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Very Nice Chinese Green Tea from Ito-En

I recently received an order of Taiping Houkui tea from Ito-En.

http://www.itoen.com/leaf/index.cfm?s...

I ordered it because the website described it as one of the best Chinese teas they have ever sold, and I really like it. It has almost a smoky taste and is quite different from the Japanese senchas that I usually enjoy.

I also recently received an order of tea -- matcha and sencha -- from www.o-cha.com in Japan. The tea arrived quite quickly and was nicely packaged, but I was a bit disappointed. I have enjoyed the matchas and senchas that I have ordered from Ito-En more than I liked these.

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  1. Did someone mention Chinese green tea? Hello, Omotosando! You knew I would "smell" and "taste" your post from afar. I was miles away, but when I heard you post, I ran back to read it!

    I love that you have recommended this Chinese green tea from Ito-En. I have never ordered from them before (although I have purchased their teas in various markets), so if I order this one, what else should I try to make the order worth the shipping cost?

    I am partial to green oolongs at the moment (I like their complexity of fragrance and taste), but I would enjoy trying whatever you recommend.

    4 Replies
    1. re: liu

      I seem to recall that the shipping is not horrible with Ito-En, so I will often just order one tea at a time, especially if I am already well stocked on tea. I haven't tried any of Ito-En's oolongs. I'm not sure they are known for their oolongs.

      But if you want to order something else, I like their teabags (all varieties) for tea emergencies such as airplane trips and I am really partial to their matcha. I just got some matcha from Japan on O-cha.com and even though it was much more expensive than any matcha I've ever ordered from Ito-en, I didn't like it as much. I honestly don't know if my palate just isn't sophisticated enough to appreciate this super-expensive matcha, or if Ito-En just has better matcha. Ito-En also has a number of good senchas - the variety always changing.

      My favorite thing about the Ito-En website is the tea flavor sorter, which allows you to search for teas by flavor characteristic. It's wonderfully detailed.

      1. re: omotosando

        Thanks -- your information is very helpful.

        I do like matcha; although I have all the prep items, I find I can enjoy it in a number of ways: traditional as well as adding it to other teas and drinks and in cooking. The powder is easy to use.

        I will explore their site for a few others.

          1. re: jpr54_1

            Thanks, ipr54 1. I will check out these sites.

    2. Hello, omotosando!

      Taking your recommendation seriously, I just ordered some Taiping Houkui tea from Ito-En. Additionally, I ordered an ounce of their King tea and an ounce of their Iron Goddess, both which I am told are orderable only by entering the store or calling; they do not appear online. I spoke with Tomoko in their New York flagship store (#888.697-8003 -- toll free). After having told her that I enjoy green oolongs, she directed me to these two.

      Of course, the problem with ordering something rather unique is that if I love it, I might not be able to order it again. But I have even found this to be true from batch to batch. Sometimes when I order a small quantity and try to duplicate it with a reorder, the second batch is just not the same...I do understand how difficult it must be to control the flavors from one to the next season, perhaps.

      Thanks for sharing your preferences, and I continue to wish you "Happy Sipping!"

      4 Replies
      1. re: liu

        omotosando - I thank you for your Ito-En post, and I just tried the first tea that I ordered from them. I will have to respond in stages, as I try the others.
        This morning I enjoyed their #283 King Tie Guan Yin (I am not sure this is in their catalog). It is a very large-leafed green tea, and the flavor was sweet...quite to my liking!

        Tomorrow -- and you can see how obsessed about this I am! -- I am already planning to try the specific one you recommended: Taiping Houkui. The one today, the King, did not have a pronounced smoky flavor, so I am looking for that tomorrow.

        1. re: liu

          Today I tried the Taiping Houkui tea from Ito-En, the main subject of this post by omotosando. I agree entirely with his description and his high rating of this green Chinese tea.

          For anyone wishing to taste a very good, very reasonably priced at $7/oz., smoky green Chinese tea, this one is worth the effort to order from Ito-En. As I posted above, I ordered a couple of others, but this is the one that I would re-order...as recommended by omotosando. My only reservation is that the first steeping was much more flavorful than the second. There was no complex, smoky flavor in the second steeping -- it was flat for me, so I would steep this tea only once.

          Thanks for this nice find.

          1. re: liu

            Glad you enjoyed the Taiping Houkui. I agree it doesn't seem to give off a second infusion. I also get inconsistent results with my first infusion - sometimes it's splendid and other times ho hum. When I make tea, I'm usually pretty sloppy and not careful about water temperature or tea to water ratio. I assume with this tea there is less room for sloppiness.

