Flights of tea

I was recently in Vancouver and then Portland, Oregon to visit friends and family. One of the things I did was to arrange a tea meeting with ABX, whom I’ve met before when we visited Serenity Art together (the store has since closed and reopening is uncertain). I also contacted David Galli of the rather grandly named Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance, which is actually a tea space that’s shared with a wine tasting/education outfit and offers classes and tea meetings of various sorts. We ended up settling on drinking tea there.

I promised the two of them that I would bring some aged oolongs of various sorts for them to try, and I ended up taking with me about six different teas, all aged oolongs of one kind or another that I have gathered from one place or another. The result of the tasting, unbeknownst even to me at the time, was a comparison of different aged oolongs and their characteristics.


We ended up drinking seven teas, six of them aged oolongs and one a cooked/raw mixed brick from the 80s. Most of the aged oolongs, other than one, was tasted in a pot I brought along for the ride. I also ended up doing most of the brewing, so it turned out to be a pretty reasonable proxy for a controlled tasting of the teas.

I think there’s actually quite a bit of value in drinking teas this way. Comparing teas that are, ostensibly, in the same genre, it is quite possible to discern the more subtle differences in the teas by having them back to back. Whereas when drunk separately, they might each have their own strong or weak points, drinking them together, one by one, it is easier to say “this tea is better than that tea because…”. The same, of course, can be done through cupping, but cupping a tea is a lot less fun.

There are some general rules that I try to follow when constructing such tastings though. The first is that one should always start light and end heavy. Going the other way will seriously disrupt the tastebuds, and will often result in sub-optimal experiences. Drinking a green tea right after a heavy, pungent puerh is probably not a very good idea, especially in attempting to detect the high notes of the green tea. It’s generally a much better idea to go from the light and airy to the full bodied and deep teas. I suspect the same is true for wines.

Also, I think it is useful to taste things that share some similarity. Drinking, say, a sencha, then a white tea, then a young puerh, then an aged oolong, for example, can be fun, but I think there is less to be gained in the experience. Drinking the same kinds of tea over a short session, on the other hand, allows for more direct comparison. Differences in aroma, mouthfeel, longevity, and depth become very obvious.

There are also unexpected surprises. The puerh we had at the end, for example, seemed very sour. I think if we had tried that early on, it wouldn’t appear as sour, but because it came after a long line of aged oolongs that are mostly sweet, the sourness was magnified somehow. To me, the tea also tasted somewhat unpleasant overall – it’s hard to pinpoint what was wrong with it, but I know that if it weren’t preceded by the teas that it did, I probably would have liked the tea more.

It would’ve been nice though if I had more time to drink with the two of them. Alas, we only had a few hours, and so some of the teas were still drinkable when we abandoned them for other things. I do wish David good luck though in setting up this new space, and it’s Portland’s good fortune to have a number of locations to drink teas of different kinds.


Flights of tea — 9 Comments

  1. Hello,
    I also think it’s more interesting to compare teas that have something to do with each other. Otherwise, there is nothing to compare… And I also agree with the fact that lighter teas should be tasted first.

  2. Hey MarshalN,

    Thanks again for sharing your teas, time, and insights with us! As well as being a very enjoyable couple of hours, our meet-up definitely gave me lots of food for thought (as anyone who reads your blog might expect).

    I look forward to a time when I’m capable of some sort of reciprocity. 🙂

  3. Your post solved a mystery. I had chosen the wrong tasting order last week for trying back-to-back the two baozhongs you sent me. Because I had tried the soft feminine voluptuous peachy baozhong first, I was immediately put off by the wet stored taste in the second baozhong.

    I ran to my tea station to try the second baozhong by itself just now and the “wet” taste feels subtle and quite enjoyable- even enhances the honeyed sweetness in this tea.

    It’s almost like meeting two sisters at the same time- men can get captivated by the younger sexy sister who easily overshadows her plainer older sister with her overt sexuality. But if you had met the older sister first all by herself, you would see her abundant charms.

    p.s. I was actually taken aback when I tried the first fruity baozhong. Somehow it seemed too sensual of a tea (if I may say) for “the professor” to drink…

    • Hah, I love that fruity baozhong. It’s quite good. There’s another tea that I sent you that might be more “sensual”, I think. You’ll know which one it is.

      The other baozhong is darker. I think they contrast well, but like you said, on first impressions the fruity one will always win.

  4. I noticed light to heavy was the only way to go with ales and microbrews a few months ago. Too many heavy, highly hopped IPAs and the lighter stuff will seem bland in comparison. 🙂

  5. Pingback: MarshalN’s Curated Samples | A Tea Addict's Journal

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