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Apr 23, 2012 11:32 AM

Best tea for Dim Sum?

I'm on another 'Dim Sum' making kick. It is likely to be a disaster like always. Anyway. I'm looking for a really great tea to serve with Dim Sum. Any suggestions are welcomed.

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  1. It's really a personal choice, but I like Sow-Mei or Pu-Erh. You should be able to find either at most Asian Grocery stores.

    16 Replies
    1. re: acgold7

      Thanks, I'll look for those brands.

      1. re: Puffin3

        They're actually not brands, but types. Like coffee can be Kona or Guatemala.

        1. re: Puffin3

          I don't think I ever drank any other type of tea except Pu-Erh (Cantonese: Po Lei) with dim-sum ("Yum Cha") when I was growing up. OK, maybe Jasmine tea on occasion. We tended to have Po Lei in many meals in Chinese restaurants too.

          1. re: huiray

            I didn't realize the Pu-Erh and Po Lei were the same. I grew up with Po Lei and agree it is the main tea for Yum Cha and I prefer it as it is a clean tea and helps with the greasiness of dim sum. My wife has bought Pu-Erh tea recently as a specialty tea it is quite expensive and I recall Po Lei as an everyday inexpensive tea.

            1. re: gourmaniac

              It *was* inexpensive and an everyday tea in SE Asia - at least the "common ones". There *were* "special grades" of Po Lei (which fell into the category of "lang cha") which were *quite* expensive even there, IIRC.

              1. re: gourmaniac

                Po lei / bo lay is just the Cantonese way of saying pu'er. Whatever you call it, it comes in both "raw" and "ripe" form. Young raw tea and ripe tea are usually relatively cheap, though there is a range of grades and levels of quality (keep in mind that "grade" with pu'er refers to leaf size rather than quality, and while many people like small leaf tea, it's not inherently better). So, yes, there are both rare / expensive types and "everyday" types of the tea, whatever you call it.

                "Ripe" tea is also often referred to as "cooked" tea. Basically, the tea is composted in a controlled way. People I know who have visited small factories suggest that ripe tea is one area where you may prefer to buy from big factories which have good hygiene and lots of experience with the process. "Ripe" pu'er dates back before the 70s, but started to be mass-produced around the mid-70s or so. The process is similar to that used for other types of "hei cha" (black tea in the Chinese sense, which is different from 'hong cha' (red tea), which is what we refer to as "black tea"). The process more or less simulates what natural aging would do over a period of 30+ years, however the results are a bit less nuanced. Bad ripe tea can have a "fishy" or "pondy" type flavor (which will tend to lessen over time), but a good quality ripe pu'er shouldn't have those flavors. The big producers tend to let the tea age for some time before pressing, and then releasing it. While the taste should be earthy, and in that sense, it may be an acquired taste for some, don't let a bad experience with poor quality pu'er ruin the whole genre for you.

                With new tea, you can buy standard "recipe" cakes from the big factories (mostly former state-owned factories like Menghai and Xiaguan) usually for $8-25 US / cake. These are mostly plantation grown material. If you buy tea made from wild or semi-wild growth areas, or tea from a specific area that's well known, the cost can be higher, let's say maybe $30-100+ / cake. While some people like to drink raw pu'er when it's new, traditionally it's consumed after some period of storage. Sometimes this means (intentionally) humid storage in warehouses in HK or South China; sometimes it means (naturally) humid storage, either in warehouses or in someone's home.

                Aged raw pu'er (and, to a lesser extent, aged ripe pu'er) can be quite sought-after, especially since about the 90s or so. To give you an idea, one cake (~ 340-357g, so a bit less than 1 lb) of hong yin (red label) from the 1950s could be worth maybe $5,000 to $20,000 US.

                In the Chinese medicine sense, I believe both raw and ripe pu'er are considered "cooling". huiray - do you mean 'lang' as in 'cooling' (liang in Mandarin)?

