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Tea Flavors and Cupping Notes

Various Types of Tea Production

The soil, climate, altitude, time of picking, and manufacturing expertise determine the quality and taste of the tea, but it is the manufacturing process and level of fermentation (correctly understood as oxidation) that determines whether the tea will be white, green, oolong, or black.
At one time, all processing of tea was done by hand in a carefully executed series of stages that were first developed by the Chinese. Today, far fewer teas are handmade; instead, machines carry out some or nearly all stages of manufacturing. The term "orthodox" is used by the tea industry to designate manufacturing methods that mimic the traditional hand-processing.

White Teas
After careful plucking, the buds and leaves are withered for several hours at room temperature. During this time, water evaporates from the leaves, and up to 40% of the original weight is removed. The wilted leaves are then roasted until they lose 93-95% of their moisture content. Because the processing of white tea is simple and quick, the resulting tea yields a pale color and delicate taste.

Green Teas
In the processing of green tea, freshly plucked leaves are spread out in pans or bamboo trays to dry. Once most of the water has evaporated from the leaves, they are quickly heated to prevent any fermentation from ruining the delicate leaves. In some mechanized processes, the leaves are warmed in metal pans to induce vaporization of the leaves’ moisture. Often with high-quality green teas, the leaves are twisted or rolled to create distinctive shapes that gracefully unfurl during infusion.

Oolong Teas
The processing of oolong teas begins with the partial withering of the leaves in sunlight; these shriveled leaves are then shaken in baskets to cause slight bruising which releases oils and enzymes. Subsequently, the leaves are fermented for varying lengths of time depending on the desired character of the tea. A long fermentation of 40-70% creates an oolong that has deep color with nutty or woody flavor while a shorter fermentation of 12-20% results in a light, sometimes green-tasting tea. Pouchong teas, sometimes classified as oolongs, are lightly fermented and usually have a subtle, green character. Because of this delicate flavor, pouchongs are often scented by the addition of flowers-as in high-quality jasmine teas.

Black Teas
After withering, the leaves that will be processed in the orthodox manner are rolled 2-6 times for a period of up to 30 minutes each. The leaves are then fully fermented to produce a black tea. The expert tea manufacturer will determine the precise time at which to stop the fermentation by observing the color, smell, and general appearance of the leaves. A quick firing of the leaves halts oxidation without imparting a burnt flavor onto the leaves.
With emphasis shifting to production efficiency, the majority of tea produced today is not orthodox. In 1925, it was discovered that commercial grade tea could be produced from unwithered tea leaves if they were first shredded using a tobacco cutter, and today the CTC (crush, tear, curl) machine is widely used. Using this machine, lightly withered leaves are processed in such a way that fermentation time can be cut in half. The distinguishing characteristic of a CTC tea is its uniform, granular appearance.

Pu-Erh Teas
Pu-erh teas, from the Yunnan province of China, are unique due to a true fermentation -- not the oxidation used for oolong or black teas. Bacteria may be added to processed green tea leaves which are then placed in damp caves to age for up to 60 years. As a result of this storage, the leaves take on an earthy, mold-like flavor.

Flavored Teas
Flavored teas require an additional step once the leaves are sorted and graded. A black or green tea base is dried a second time, and flavoring, fruit, spices, or flowers are added. Some teas, such as most Jasmines and our Rose Congou, are flavored during the actual fermentation process to develop deeper flavor notes. After the flavoring is added, the tea is cooled and packaged.

Decaffeinated Teas
There are several methods by which tea leaves are decaffeinated: carbon dioxide, ethyl acetate and methylene chloride. All of our decaffeinated teas have been decaffeinated using the all-natural pure carbon dioxide process. During the decaffeination process, the carbon dioxide is pressurized, which turns it into a liquid form. Moistened tea leaves are exposed to the liquid carbon dioxide, which bonds to the caffeine molecules in the tea leaves. After bonding, the liquid is removed and the tea leaves are dried. This method leaves a residual level of caffeine, which is well below the level required by the FDA to be labeled decaffeinated. At Upton Tea Imports, we choose only high-quality teas for the decaffeination process, which results in a more flavorful cup.

Common Blends and Flavored Teas

Tea blends often begin as a regional or cultural preference toward a particular strength or style of tea, and as people travel to these areas, they too gain an appreciation for that unique style of tea, hence the popularity of many classic blends.

East Frisian Blend:
East Frisia is a tiny German province, located along the North Sea near Holland, where tea is a grand tradition. The residents of East Frisia (Ostfriesen) have fully integrated tea into their daily lives. Here, strong black tea is highly valued. Hot tea is poured over a large crystal of sugar that has been placed at the bottom of the teacup; a sharp crackling sound fills the air as the sugar begins to fracture from the heat. The tea is then allowed to steep for no less than five full minutes. The drink is completed with a spoonful of heavy cream that is not stirred, but rather left to form a cloud in the center of the cup.