            1. re: omotosando

              Recently I have been using a thermometer so that I can "get a feel" for the various temps and times. I was right at 190 degrees, the recommended for this tea, when I brewed it this morning. The first infusion was really smoky and green; I was right on the temp mark with my second steeping, but it was almost tasteless. I just think -- contrary to what Ito-En writes on their package -- that this particular tea is good for only a single brew.

              In contrast, other teas I have had are quite good -- although often different -- on the second cup. So, I don't think it is your technique; I just think this tea has its limits...so, even if we double the price because we only get one cup, it is still a nice, relatively inexpensive tea.

              And just so you don't think that I am completely missing your point, I am in agreement with you -- now that you have mentioned it. Some teas do seem to have less tolerance for "sloppiness" (as you say!) in brewing. I think this is a really good observation, omotosando! Time and temp just don't seem to matter so much with some, while others demand more exact specs. I never really thought about this, but as I think back, I do think this is quite true! Some teas don't get bitter, almost no matter how I brew, while some teas seem to be quite delicate and temperamental, huh!??!

      2. Ah, Taiping Houkui...太平猴魁 from the most beautiful mountains in China: Huang Shan 黃山.
        http://www.uhuangshan.com/big5.htm

        The first time there we took the Taiping Cable Car up to the mountains....I'm embarrassed to say that I was at Huang Shan twice the past 3 years, and I did not attempt to buy tea there. It's such a magical place though. I did try to get the famous water there to make the tea that i brought with me, but there was just a whole other dimension of being when you're in the middle of all that bigger than life grandness of Nature...plus we kept getting lost and always end up trekking back in the dark (thank God I had a mini flash beam). If ever I get to go back again though (and I will try my darnst, as there are 70+ peaks there..one can never get bored if one stays away from the nasty tour goups....just lost...oy), I think now that i've gotten pretty familiar with the difficult but beautiful ways of Huang Shan, I will be sure to get some tea while I'm there, preferrably before going up to the peaks.

        However, while I was in your neighborhood in California's San Gabriel Valley, the very nice man at Wing Hop Fung helped me with a couple of green tea there. Yeah..I was nostalgic for Huang Shan, but I didn't think I'd get great quality tea there, so I asked for a small portion. I didn't get the Taiping Houkui, but got some other very green looking tea. (Another famous tea from Huang Shan tea is Mao Feng 毛峰, but I don't think that's what I got either...sorry, I can't remember the name!) along with a small portion of I think Feng Huang Dan Cong Huang Jin Zhi, I think..ANYWAY, the guy packaged them up and I asked how much as they weren't cheap, but he just gave them to me as samples. He even came to the counter when I was checking out to tell the cashier...

        The Dan Cong was something like $120 dollar a pound in case you see it there. It wasn't too bad, but wasn't as vibrant as I know they could taste. The Huang Shan tea I don't remember the price, I think the name might have the words cloud and or fog in it...it was very tasty, smoother and more fragrant than most Chinese green tea. I'm not sure how much of the nostalgia for Huang Shan were factoring in, but i did remember thinking, "darn! why didn't I get some when I was in Huang Shan!?"

        edit: sorry, I meant to add that at Wing Hop Fung, I did see Hou Kui tea leaves. I thought they were really unusual looking..almost like dried kelp. As with any tea, Hou Kui must have different grades. Hou means monkey. Kui means the top, or the best. I've seen pictures of this tea that's more delicate looking. I think the top grade in China go for almost $200 per "Jin", which I think translates to about 1.5 pounds. (Mainland prices, 1500 rmb) There are literatures about it that mentions the "one bud, two flags" picks of this tea, too, so it would probably have a totally different taste.

        8 Replies
        1. re: HLing

          A few of the health food stores that I frequent carry the Ito-En teas. Wegman's also carries it. I enjoy the Pure Green, and the Golden Ooolong. There's also another one that has notes of chocolate and coffee in it. I believe that one is called Green Hoji.

          1. re: lrebetsky0423

            A few years back I went to the Ito-En in Manhattan when they first opened up. The samples were neatly set up where you could smell and look at the leaves. I ended up buying some oolong (I don't think I saw Golden Oolong then) that didn't have as much flavor as I'd expected. It wasn't somewhat pricy, too. I wondered if they kept the leaves in temperature that were too cool for oolong. Still, I liked design of the place, very soothing and elegant.

            1. re: lrebetsky0423

              Wegman's?! How did I miss it? I must have walked past that isle.

              ------------------------------------>>>>>> Wegman's.

            2. re: HLing

              Thanks, HLing, to giving some depth and personality to what we are sipping! Your most interesting story really stimulates my appreciation for the entire tea process and the gorgeous growing areas from which they begin. WOW -- I am impressed that you are hiking those mountains!

