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?