                1. re: will47

                  Good explanation. Many varieties of teas come in different grades and prices in the same way that wine vary in price and quality.

                  1. re: will47

                    Oh - no, I meant "beautiful tea" (靚茶) in Cantonese. That's what I heard it described as, anyway.

                    1. re: huiray

                      :) Well, Po Lei is a very interesting tea indeed. It is one of the few true black tea (Chinese categorization). More importantly, it is routinely named as the top ten renounced Chinese tea (中國十大名茶)

                      It has a very humble origin, yet also very priced at the same time. In addition, opposite to most tea, it gets better as it ages, whereas most tea get worse as they age.

                      Dragon Well 龍井 and Iron Goddess 鐵觀音 are also good choices for Dim Sum. Of course, it is somewhat a personal choice. Unlike Po Lei, one should not add flowers like chrysanthemum to these teas -- unnecessary and counterproductive.

                    2. re: will47

                      I agree with will47.

                      However, I would use really expensive, aged pu'er for dim sum. Save those for savoring on their own, and not with food.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        ipse, I'm assuming you meant that you would *not* use expensive pu'er for dim sum?

                        1. re: huiray

                          Yes. Thanks for that correction.

                  2. re: huiray

                    Yeah, ripe pu'er, or wet-stored somewhat aged raw pu'er is said to help cut down on the grease, and is a classic pairing with dimsum. You want to get a decent type (doesn't have to be expensive; Menghai 7452 (*not* 7542; cake) or 7562 (brick) are decent, and most stuff from the big producers should be Ok). Some loose ripe pu'er is good, but avoid mini cakes and mini tuos. Do not spend either too much or too little -- you're not buying a tea for refined appreciation here -- just something to drink casually with food -- but neither do you want something that will offend the senses.

                    Some people like to add chrysanthemum flowers to it (ju hua / gook fa).

                    Roasted / traditional style tieguanyin would be another good choice, or a greener tieguanyin if you prefer a greener flavor.

                    In your area, Best Tea House in Richmond or Aroma Teahouse in Vancouver would be good sources.

                    1. re: will47

                      Yes, adding gook fa/kook fa (菊花) to the po lei was also often done by lots of folks including my family. :-) Good memories.

                      1. re: huiray

                        We did sau mei + chrysanthemum blend 菊壽 back in the heyday in HK, which tastes excellent.

                        1. re: huiray

                          +1 for will and huiray. Adding chrysanthemum to Puh Erh/Po Lai tea is a common practice due to the very strong flavor from Po Lai. Chrysanthemum is to bring a certain level of floral fragrance to the harsh and bitter taste of Po Lai tea.

                2. Pu Erh (普洱) and Chrysanthemum Pu Erh blend (菊普) are probably the most commonly drink tea by Dim Sum patrons. That being said, they are probably most unusual and most difficult to get used to by a beginner from a Western culture background. They are black tea.

                  As huray said, Pu Erh Cantonese pronunication is Po Lei, and you will likely have a better chance of commuting by saying "Po Lei"

                  I think for beginner. Jasmine tea is probably easier to adapt.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    WOW! reading all your posts is like reading posts by Ferrari mechanics discussing the relative merits of various metal formulas used in Ferrari engine crank shafts! I LOVE IT! Thanks for letting me and others here glimpse into a subject so esoteric. :) This is 'Chowhound' at it's best. Given my skills at making Dim Sum I think I'll go to Victoria and ask a Chinese grocer for 'Dim Sum tea' and take what I get.

                    1. re: Puffin3

                      What is your favorite Dim Sum dish? If you have one.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        'Sticky rice' in lotus leaf but I like all the dishes. I've never tried chickens feet but I will maybe the next time. Not so crazy about the thick noodles though.

                        1. re: Puffin3

                          Oh no wonder you were trying to perfect the sticky rice in lotus leaf in another post. What is thick noodle? Do you mean those rice noodle rolls?


