Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Differences of Grade

When I made my purchases from SanTion a couple of months ago, I took advantage of the sample sizes they offered to get two grades (A and B) of several of their teas: Organic Misty Green, Organic Silver Needles, Da Hong Pao. A while back I also ordered some tea from Amazing Green Tea, a special combination deal that included two grades (A and AAA) of Huang Shan Mao Feng.

I wanted to see if there was a substantial difference between the two grades of each of these teas, and if so, what that difference was; and was it worthwhile paying the premium for the top grade. I am happy to pay money for good products, obviously; but I'm also aware that just because something costs more, it is not necessarily that much better.

I didn't get around to taking photos of the SanTion Teas, but here for comparison are the two grades of Mao Feng:

(The darker one is the A grade, the pale one is the AAA grade.)



The dry-leaf differences between the two grades of the SanTion teas was less stark; the B-grade teas were less finely sorted, so there were slightly more broken or less-immaculate looking leaves, particularly noticeable in the Silver Needle and the Da Hong Pao. The A-grades were sleeker, finer; in the case of the Silver Needles, quite breathtakingly plump and shiny.

In terms of taste, however, I was pleasantly surprised. The Silver Needles and Misty Green teas tasted very, very similar, equally good; I strongly preferred the Da Hong Pao A grade, though, as it had a wonderful roasted apricot flavour that I couldn't detect in the B grade. However, interestingly, I ended up preferring the A grade ('everyday' grade) of the Huang Shan Mao Feng. While both the Mao Feng teas were delicious, the A grade was slightly more robust, fruity and vegetal in flavour, which I liked; that said, the AAA was also wonderful, varying in taste from a delicate toastiness like a Japanese sencha to a fruity Chinese-green taste depending on how long I steeped it (I found that about 7-10 minutes in relatively hot water produced the best results; only one infusion, but what an infusion! You can see my attempt to photograph the brewing tea here).

Interesting, isn't it? It's also a matter of individual taste, of course, and I definitely don't lay claim to having a truly well-developed palate, especially not when my tea drinking gets interrupted regularly by the need to tend to Pippin. I suppose the next question is: if two teas taste equally good, is it worth spending the extra money to get the 'top' grade? What do you think?

4 comments:

  1. no... buy what you like, not what's supposed to be best :)

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  2. Oh... and I would like to ask a question.. maybe you could write a post about it one day. Do you clean the inside of your teapot(s), and if you do, how often, and how?

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  3. I've noticed no pattern in terms of different grades of tea...I'd say I notice a different more often than not, but about half the time, I tend to actually prefer the lower grade...and there are some teas where, even if the dry leaf looks substantially different, I can't say I prefer one to the other.

    I think that if two teas taste equally good to you, you should buy the cheaper one--why pay for something you're not getting? A possible exception is if there's a difference in how the tea is produced that you care about (organic, fair trade, or some other empowering or sustainability-promoting means of production)...

    You can always take that saved money and apply it to some other tea where you genuinely do prefer the more expensive grade.

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  4. Melanie and Alex, good points. Alex, I hadn't thought of it that way - re-investing (heh!) the money saved from less expensive tea in MORE expensive tea! It makes perfect sense to me but I have a feeling my husband might give me a funny look if I tried to explain it to him ;)

    Melanie, I will happily post about teapot care! Stay tuned!

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Thanks for taking the time to comment... I appreciate it!

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