Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Harney & Sons Tea Tasting: Yin Zhen and Bai Mei

I've had the Harney & Sons Guide to Tea sitting on my desk for months. Angela at Tea with Friends has been faithfully reviewing teas each Saturday, and doing a heck of a job with it too! She's generously shared some hard-to-find teas with me. I've finally gotten around to starting on this journey!

I'll be (sporadically) tasting and reviewing the teas listed in the Guide, in the order presented. I'll do at least two at a time, as I enjoy having a comparison.
Before I get started on these first two teas, let's talk about the essential equipment. For these tastings, I want to brew the tea as precisely as possible, according to Mike Harney's instructions. To do this, I need two tools: a thermometer and a timer.

I'm fortunate to have two tasting sets. To use these, you brew the tea in the little mug with the lid, loose leaves inside. What you can't see is that on the side of the mug, there are little teeth that allow you to pour the tea out (with lid on), while keeping the tea leaves inside. Then, once done, you can display the leaves on the top of the lid, as I've done below.

The first two teas (dry leaf shown at the top, left to right) are:
  • Yin Zhen (Silver Needles)
  • Bai Mei (White Eyebrow)
Here are Angela's reviews - Yin Zhen and Bai Mei.
I brewed both at 175 degrees Fahrenheit, for 2 minutes for the first steeping. I did a second steeping at 3 minutes. I enjoyed both and would drink them again.
The Yin Zhen is on the left and Bai Mei on the right. Both are very light brews, but with distinctly unique flavors.

The Yin Zhen leaf looks soft and cuddly. The dry tea smelled exactly to me like freshly cut hay. (I've been riding my bike next to fields of cut hay recently, so it was "fresh" on my mind!) Harney uses the hay reference, too. The taste/feel experience for me was very smooth. No bitterness. Lightly sweet flavor, and it left my mouth feeling very clean.

The Bai Mei is hand tied, and I think it's so pretty! The flavor has more of a presence. It's slightly vegetal, to me. I experienced a lightly bitter aftertaste, but it was pleasant.

And now a word about the book itself. I was expecting a somewhat hard-to-read book, if a person didn't have a bit of background in tea. I am glad to report my assumption was wrong! I think this book is very accessible to even a casual tea drinker. Michael Harney sums it up in his introduction when he says, "I only have one hard and fast rule, for myself as well as for you: Have fun."
Finally, if you embark on a tea tasting, either with Harney or with your own teas, I have two pieces of advice:
  1. Try to be descriptive, rather than judgemental. What I mean is that you'll have more fun if you challenge yourself to be creative and use descriptive words. If you don't like a tea, find the right description to say why. When I do tea tastings for others, I encourage them in this approach. One participant described a Pu-Erh as smelling "like my grandfather's basement." Now that's using descriptive words!
  2. Don't ever think you're wrong! If I say a tea tastes like a grape popsicle and you think it tastes like mud, then we're both right! Tea tasting is totally personal. The water, the steep time, the water temp all make a difference. Even if we're drinking from the same pot, your body chemistry plays into the mix. It's fun to compare differences.


Steph said...

I forgot to mention I got the Yin Zhen from Upton's and the Bai Mei from Harney & Sons. Both companies sell sample-sized packages.

AZ Tea Lover said...

What an incredible experience! Can we do this the next time I visit?

Steph said...

AZ Tea Lover - Absolutely! We could even do it virtually. ;0)

Angela McRae said...

Oh, you are too kind, Steph! And I must say, this was great fun to read and I am going to be your biggest fan of these tea-tasting posts! Totally agreed with your point about the "accessibility" of this book -- and the "have fun" part, too!

Teafan said...

I'm loving the copper tray and the contrast of the white/gold-rimmed cups. Very visually pleasing.

parTea lady said...

Nice tea reviews and photos - an enjoyable post. I like your tea tasting sets. Lots of great ideas to add to the enjoyment of drinking tea.

artandtea said...

Nice photos and tea reviews, Steph. I love white tea.

Teresa's New Life said...

Very nice "report" :-) I appreciate you and Angela for helping all us novice tea drinkers to understand more about the different teas and how to taste them all. You tea tasting set is just beautiful too.

sweetcakes said...

I loved your review! Your sets are beautiful too!

Unknown said...

Hi,can you advice or recommend me where i can buy the tea tasting sets in bulk? am in Kenya. your prompt reply will be highly appreciated.