TeaFanatic wrote:and I have never really tried any black teas. If I were to make the leap and try a black tea, which one is the most like green teas (meaning more subtle, less kick, etc)? Thanks for any help.
The better quality black teas tend to be more subtle; however, none are going to be quite anything like quality green teas, especially gyokuro or sencha or dragonwell. I recommend you only buy small samples of the very best black teas you can find and see if any path seems worthy of further exploration. The Black Tea Savant sampler sold by Adagio would be a fair beginning. Rishi Tea also has a nice black tea sampler for a few dollars more at $19.
I'll tell you a little about a few of my favorites which tend toward the more subtle, less kick experience. Klemptor already mentioned Darjeelings and Assams, so I'll skip those here. Of course, what I taste can be completely different than what you or others taste, let alone like. I think I have a deformed palate, as I once burned my tongue on a spoonful of Spaghetti-Ohs as a child. (Okay, maybe this happened more than once. Maybe recently.)
My biggest advice on black tea for a green tea drinker is short infusions. Instead of 3-7 minutes, steep 2-3 minutes. This will allow for more of the nuance of a quality tea. I'd rather do multiple infusions of subtle than one cup of heavy.
Black tea from Yi-Xing stands up to multiple infusions very well. I find it to have a clean, clear taste with a slightly sour-sweet rich flavor (almost like a clean pu-erh) and a pleasant dry aftertaste. It has expected black tea character without that usual deep round bottom that some people like. The only problem is that Yi-Xing Hong Cha (hong cha meaning red tea which is what we call black tea), being primarily consumed locally in Yi-Xing, is rarely available in the US.
World Spice Merchants in Seattle offers a Yi-Xing blended with some quality Yunnan which is very pleasant and definitely worth trying, though not quite exactly the same as a Yi-Xing self-drink. They sell this tea as Yi-Xing Hong Cha for $1.75 per ounce, no mininum order, though a minimum $2 shipping charge (they charge actual USPS or UPS rates plus 50 cents for packaging). If you do order from them, I also recommend trying their Tian Hong ($2.75 per ounce), Darjeeling Puttabong ($3.75 per ounce), and Kirkoswald Estate Ceylon (a mere $1.00 per ounce). They also have a small range of exquisite green, oolong, and white teas. They also sell top-grade herbals.
I highly recommend calling or e-mailing World Spice Merchants before ordering as their website is sometimes (well, often) out of date regarding what they do and do not have in stock (for example, I bought some Yang Xian Mao Feng there yesterday though their website says out of stock). Primarily supplying spices to culinary schools and restaurants, the main focus of this shop is not tea; nevertheless, they do offer an excellent variety of tea and teaware in their downstairs tea lounge. Their shop was featured on the Food Network's Good Eats program, where Alton Brown makes a mustache for himself from a vanilla bean.
At its best level, Keemun is among the most complex, nuanced black teas, period. The problem for me is that most Keemuns are smoky in a way I don't like and it may even take sampling several high-end Keemuns before finding one you particularly like. In terms of nomenclature, the highest grade of Keemun readily available is Hao Ya. Hao Ya A is made from the first pluckings of the spring. Hao Ya B is the tea made after the Hao Ya A has been made. Adagio's Keemun Encore is Hao Ya A and comes included in their Black Tea Savant sampler. The level of smokiness and bitterness as well as the depth of flavor can actually vary quite a bit even within the Hao Ya designation. My favorite Hao Ya A is smoky in the most restrained, pleasant way imaginable, almost as if you were shrunk and are sitting in the middle of some moist mild pipe tobacco with orchids and butterflies.
Adagio also offers Keemun Concerto, which is a Keemun Mao Feng, another high-quality hand-made limited-production tea. I find most Mao Feng's to be too smoky or assertive for my tastes, though I have had some which are rich, round, gentle, smooth with hints of spice and only slightly smoky overtones.
Keemun Xin Ya might be worth a try. A now-passed tea purveyor once told me it's produced from only tender early spring buds in the labor-intensive Puey Long (raging fire) manner which is said to give spirit to the tea. It is very light, warm, a touch malty with honey and flower. I pick some up at The China Teahouse whenever I'm in Toronto or at the Wayne Tea Salon if I'm visiting my favorite Claes Oldenburg sculpture (the giant clothespin) in Philidelphia. Grey & Seddon used to offer Xin Ya and label it as such; now they offer, "Keemun Sprout," and I'm unsure if that's the same or not.
Upton Tea has a selection of 11 Keemuns, plus a "Formosa Keemun," which sounds intriguing. 15g samples range from $1 to $3 each. As you can see, they offer an overwhelming array of black tea; thankfully, they also have an extremely friendly and knowledgeable customer service staff available by 1-800 telephone to help choose departures for new exploration.
Though not a black tea per-say, please definitely try Adagio's Ooooh Darjeeling. It is absolutely unlike any tea I've ever tasted. While not quite as remarkable to me as the best oolongs of Taiwan or China, it is certainly less expensive and quite wonderful. It is a nice intermediate tea between black and green which I think drinkers of either color would enjoy. If you want to talk exquisite oolongs, that would be entirely other discussion, and you probably would have posed under the, "Oolong Teas," section.
Another black tea I'd highly recommend for you is the Craigmore Estate Nilgiri. In a word: Flowery. The best leaves are grown at a high elevation among eucalyptus and cypress plants; you can't really taste them so much as hints and suggestions toward a faint mingling of roots and flowers. Almost a minty aftertaste, with an up-front crushed-jasmine impression. When it's a good production year and it's fresh, it's like gentle sparkles or little stars twinkling on the tip of your tongue. I get mine from Teahouse Choice (home of some of the best greens and oolongs in the US), though Jaya Teas offers the summer second flush among their fine selection of Indian teas. Jaya offers some great samplers at only $10 each (check out sampler #4), charges only $3.75 for shipping, offers a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee and are helpful, humble people.
These are simply some starter recommendations and are by no means complete, merely just what comes to the top of my head at the moment. If you have any further specific questions or if there is anything in particular you are looking for or concerned about, I'd be delighted to confuse you further with more verbosity.
My ultimate recommendation would be to continue talking to people: call or e-mail a variety of teashops and ask for a lot of suggestions and advice. Most tea companies are overjoyed to talk shop with eager customers, especially when they seek out something other than Irish Breakfast (my advice: it's not the tea, it's the whisky used and I go Scotch with Talisker) or, "that diet tea that Rachel Ray talked about last week."
Ireland is the ols sow that eats her own farrow