about the review process

Reviews are designed to be quickly referenced and, ideally, repeatable by anyone with interest in comparing notes. To facilitate speed, I’ve created a visual format. To facilitate repeatability, I perform all tastings with the same parameters (with exceptions as noted below). And yes, that does mean I’ve had to drink some pretty bad tea, but it’s all in the name of learning what good tea really is.

Brewing parameters matter. A parameter tweaked in the right direction can take a tea from good to great. But that’s not really what I’m doing here. Here, I have adopted the ISO standard for tea tasting (yeah it’s a thing) with a few changes.

All tea reviews on this site (exceptions noted in the section below) are performed with these parameters:

  • Water:
    • 98C (~208F)
    • reverse osmosis water with a few pink salt crystals added to bump up the TDS (range is always between 40 ppm – 100 ppm).
  • Time:
    • six minute steep
    • a second six minute steep is done to photograph the liquor, but all review notes come from the first steep
  • Utensils:
    • ~150 ml tasting set (pre-warmed)
  • Tea:
    • 2.50 grams of tea, +/- .05g

Some teas just aren’t a great fit for the standardized parameters listed above. Depending on the degree of lack of fit, this results in either an exception or a bias. Teas that just physically cannot be brewed properly following the method above are exceptions and will be brewed as noted below:

  1. matcha
    •  prepared as usucha:
      • ~75ml of 85C (185F) water
      • 2 chashaku scoops of tea (~1g), sifted
      • pre-warmed chawan
    • prepared as koicha:
      • ~45ml of 70C (158F) water
      • ~4g of tea, sifted
      • pre-warmed chawan
  2. compressed single-serving teas (dragon balls, pillows, etc.)
    • whole serving of tea is used (usually ~4-7g)
    •  rinsed twice to loosen up compression before steeping
    • otherwise prepared following usual parameters
  3. compressed teas (puer cakes, etc.)
    1. rinsed once
    2. otherwise prepared following usual parameters

Every system has inherent biases and this review system is no different in that regard.  As a consumer, probably like you, I feel it’s important to consider these kinds of things before trusting a review. Nebulous human biases in tasting aside, I’ve noticed the following:

  • The wet leaf photos of very fragile teas and broken leaf teas just do not look good, and I am usually unable to take photos of a selected few leaves, as is standard. These types of teas may be perfectly wonderful but because of their form, they are less immediately appealing in photos.
  • Teas that are finicky to brew (e.g. some Darjeelings, some roasted oolongs) and teas intended for brewing at temperatures lower than near-boiling (e.g. some green teas) sometimes give off aromas and flavors. If I try the tea again using a different method (usually gong fu) and get a more pleasant result I may mention this in the “It’s all about” section of the review.

What's in the reviews

While I know that each tea experience is ultimately subjective, it’s my hope that I can present just the right amount of details to give a rough impression of a tea. Here’s the thought process behind what I hope to capture in the reviews:

I always give three or four photos of the tea at the top of the review. These are each intended to answer a different set of questions. Here’s a few examples of the photo type and questions I might ask myself:

  • The tea liquor:
    • Is the liquor clear or cloudy? Is the color roughly what I would expect from the tea type?
  • The dry leaves:
    • How regular are the sizes/shapes/colors? Does what I received match what’s on the tea company’s site?
  • A select few leaves:
    • What are the general size ranges? How intact are the best leaves? Can you determine the cultivar? What is the evidence for/against careful processing?
  • The whole of the wet leaves that were steeped:
    • Is it largely broken leaves or whole leaves? Are there a lot of stems? How do the leaves hold up after a couple hard steeps?

The more subjective categories (aroma, flavor, texture, etc.) are explained in greater detail in the sample review below. The explanations are in italics and dashed boxes.

Sample review

Tea Name Here

Date review is posted 
Tags identifying the tea 
How the tea was obtained 
A link to this page 

tea company, tea cultivar, tea type

Obtained: via online purchase

About the review process

Vital stats shows basic information provided by the tea company about the tea.

Company:    XYZ Teaz Company

Region:   Somewhere, Earth

Cultivar:   Big small black white leaf cultivar

Add. info:   Spring 20xx picking; elevation 20,000m

Aroma

cocoa and apple strength over time

The pictures within the hexagons represent the aromas present while drinking the tea. The hexagons are arranged along the y-axis to depict relative strength, and the x-axis to depict the relative start of an aroma over time.

Flavor

sweet sour

Which of the five flavors (bitter, sweet, salty, sour, umami) are present in the tea. Triangles are arranged along the x-axis to represent relative change over time. Triangles stacked along the y-axis simply represent concurrency.

Texture

smooth-silky

These images suggest the change in texture of the tea over time (x-axis). Textures tend to be affected by volume of tea consumed, so this is only a rough (or is it smooth?) guide.

Body

medium body

Body is the thickness, the weight of the tea while drinking. This is determined by comparing it in memory to the feeling of drinking skim milk (light), 2% milk (medium), and whole milk (full).

Length

Length is the amount of time the tea lingers in the mouth, throat, or on the breath. This is depicted with extreme precision by a six-point scale giving a length between Now and Later.

Balance

How balanced is the tea in regards to the first three categories: Aroma, Flavor, and Texture.

It's all about

This section summarizes the experience of drinking the tea. If there are additional notes worth mentioning that can’t be captured via the graphcs above (e.g. aromas in the dry/wet leaves, finer nuances), they will show up here.