Hosting a green tea tasting party in May

Reader Nanette has posted a great question here, about hosting a fund-raising green tea tasting party for a large group (50 people). I had to think about this for a bit, and here are some of the ideas I have come up with.

What varieties of tea?

For a tasting party I think that you want teas that taste quite distinctly different. Here is what I would serve for a green tea tasting party:

  • Sencha - the standard Japanese green tea. It might even be interesting to serve sencha from two different areas.
  • Houjicha (also spelled Hojicha or Ho-jicha)- roasted green tea leaves.
  • Genmaicha - green tea with roasted rice kernels in it.
  • Kukicha - green tea with twigs mixed in with the leaves. A nutty flavor.
  • Gunpowder - a Chinese green tea with a distinctive (and quite strong) flavor.
  • Gyokuro - the finest Japanese green tea type (can be expensive).
  • Green pekoe or Orange pekoe - a standard green tea from China.

In addition, I may serve an iced green tea (which can be brewed from green tea bags, thrown into a large jug and left in the refrigerator for some hours) especially for a warm weather tasting party.

All of the teas mentioned can be ordered from O-cha or Adajio Teas, if you can't get them locally.

Brewing the tea

Tea is best when it's brewed fresh. However, green tea mostly does not have to be piping hot when served - it's actually better for tasting purposes if it isn't tongue-scaldingly hot.

I would try to set up one big ceramic teapot per tea, and brew and serve on demand - if it's a tasting party, you do want the tea to be brewed properly. So, except for the ice tea you can't really brew it in advance (which is also why I suggest including ice tea in there).

Serving the tea

Remembering that each person will be drinking quite a lot of tea, each serving should be very small, something like 1/4 cup worth of tea or less. That's also a good amount for tasting purposes. Ideally they should be served in ceramic teacups...(especially if it's for an environmentally-friendly fundraiser) - though I guess that could be impractical. Maybe the teacups can be sold as takeaway souvenirs? Each person can hold onto their own teacup and rinse them out perhaps between teas, the way wine tastings are done sometimes.

What to serve with the tea

You don't want anything with a strong, competing flavor, so anything with chocolate, fruit or nuts it is out. The easiest option would be to serve plain butter cookies. Shortbread is a bit rich but is bland enough not to compete I think. Small slices of a plain pound cake would be great too, especially if it's homemade! Pound cake can be made in advance (it actually tastes better after a bit of 'aging').

You may also consider serving Japanese sweets or Chinese sweets, but some people may not like those, plus they can be a bit pricey. If you live near a Japanese grocery, around this time you will see sakura mochi and kashiwa mochi, both of which are rice-dough (mochi) wrapped around sweet azuki bean paste. A salted cherry leaf is wrapped around the sakura mochi, and an oak leaf around the kashiwa mochi.

For people without a sweet tooth, small rice crackers should do the trick.

Some more tea tasting party advice. Putting out tiny mounds of the tea leaves being tasted is a great idea I think.

if you have suggestions for Nanette, please leave your comments!

Filed under:  party food tea

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Hi there!

I'm so jealous! I wish I were invited hehe Anywayz, if only I knew enough tea enthusiasts to host a tea party, how much fun would that be? Most of the people I know are coffee drinkers and think that tea is just muddy water. Sigh~ Such barbarians! :)

Anyway, do you have any wagashi? I know that in Japan, the type of wagashi sold is very seasonal. They don't last very long but are so delicious!

do you mean wagashi recipes? I have one one (or two, depending on the season) posted - for botamochi or ohagi.

All I can think to recommend is that if you don't want to source all the different teas then I'd prioritise the genmaicha over the houjicha; it's really delicious!

The reason why I single out the houjicha is that it took me a few tries before I found I liked it as I found it quite strong to begin with. I introduced it to my mother who drinks a lot of Chinese green tea and she had the same experience.

I'd definately recommend having lots of iced green tea too.

You could also fold orgami boxes for the tea leaves on view, e.g.

I've never hosted a tea sampling party, but I thought I'd share my experiences at tea tastings in mainland China with you. :) When you want to buy tea in China at a specialized tea shop, they have a nice set of tools to help them. They take a relatively small serving of tea and brew it on demand in a tiny teapot, or sometimes even in a small tea cup with a lid (about 4-6 fluid ounces). Althoguh it may seem a tiny amount of tea to make for yourself everyday, if you practice this method once or twice with each tea, you should get a good idea of how much tea it takes to brew properly this way. Having a constant supply of hot water is a must, so having an electric tea brewy thing at each tea station is a good idea. After heating the water, the pot is rinsed once. Then the tea is added (usually more than you would expect to need) and then water is added again. It steeps for only a couple of SECONDS, then is poured into all your waiting tea cups (usually four is a decent number for this method). The drinking cups are more like shot glasses or extremely small tumblers -- shot glasses should be effective and economical unless you want to buy Chinese tea cups). This first steeping is poured all over the teacups and immediately thrown away -- they usually use tongs to handle the hot water-immersed cups. Having a large bowl or bucket at each tea station, to dump all your rinsing water/tea into, is a good idea. Finally the teapot is filled again, steeps for no more than five seconds, is swirled around a bit in the pot and poured again into the waiting teacups and this time drunk when it cools a touch. In such small servings, it's usually easy to drink without waiting very long. The trick is that you usually want to use a teapot that will only just hold enough water to fill the waiting glasses, and then use a bit more tea than you'd expect. This way, the steeping time is very short, the cooling time is very short, everyone gets pretty strong, yummy tea, and you can repeat the cycle quickly.