English Breakfast: English Breakfast tea, while falling under no clear and universal definition, is generally blended to create a strong morning cup that goes nicely with the addition of milk. Some allege that "traditional" English Breakfast teas must contain Chinese Keemun, but there is little historical evidence to substantiate this claim; the English were enjoying hearty tea long before Keemun was introduced into the market.

Irish Breakfast:
Typically a blend of strong Assams, Irish Breakfast style tea is recognized for its full-bodied character and malty flavor. Only teas with the darkest hue and strongest flavor are chosen for blending this eye-opener. Today, Ireland is the largest per capita tea drinking country in the world!

Russian Caravan:
Through a caravan treaty with China, Russia gained exposure to a multitude of treasures from the Far East -- one of which was tea. These days of rugged trade are revived in contemporary Russian Caravan blends that attempt to recreate the high grade loose leaf tea which was imported only for Russia's wealthiest citizens. (The lower classes could afford only the more standard grade found in Chinese tea bricks.) Often, the inclusion of Lapsang Souchong in these style teas yields a gently smoky cup that is often enjoyed in the afternoon or early evening.

Scented, Spiced, and Flavored Teas

Like blends, scented teas can also begin as regional or cultural preferences toward particular flavors. The most popular scented teas are usually flavored with fruit, natural oils, or flowers, but as is evident with the popularity of Lapsang Souchong, any style of flavored tea may gain worldwide appreciation.

Earl Grey Tea:
How Earl Grey tea originated is still somewhat of a mystery, and a number of different accounts attempt to retell this famed tea's beginning. One version declares that the Earl was in China on a diplomatic mission when he was given the tea recipe as a gift from a grateful mandarin. In another version of the tale, he received the recipe after he left his post in the government. The quirk of history is that the Chinese have never produced nor consumed any style of tea scented with bergamot.
Whatever its historical origin, Earl Grey is perhaps one of the most well-known teas in the United States and Europe, and the citrus flavor of bergamot oil is surely unforgettable to anyone who has tasted it.

Jasmine Tea:
Jasmine teas are celebrated throughout the world for their light, floral quality. Fresh green or pouchong tea base is dried with freshly picked jasmine flowers, which are occasionally left in the tea for visual appeal. After the scenting process, the leaves are then refired to remove any moisture imparted by the jasmine blossoms.
Chun Hao: Literally translated, "Spring hair or fur."
Yin Hao: Literally translated, "silver hair or fur."

Lapsang Souchong:
Lapsang Souchong is one of the most distinctive teas in the world. During production, large souchong grade leaves are placed over smoky pine fires until the strong scent permeates the tea. China and Taiwan are currently the only two countries in the world that produce this intensely flavored tea, which can be enjoyed at any time of day. Because it is naturally low in caffeine, Lapsang Souchong is a popular choice for an evening cup of tea.

Lychee Tea:
With a taste reminiscent of light citrus, Lychee tea is made from a black tea base and lychee fruit from southern Chinese evergreens. This unique fruit is popularly known in China as "Feizi Xiao" (Feizi's Smile) from the story of a Tang emperor who had lychee fruit imported daily to please his favorite concubine, Feizi.

Rose Tea:
The Chinese create rose tea by blending a standard grade of green or black tea with petals from the native Rosa odorata, or "tea rose." The result is a floral aroma with a refreshingly floral flavor. Like jasmine, the tea is dried with fresh petals which may or may not be left in the final product.

Different types of Japanese teas

The different types of Japanese teas are best understood as variations on a continual theme -- quality green tea. This does not mean, however, that all Japanese green teas taste the same, as anyone comparing a cup of Genmaicha and Gyokuro could easily tell you. Within Japanese teas there is a wide array of choices available to the loose tea connoisseur.

Savored throughout the day, Bancha greens are the "everyday" teas of Japan. Because this tea is gathered in the last few pluckings of the year, old and new leaves are often mixed together. Because it is the lowest grade of Japanese green tea, Bancha is often used as the tea base for Genmaicha or scented with fruit flavoring to impart a unique fragrance and taste.

Genmai Cha
Puffed rice is added to a Bancha or Sencha tea base to create Genmaicha. The result is a delightful, toasty tea with an equally interesting aroma. Its flavor is mild and combines the aroma of the roasted rice with the fresh grassy flavor of green tea. The steeped tea has a light yellow hue.

