I am a longtime tea enthusiast with professional experience in – and a deep passion for – traditional Chinese and Taiwanese tea and tea culture. I have lived in Taiwan and mainland China, and traveled extensively throughout Asia.
My passions include traditional Chinese tea culture, graphic design, language, traveling, backpacking, music, and Eastern philosophy to name a few.
Here on Steepster, I only rate traditionally crafted whole-leaf teas from East Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan, & Korea). This means you won’t find ratings for Southeast Asian teas or any flavored tea.
Unless otherwise noted, all my tea ratings and reviews are based on Chinese gongfu-style brewing, using a gaiwan rather than a clay teapot to ensure flavor-neutrality. I do not rinse my teas unless they are (1) fermented, (2) aged, (3) heavily roasted, or (4) otherwise smell funky or produce a cloudy first infusion.
Keys for both my tea and places ratings can be found below:
MY TEA RATING SCALE:
100: Tea Enlightenment – A transcendent experience.
99-95: Extraordinary – Unimaginable complexity or clarity. Beyond impressive. Redefined the category for me.
94-90: Impressive – Deep complexity, extreme clarity, or unexpected discovery of spectacular flavor. Made me reconsider the category.
89-80: Delicious – Nuanced, balanced, clear, and complex layering of flavors. Teas that I would buy again in a heartbeat.
79-70: Very Good – Nuanced flavors, perhaps not as balanced or complex as the next step up, but clear and very enjoyable. Would definitely buy again.
69-60: Good – Clear flavors, representative of the category, but doesn’t set a standard. Good as an everyday tea. Would likely buy again.
59-50: Average – Lacks most depth, but certainly drinkable. May or may not buy again.
49-40: Below Average – Nothing impressive, flat flavor, lacks all depth. Would likely not buy again.
39-30: Barely Drinkable – Flavors do not represent the category. Overly tannic, bitter, or flat etc. Would never buy again.
29-20: Sickening – Undrinkable, flavors were completely off, a disgrace to tea culture. Would obviously never buy again.
19-0: Deathly – How anyone could make a tea this bad is beyond me. I wish I could wipe it from my memory.
✅ Recommended: If I think a tea is worth trying (at least once) as a means of expanding one’s tea horizons, or if it represents a good value (price-flavor ratio), I will give it the “recommended” label.
Sourcing authentic, high-quality, traditional tea is hard work; I have a great deal of respect for the tea companies who endeavor to do so, even if I don’t personally enjoy the teas they offer. As such, I try to keep my reviews positive. I won’t give teas the “not recommended” label. If I don’t have anything positive to say about a tea, I will simply give it a numerical rating and list the flavors that I encountered.
On the other hand, if I haven’t written a tasting note about a certain tea but gave it a high numerical score, it’s simply because I didn’t have time to write a full tasting note.
PLACES RATING GUIDE:
TEA QUALITY – Rated for flavor, freshness, picking standard, etc.
Possible ratings: Low, Medium-low, Medium, Medium-high, High, Highest
TEA SELECTION – Number of teas available for purchase.
Possible ratings: Small (1-10), Medium (11-50), Large (51-100), Massive (100+)
TEAWARE QUALITY – Material and craftsmanship. Handmade vs. machine-made.
Possible ratings: Low, Medium, High, Highest
TEAWARE SELECTION: Amount and diversity of teaware available.
Possible ratings: Small, Medium, Large
SHOP ATMOSPHERE – The ambience of the physical retail location (if there is one).
No standard for ratings, as this is very subjective. Instead you will see notes for the ambience of each store.
EMPLOYEES’ KNOWLEDGE – How well the employees understand the teas they sell, and how well they are versed generally in Chinese tea history and culture (or Japanese / Korean tea history and culture, depending on the shop).
Possible ratings: Low, Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Expert
QUALITY OF SERVICE – Employees’ attentiveness, attitude, willingness to help, patience, ability to explain product, etc.
Possible ratings: Poor, Mediocre, Average, Good, Best.
OFFERS TEA TASTING / CEREMONY – Most of the teashops I rate specialize in traditional Chinese tea. Some specialize in Japanese or Korean tea. However, you won’t find me rating places like Teavana for example: I focus solely on high quality, “real” tea. This section therefore pertains to the option to try the tea before your buy it by having the store brew it for you in the traditional method.
Possible ratings: Yes, Paid; Yes, Free (with expectation of product purchase); No; and, N/A
TEA PRICE: Created by taking an average per 100g (3.5oz) price USD of two teas from each category sold.
Possible ratings: $ (below $10), $$ ($11-30), $$$ ($31-50), $$$$ (above $50)
TEAWARE PRICE: This is more difficult to rate than tea. For example, you could find a handmade porcelain gaiwan for $50 and this would be reasonable, whereas the same price for a machine-made gaiwan would be ridiculously expensive. Therefore, this is decided from the general feeling received by looking through the available collection.
Possible ratings: $, $$, $$$, $$$$
OVERALL VALUE: Bang for your buck – quality of product vs. price.
Possible ratings: Low, Average, High
RECOMMEND: Do I recommend the shop?
Possible ratings: No, Neutral, Yes
San Francisco, Abu Dhabi, Kaohsiung, Shanghai, New York