Whether you enjoy the premium, rare teas like Phoenix Oolong or First Flush Dragonwell, or the less serious, fruitier tisanes and tea mixtures, your tea should not only delight your senses but soothe and refresh your body as well.
When buying tea, there are some questions you might commonly ask…how do I steep this? Is this blend organic?
However, there are less obvious questions when it comes to determining the quality and, honestly, the worth of a tea or tea blend. Next time you’re at a local tea house or retailer or at one of our tea houses, ask the staff the following questions:
Where does this tea come from?
Knowing where your food or drink comes from is enjoying a comeback in modern society. Many consumers are asking this question of their food, so why not what they drink? Tea is an over $2 billion industry in America alone, it’s not always easy to track down where a specific tea leaf came from. But this is important if you want the best cup of tea… According to QTrade there are at least seven major tea-trading countries including China, Japan, and Kenya.
If your tea doesn’t come clearly labelled or your tea seller can’t tell you where your tea came from, there’s a good chance it’s a fake premium tea, meaning leaves from other regions or countries have been mixed together creating a mish mash of quality and taste. Beyond being a deceptive business practice, this is an especially bad practice when it comes to the higher end teas where the subtle tasting notes get lost.
So the moral of the story, always ask where your tea is from.
A second question you should ask…
What’s the story behind this tea?
Many teas, especially those of Asian heritage, have a rich history. For example, Dragonwell or Long Jing was served exclusively to Emperors. (You can learn more about the history of Dragonwell here). Genmaicha is often said to be a poor man’s tea in Japan until recently. Pu-erh was named after a trading city in China. Another tea, another story.
While these stories may seem whimsical or unimportant, just having the knowledge of tea’s history and culture shows a certain love and appreciation for the drink. It takes effort to learn about tea and develop a full appreciation for all its history and significance. If a tea seller can answer your more specific questions about what they’re selling, imagine how devoted they will be to providing a good product. And passion, regardless of the industry, is how you get the best of the best.
Can I look at the tea leaves?
Looking at and, most importantly, smelling the tea leaves will not only allow you to take in the beauty of tea, it will help you determine the quality. Fresh tea leaves will have a vibrant color and fragrance. They will look full, not crushed up and broken. On the other hand, leaves that are low quality, have been exposed to moisture, or are old will have a dull look and sometimes a mildewy or “dusty” smell, like potpourri that’s lost it’s fragrance.
Any positive or negative characteristics that you can see or smell in the tea will transfer to the overall taste and experience. As with any purchase, especially when it comes to the world of higher quality teas, you have a right to know what you’re getting.
Tea is a subject rich in history and culture, widely drunk for both medicinal reasons and taste. If you would like to learn more about loose tea, particularly Chinese Loose Tea sign up to receive our monthly newsletter.