Chinese teas I'd definitely recommend:

  • tikaunyin (my personal favorite)
  • oolong (obviously well known -- commonly thought to be black tea, but is often not very oxidized)
  • longjing (a different flavor best for fans of somewhat bitter tea)
  • huangshan (actually, both huangshan and longjing are places, and their teas don't necessarily taste one particular way -- but as a relative tea newbie, my experience has been that huangshan teas are very robust and green-flavored, if that makes sense?)

Technically, your longjing should be from Hangzhou or Zhejiang and your huangshan should be from Anhui, but there are probably fine teas produced in those styles from all over China -- my favorite teas (from limited experience) have all been from Fujian province. You'll probably be fairly limited as to what you can buy, so just do your best, but don't pay outrageous sums! The cheapest green teas are usually not very good, however, moderate priced ones easily rival the most expensive I have tried -- for one tenth or one hundredth the price! I'd think $10-15 US would be a fair amount to pay for 100 g (~1/4 lb) of quality tea. Green tea should generally be best when it's freshest. Red tea typically improves with age, but green tea does not. Good luck, sounds fun! :) Hope I haven't swamped you with data -- it all just came rushing out! :O

Great info Chris - thanks!

Thank you so much for all the information! I tried to make the origami box but was too challenged as was my 83 year old father. So I guess I will present the tea leaves on white plates. I actually wanted to make 50 special cups (I just got a kiln) but that's probably a little too Martha Stewart. The tea tasting is outside so I can pour the tea in the grass but I am a little confused about the steps of making the tea and then pouring it out and then making it again as Chris described. Is that what they call "Kung Fu" style or is that just how it is done? Good thing I have till May to practice the Art. The Tea is in Port Isabel, Texas (at the very tip of Texas by Brownsville, South Padre Island and Mexico) should anyone wish to come.

No problem, it 's a fun experience to relate! One of my favorite things to do on the mainland, in fact. :9~

Well, I hope this helps -- I googled and found this entry on wikipedia:

The section labeled "Gaiwan" brewing is the style I have experienced. It's much more succinctly outlined in that article! The only clarifying points I would make is that the first rinsing of the gaiwan (brewing cup) with hot water is good to cleanse the cup and warm it. Also, I recommend the "optional" rinsing of tea cups with the first steeping of tea, as it not only cleanses and heats up the tea cups, but most importantly, it cleans the tea of any bitter dust and such that comes up after the first water hits it. Some people like this first steeping, but it always seems to be fairly bitter, and not necessarily very representative of the tea. Using gaiwan style you should notice the second brewing is very clear and light, and the real character of the tea should come out during the third and fourth steepings. You should probably slightly increase the brewing time each consecutive steeping, but not too much, as with boiling hot water it should only take a handful of seconds to brew. If you use an actual gaiwan, usually lots of swirling of the tea is done during each brewing (you can filter out the tea leaves by holding the lid firm and letting the tea dribble out), but it works pretty much the same with a tiny teapot. But, practice, definitely! ^^; I'm sure in a month you'll have no problems with it, and notice all sorts of diferences when brewing each tea!

Whoa... I google image searched for gaiwan and found this:

if you scroll down, it gives a pretty good description of how to brew gaiwan style! Most importantly, it has an illustration which is nice. Also, in the first post I omitted that a lot of places use an intermediary glass to collect the tea from the gaiwan, with a screen atop the glass (as seen in the last image here), thus making it very easy to avoid getting tea leaves in your tasting!Also nice is that the first link has suggested brewing times for each tea -- longer than I would normally think, but a good starting point for your experiments. :)

This is probably a little too late by now, but when I got genmaicha during a trip to England (of all places to find it! XD), I found that Almond Thins, little thin biscuits made with almonds, go very well with genmaicha. =) They've got a slightly spicy cinnamon-y/gingery taste to them as well. Quite yummy.

Can green tea lose its potency? I have a container of loose jasmine green tea in the cupboard that's been there for quite a while, and lately I've noticed it's not so strong as it used to be... or is it just that I'm impatient and not brewing it long enough, haha.

Tea starts to lose its flavor as soon as the packet is opening and exposed to air, the same as with dried herbs, coffee, etc.