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?


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

  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?

  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.

  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!


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


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