Given my love for this tea, I though it would be fun to do a blind taste test, choosing five samples from three different vendors, Rishi, Adagio, and The Republic of Tea (TROT because I could get some for free). I was surprised by the results and by how difficult it was, tasting different teas that were almost identical, trying to catch the nuances that set them apart, and in the end I had to rely more on gut reaction than my uneducated taste buds to rate them. This was a good learning experience, one that left me with more respect for those in the business that have to evaluate dozens, if not hundreds, of samples and pick out the best.
I had my wife measure out two teaspoons of each into small, paper bags, lettering them from A to E, so that I had no way of knowing what I was drinking. At the time I didn't think it mattered to be honest. They were all teas that I had before, and I was sure I could tell the difference just by taste. I was wrong, and so were all of my guesses as to which was which.
A - Rishi's Golden Yunnan (Xishuangbanna)
B - Adagio's Yunnan Jig (Kunming)
C - Rishi's Golden Needle (Xishuangbanna)
D - TROT's Golden Yunnan (They wouldn't say)
E - Adagio's Yunnan Gold (Kunming, I think)
I rated them in order of best to not-so-best, C, E, B, D, A.
C and E were clearly the best, and in a class by themselves, both being made of nothing but buds. They were incredibly smooth, and posses a taste and aroma that reminds me of honey. B, D, and A were very close, malty, no bitterness, low astringency. TROT had the best looking dry leaves, lots of buds.
Of the three vendors, Adagio is the least expensive. The jig sells for $19/lb. and the the Gold is only $46/lb. Rishi sells their Golden Yunnan for $36/lb. and the Golden Needle for $108/lb. TROT sells their Golden Yunnan for $80/lb. They were all great teas, with marginal differences, so based on price alone, go with Adagio. The two from Rishi are Fair Trade Certified and Organic, so those are the ones I pick.
I had a lot of fun with this, and I am looking forward to doing more tastings like this in the future.