February 04, 2017
Blind Taste Test - Three Flat Bags of Green Tea
A recent assignment for my tea course was to compare three green teas packaged in flat tea bags. One of the teas was provided by the tea school. The brands will be revealed later. My husband prepared the blind tasting for me. I will note here that I knew I would recognize one of the brands from its tea bag design. This brand is classified as a luxury brand.
The parameters for the tasting were: prepare 3 white cups to steep 3 different tea bags using exactly the same water volume (I used 6 ounces), 80 degrees Celsius (176F), and 3 minutes infusion. I was asked to describe the liquors based on color, brightness, aroma (smell), and taste. I shared the steeping and tasting process via an Instagram Story. I used a chart to record my notes which I replicated below, followed by a discussion.
The three brands of tea were: Uji No Tsuyu Sen-Cha Green Tea (#1); Sri Lanka-based Elephantea Organic Green Tea which I picked up at the Ceylon Tea Festival in Washington, DC (#2); and KEIKO Kabuse Konacha (#3). Keiko is the luxury brand I mentioned in the Assignment section. In the photograph of dissected bags below, you can quickly distinguish the Keiko bag from the bags of the other two brands. The bag material appears to be of higher quality and almost fabric-like with larger pore sizes and the top is stitched rather than folded and stapled. Considering the tea material itself, the Keiko tea is the only one that resembles green tea. The leaf material is actually green. The liquor of the Keiko tea was the cloudiest of the three teas. This is a good thing. Kabusecha teas are supposed to yield a liquor that is "clouded by a thick haze of suspended particles" (Gascoyne et al., 2014). Are you wondering about the meanings of kabuse and konacha? I was, too. Let's define them. Konacha is "the milled tea buds and small leaves that are left behind after processing species of green teas such as Sencha, Gyokuro, Kabuse, etc.". Kabuse is semi-shaded tea. Whereas Gyokuro tea is shaded for 21 days, Kabuse tea is shaded for a shorter period of time; Gascoyne et al. (2014) give an average of 12 days. So Kabuse Konacha is made from the leftover buds and leaves of processed semi-shaded tea plants. Going in reverse order, Sri Lanka is known for its black teas. The country is the fourth largest tea grower in the world! The style of tea in the Elephantea bag is reminiscent of a CTC black tea. The same is true for the Uji No Tsuyu Sen-cha but here one expects more because the company is based in Kyoto. Another consideration is that the teas were infused for 3 minutes. The long steep time was purposely selected to push the limits of each tea. The steep time recommended for the Uji No Tsuyu tea bag is 1 minute. Also, take a look at the image of the Elephantea Green Tea liquor on the company's website. It is a yellow orange.
Even as I was writing this post I was aware that this was a rather unfair comparison. These teas are not on a level playing field. I think most flat green tea bags would not have fared well against this Keiko tea bag. Brands that package their green teas in pyramidal bags might be more competitive with this Keiko tea bag. For example, Harney & Sons Japanese Sencha and Smith Teamaker No. 51 Sencha. Keiko also sells pyramidal tea bags so perhaps there's another blind taste test of green tea, and this time all of Japanese origin, in the works. If a Keiko representative is reading this post, please reach out to me.
P.S. To learn more about Kabusecha, download this Japanese Semi-Shaded Tea brochure [pdf] produced by Keiko.
P.P.S. My instructor commented that she would have liked to know if brewing instructions, organic status, and country of origin were shown in the outer packaging. In addition, she would have like to know if the inner packaging was of foil or not as foil can protect against deterioration in freshness, taste, smell, and color.