                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            The dish is a couple of really thick pure white noodles about an inch wide and 1/4" thick. When they are served the server pours what looks like soy sauce on them. Do you know the type of dish?

                            1. re: Puffin3

                              Wouldn't those be like what CK pictured in his link? They would vary slightly in size and thickness depending on the establishment but would not be a solid noodle - rather, sort of like folded-over or rolled-then-semi-flattened, yes? If so, those would be "cheong fun". They are often also "semi-stuffed" with ingredients like prawns/shrimps or Chinese BBQ pork ("char siu") or beef slices.

                              The rice noodle part of properly prepared and served ones of whatever variety should be smooth, slightly springy, barely sticky, with a mouth feel that Cantonese describe as "wat". One of my favorite "yum cha" items. :-)
                              [Overcooked ones or those that have lingered around too long become "rough" and mealy; or overheated+overcooked ones become sort-of mushy and gooey]

                                1. re: will47

                                  Yes, that is a useful link. Perhaps the OP will peruse it too and post a response.

                              1. re: Puffin3

                                They have fillings in them? Like minced beef or shrimp... If so, they could be the same as the ones I have in my link? Can you click on my link (above), and see if they are alike?

                                Here is another photo of the rice noodle rolls with shrimp:


                            2. re: Puffin3

                              The reddish chicken feet are great. I'm not a fan of the whitish chicken feet, though.

                          2. re: Puffin3

                            Just for what it's worth, even with cheaper tea, you will get better tea from a tea shop than from a grocery store / supermarket almost 100% of the time.

                        2. Here's one from left field.: Try a spiced Chai Tea with Dim Sum. Peps up the blander dishes.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: DonShirer

                            Left field indeed. Mixed culture combos can work but i would think the creaminess of Chai and the different spice palette would fight the dim sum. Usually not a purist, but dim sum has deep childhood roots for me.

                            1. re: DonShirer

                              That combination wouldn't work for me. It would be to disruptive flavor-wise. Hot mustard and chile would work better.

                            2. Be advised that bo-lay has a VERY strong flavor, and some people don't like it at all. I think it tastes like dirty sock water, but several members of my family love the stuff. Before you lay out $$ on a stash of bo-lay, find a restaurant that serves it (in my experience, many really good Chinese restaurants will have a variety of teas, including bo-lay), and try it there.

                              I prefer jasmine tea with dim sum.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: ricepad

                                <Be advised that bo-lay has a VERY strong flavor, and some people don't like it at all>

                                Exactly, which is why many people use chrysanthemum in Bo-Lay (Pu-Erh) tea to lighten up the flavor.

                                1. re: ricepad

                                  You can get excellent black puerh at a very reasonable price that would be wonderful for dim sum; this is my favorite vendor hands-down for Chinese tea (and I buy a LOT of good tea--liu, this is your cue!): (note that good puerh isn't supposed to taste dirty). This is just the loose tea; cakes are available as well. I really, REALLY like the Zao Xiang/Date Fragrance. If prepared gong fu style you can get a seemingly endless number of brews and then soak the used leaves overnight in the refrigerator for iced tea. SC also sells, although not online, sets for cooking puerh tea.

                                  1. re: MacGuffin

                                    Thanks for posting the link to that vendor and its website. Good one!

                                    1. re: huiray

                                      You're very welcome and make sure you find the link for joining the tea club--it's at the top of the page after you click on "Buy Online." It's free and you get points for every dollar you spend on tea that's not on sale. Every $100 gives you a $10 coupon which is transferable and if you do pass it along to a friend, SC will issue you a NEW coupon. They're really the poster child for ethical business practice and they're fanatics about quality. Make sure you check out the videos as well. I really lucked out when I stumbled on their site years back. Ordering by phone is nice because they're happy to guide you towards what you might like; just be sure to tell them you're a tea club member if you do so that they credit you.