Gyokuro (literally translated "Pearl dew") is the finest of all Japanese teas. The bushes are covered with straw or dark cloth shades three weeks before the first buds are expected to "flush". Sleek, dark green leaves are the unique result. This shading also creates a chemical change where flavanol levels are slightly reduced while caffeine content remains at a higher concentration. Pleasingly vegetal, Gyokuro offers a full green flavor with a slightly sweet finish.

During the production of Hojicha, Bancha leaves are lightly roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal. The delicate, earthy liquor is characterized by a subtle nutty quality. The steeped tea has a light to reddish brown appearance.

Kokeicha begins as a paste of Matcha and water which is then extruded through tiny holes to make long, spaghetti-like strings. This pale yellow tea is known for its vegetal quality.

Made from twigs of Camellia Sinensis, Kukicha is a mild, earthy tea that is low in caffeine. The woody character is pleasingly subtle and has a mildly nutty and slightly creamy sweet flavor.

Used in Cha-no-yu, the Japanese tea ceremony, Matcha is a powdered form of the highly valued Gyokuro. Tencha leaves (the storage form between Gyokuro and Matcha) are mechanically ground into very fine particles. Prized for its rich vegetal flavor, Matcha is prepared by stirring the powder into hot water, creating a delicious froth. Whisk the cup periodically to avoid settling of the powder.

Sencha tea is well-known for its beautiful long, flat, green leaves that infuse to yield a pale green cup with a vegetal, grassy quality.

Ichiban-cha: Is a first flush Sencha.
Niban-cha: Is a second flush Sencha.

Gyokuro leaves are cut up into these smaller pieces for storage until they are needed for the Cha-no-yu ceremony. Then, they are ground into the fine powder known as Matcha.

Different types of Chinese teas

As Chinese history is full of rich tales and legends, so too are the individual backgrounds of the country's exquisite teas. Different regions produce the unique styles which are well-known throughout the world, but perhaps their individual tales are not as familiar.

A form of "eyebrow" tea whose name originated because the Chinese believed that the delicately shaped leaf resembled a lady's plucked eyebrow. Literally translated, Chunmee means "precious eyebrow." The twisted leaves yield a pleasing plum flavor.

Literally translated, "point or peak" (as in a mountain).

Because the tightly rolled leaves preserve moisture and freshness, gunpowder greens were some of the first teas to be exported from China to Europe. The small pellets earned the gunpowder reference because they supposedly resembled ammunition. As the leaves infuse, the compact balls unfurl and yield a dark liquor that often has a slight smoky quality.

Temple of Heaven
This premier style of gunpowder from the Zhejiang province has an aromatic cup with a sweet, grassy character. Temple of Heaven is more delicate than other gunpowder teas.

Gu Zhang Mao Jian
Gu Zhang Mao Jian is a springtime tea that is harvested only once a year during a brief ten-day period. Grown in the Yellow Mountains of the Anhui province, these leaves are often flecked with silver tips. When infused, Gu Zhang Mao Jian yields a dark yellow liquor with a pleasingly smooth flavor.

Long Jing
Long Jing (or Lung Ching) is perhaps one of China's best-loved green teas. Chinese legend retells the story of a drought that devastated the farming monks of the Dragon's Well (Long Jing) monastery around 250AD. One desperate monk prayed directly to the dragon, the king of water, and shortly thereafter, the dragon honored his prayers with much-needed rain. Today, all Long Jing teas are picked in the Zheijiang province near this famed well.
Tasters identify the quality of a Long Jing using four characteristics: se, xiang, wei, and xing (color, aroma, taste, and shape). The flat, smooth, uniform leaves infuse to a pale yellow flavor with a distinctively vegetal flavor.

Pan Long Yin Hao
Grown in the Zheijiang province, Pan Long Yin Hao is a delightfully complex tea with subtle flavor notes. The vegetal yet sweet flavor is truly unique.

Pi Lo Chun
Pi Lo Chun, or "Green Snail Spring," was traditionally called "Astounding Fragrance" for hundreds of years before a Manchu emperor renamed the tea in the 1700s. The original name is thought to refer to the legendary belief that the tea gained its wonderful aroma from the gardens of surrounding fruit trees. Pale yellow in the cup, Pi Lo Chun is arguably one of the most prized teas in China. The delicate, twisted leaves unfurl to yield a sweet aroma and liquor with a well-rounded body.

Shou Mei
Another of the "eyebrow" teas, Shou Mei is literally translated as "longevity eyebrow" because the leaves seemed to resemble the wiry brows of wise, older men.

Yun Wu
Literally translated, "clouds and mist."

Yu Hua
Literally translated, "flower rains." Elegant, pointed leaves yield a clear tea with delicate flavor notes that are similar to those found in Pi Lo Chun.

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