              Apologies before I ask because I don't speak Chinese, but one of the best teas that I have ever tasted was last year's harvest of Teance's Honey Dan Chong. Might this be similar to or exactly the same tea to which you refer: "Dan Cong?"

              I also really liked Teance's High Mountain Light Oolong and their High Mountain Dark.

              I am so happy to hear of your friendly experience at Wing Hop Fung. I have found some pretty good teas there; others have been less than impressive. But I do enjoy their huge selection. You mentioned "cloud;" I have had Lu Shan Clouds and Mist which was very delicate and very green -- also from Teance.

              Thanks for posting with so much information; I will continue to enjoy your adventures as you continue to share!

              1. re: liu

                Hi Liu, nice to see the ever gracious tea enthusiast online again!

                My second trip to Huang Shan was debated..I had wanted also to go to Lu Shan(as in the Lu Shan Clouds and Mist that you mentioned!) As you may have gathered now, Shan means mountain. Lu Shan is supposedly shrouded in mists all the time, that there's a Chinese saying that refers to "Lu Shan's True Face" to mean a rare/difficult glimpse to a mysterious person who usually keeps to himself.
                Maybe next trip.

                Also, now that you mentioned it, I think I DID get a 3rd packet of sample, because I did see the Lu Shan tea there at Wing Hop Fung. Not having a good memory can be a blessing some of the time, but not at this time. I'm sorry about that.

                Yes, it's the same "Dan Cong" in the general sense. Different growers will have different tastes and slightly different names. I've had at least 3 types so far. The Dan Cong you had is of the Honey, or Honey Orchid Scent (not scented, but it's part of the name), There's also a Zhi Lan Xiang, or as some purveyor calls it, Mandarin Orchid. The Dan Cong I liked from my previous trip to China is the (and I'm sorry I made a mistake on my post above, I'm not supposed to be having so many senior moments, yet....) Huang2 Zhi1 Xiang1, which means Yellow Branch Fragrance, word by word.

                I liked all three for different reasons. I liked the Mandarin Orchid for it's straight and more austere fragrance and taste, sort of like a Chinese painting of a beautiful girl who doesn't wear make up but looks refreshing in her natural beauty; I also liked the Honey Orchid, which could be a painting of that same beautiful girl with a heavier make up, but still tastefully done; The best Yellow Branch Fragrance I had is...more complex and multi-dimensional..like seeing that girl IN PERSON, and finding her to be someone who has a lot of character and life, beyond the concept of beauty..it just all hits you at once....

                That's sort of what I mean by the word vibrant, I guess.

                1. re: HLing

                  HLing - Thanks for your most gracious greeting! I just love your extremely poetic accounts of your travels and of your tea tastings. Your explanation of the Chinese saying that refers to "Lu Shan's True Face" adds yet another dimension while I enjoy the Lu Shan Clouds and Mist that I have.

                  I also enjoyed your description of the three types of "Dan Cong," and especially your very personal and artistic interpretation of the distinctive flavors of all three as you viewed your Chinese painting of a beautiful girl...WOW!

                  Have you ever considered writing the descriptions of the various teas for one of the high-end purveyors? I would love to read that!

                  It is truly a pleasure, HLing, to hear your descriptions of these very subtle differences that I can detect but can not express. Thanks for posting with such passion, elegance, eloquence, and spirit.

                  1. re: liu

                    Thanks Liu, for your positive energy!

                    Writing for high-end tea purveyor sounds like a dream job for me...that is, of course, if they have really good tea..(g)

                    Seriously though, the whole experience of eating/drinking is so individual and so very fleeting. My ideal tea purveyors would be the kind who keep the quality of their selection high, the hype down, and the means for a well-made cup of tea offered..so that in time the customers get better and better at the art of tea-making and tea enjoyment.

                    1. re: HLing

                      Please send me your brochure! I can't wait to read about your jade oolongs! Is writing part of your current job? You would be SO good...go for it!

                      I completely agree about our individual tastes. Still, I continue to search for a few really fine cups of tea. I have one that I continue to love over time (Rishi Organic Angel Peach Green Tea Balls); they have a very deep, green tea taste -- despite the name, no flavors added. But I would love to find an oolong or two that continues to satisfy over time. Perhaps this is the wrong attitude. Perhaps I need to approach each individual batch for what it is, and enjoy it at that time, and then not try to repeat the experience. I think no two harvests are alike, and the differences are so subtle -- for my tastes; therefore, it is difficult to repeat a positive taste experience.

                      What are the ones that you continue to love, or that you love at this moment? Have you been able to reorder and achieve the same results?