasting parameters, for a given tea, will depend upon the water used, the taster himself, and the tea, let us consider a format for determining the optimum tasting variables for a white or green tea: brewing temperature, steeping time, and tea amount.

Tasting Format

  • Tea Name: I may also include details of growing region and growing season, even in some cases I include more information, since for a green or white tea, several names can be employed. For example, a Chinese green or white may have three names (depending upon translation methodology): Biluchun, Bik Lo Cheun, or Pi Lo Chun; Longjing, Lung Tsen, or Lung Chung. A very good source for Chinese tea names is All the Tea In China by Kit Chow and Ione Kramer.
  • Vendor: I usually try to include URL of vendor web site or contact information.
  • Measuring Instruments: I normally use a thermometer to measure temperature and a gram scale to measure leaf amount. I do not agree with the use of teaspoons as a measure because the amount is a strong function of the kind of tea -- its volume. I use these instruments: digital gram duplex scale, Tanita #1479 (accuracy +/- 0.1g); digital self-checking thermometer Checktemp F(accuracy +/-0.03 C for centigrade thermometer, and +/- 0.05 F for Fahrenheit thermometer).
  • Water Used.
  • Dry Leaf: Describe color, size and form, fragrance, and make some remarks about leaf quality.
  • Wet Leaf: After brewing, describe color, size and form, fragrance, and make some remarks about leaf quality.

Sample 1: Leaf amount/ 6 oz of water, brew temperature.

  • Steep 1: Steep time.
  • Color of tea liquor.
  • Aroma: Describe main fragrance and any hints or nuances.
  • Taste: Describe taste as to body, flavor -- main and any nuances.
  • Aftertaste: Describe any lingering or non-lingering tastes or hints.

Steep 2: Steep time.

  • Color of tea liquor.
  • Aroma: Describe main fragrance and any hints or nuances.
  • Taste: Describe taste as to body, flavor -- main and any nuances.
  • Aftertaste: Describe any lingering or non-lingering tastes or hints.

Steep 3 - steep time.

  • Color of tea liquor.
  • Aroma: Describe main fragrance and any hints or nuances.
  • Taste: Describe taste as to body, flavor -- main and any nuances.
  • Aftertaste: Describe any lingering or non-lingering tastes or hints.

Next samples: I normally have a sample 2 and usually a sample 3, changing the leaf amount, the brew time, and the steep time. Conclusions I pick the best parameters set as a function of aroma and taste. In addition I may compare vendors of the same tea or different years or seasons. Tea taster: I identify the taster by name.



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