How to choose fine quality tea?
This is the first question that springs when you want to buy quality tea. There are dozens of shops, brands and specialized chain stores, which makes it very hard for tea beginners to make the right choice, especially if there is nobody around to give good recommendations. Quality teas can’t be compared by price. Usually quality tea is loose, and the title doesn’t mean that it is the same quality. It happens that tea with same title is sold on prices varying ten times. For example Tie Guan Yin tea may cost 150-200 rub per 100 gr and few thousands for the same weight, while title remains the same. Therefore if you want to know how to choose fine tea you should get some professional tea tasters rating aspects.
Key criteria for quality tea are :
- Freshness (vivid and delicate aroma, but not sharp, meaning tea is flavored. Natural color of tea leaves, which is neither too pale not too bright)*
- Natural (lack of any adds, colorant, flavoring, preservatives)
- Whole leaf (rather than doubtful powder, granules or packetized tea)
- Tea leaves homogeneity (average size of tea leaves is the same)
These criteria do not relate to designed aged teas (Puerh, some sorts of Oolong and white tea, hey cha, and some others).
Tea taste criteria are :
- Pure natural taste without adds
- Strong natural aroma of brewed tea, which stays longer at hot cap
- Tinge versatility (honey, nuts, flower, milk tones depending on sort of tea)
- Bright aftertaste, which lasts long while
- Multiple brew. Quality tea can be brewed minimum 6 times in line with traditional Chinese infusion
- Healthy effect. Quality tea is truly beneficial for health
- Relaxation or tonic effects depending on the sort of tea or individual perception
First of all it’s necessary to learn how to distinguish fresh and old teas, real tea and low grade waste. Fresh tealeaves have strong scent, bright color and thick. Old tealeaves have dull color, diverse form and hard. Fresh tea is soft, alive and if you rub it in fingers, tealeaves don’t crush easily while Old tea is dry and it becomes powder when rubbed.
Fresh tea infusion have pure intense aroma, tealeaves expand while brewing, tea is transparent. At the beginning it has clear jade color and later changes to yellow tint. It has a soft taste. Old tea scent is muted, tealeaves are slack, drink is muddy. Freshly brewed old tea has dull yellow tint. Fresh tealeaves edge is toothed, low quality tea doesn’t have specific edge form. Moreover good quality tea contains caffeine and essential oils which gives it a specific aroma. Low quality tea never has such scent.
If you have some doubts about selected tea, you can try this method to check it: take a pinch of tea you want to check and a pinch of fine tea. Brew both samples twice for ten minutes, summarily brew 20 minutes each sample. After that put tealeaves on a white plate with a bit of clean water and look at the shape of the leaves, veins and teeth. Fine tea veins shape vivid image similar to a network. The main vein runs directly from the root of the tealeaf to the pick. Lateral veins side about two-thirds of its length, accurately bent up and connect to the reaching up branches. The back side of some sorts of tealeaves is covered with white fuzz. Tealeaves teeth are evident while bottom teeth are rare. Low quality tealeaves veins are not clear, lateral veins go directly to the edge while the teeth are not clear and rough.
Moreover, the correlation between quality and price is very important. This correlation depends on many aspects such as tea rareness, market demands, length of intermediaries’ chain, producer (especially for branded compressed Puerhs) and lots of other nuances. If you want to make your own tea grading scale you should just drink many sort of teas and dive into the tea ocean. Actually not everybody needs to do this this practice; many tea enthusiasts don’t go into these details.
Hereafter, you will find some other aspects to which you should pay attention before buying tea.
First of all you should be careful when buying mass-market major brand tea.
There are different brands, some are good, some others are not. Anyway, generally all mass-market branded teas are extremely low grade quality, tea being packed as tea bags or not. But tea bags are definitely worse.
The lowest quality tea is used for producing tea bags. Low quality tea means summer harvest tea leaves (very poor nutrients), automated harvesting (collecting leaves, buds and springs), deep pruning (old and depleted tea plantation are undercut at the root for new sprouts while leaves and thin springs go into production). Nonstandard raw materials are also used for tea bags production. These are refused teas, small parts and tea powder. Actually mixing all type of raw materials into powder makes it homogeneous so you never know what it is made of. Even the best brands that mind their reputation practice this kind of production. Smaller or unfair purchasing agents can afford much gross violation of technology, such as using peanuts price spoiled raw material, tealeaves treated with pesticides due to the invasion of a pest, etc.
Тea bags are sold on the market due to advertising and lack of consumer’s education.
It is easier to check the quality of loose tea. Consumer can see the details of tealeaves, smell the aroma, touch it and make sure tealeaves are bright, nice, fragrant and do not crumble into dust. The final check is looking “tea bottom”, i.e. tealeaves after brewing. It is impossible to see “tea bottom” of tea bags, the maximum you can see after brewing is a brown mess.
Tea is a specific product and branded tea can’t be compared with branded cars for example. Certainly known brands of electronic production or fabrics are reliable and customer can be sure that buying such kind of mass-market goods gives satisfaction of its quality. But tea is a very different kind of product, actually as any kind of food product. Tea does not fit into mass market concept of quality control that gets easier and price gets lower when production is greater. Tea is a traditional product and requires handcraft and special attention to details. A small percentage of producers makes really quality tea, they are based in some provinces and areas of China or Taiwan. Perfection in quality is possible to get if there are tea technologist at each production, high quality raw material and careful compliance of technology processing nuances. That is why mass-market branded tea can’t be of high quality:
1. Branded teas are designed for mass audience and fine tea cannot be branded. Quality tea is expensive and doesn’t fit for mass customer.
2. Tea brands purchase mass amount of tea and in this case there is no possibility to check each parcel.
3. Quality tea is produced by small or medium-sized producers and they just don’t have enough amount of tea for mass brand companies.
4. Branded teas are often flavored to standardize and improve tea taste. Also tea is “improved” with chemicals for marketing purposes. As a result, nothing alive remains in tealeaves. There are many examples of such featureless production labeled “eastern aromas” or “orange jam”. These tea compositions are suspicious, because it is hard to understand even the sort of basic tea. Only originally named tea is reliable.
5. Large amount of tea are kept for long periods in storehouses and that's why they can’t stay fresh. Green tea is especially sensitive to storage and when it is not fresh it is obvious.
6. Countries with similar climate producing tea are Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. There are currently some tea enthusiasts producing small amount of tea in Russia and Georgia, but we are of the opinion that only Taiwan and Japan can full value compete with China. We monitor the development of the tea market constantly and taste tea not only from China, but also from other countries. So we plan to expand gradually the range of teas to other countries that meet our high quality standards.
Large companies use Indian or Ceylon teas, as well as Kenyan, Iran or even Turkish tea. Indian or Ceylon teas have simple taste and are much poorer compared with simplest Chinese teas. Tea trees were brought in India from China in the 19th century by English merchants. Chinese tea tradition fixed in documents is two thousand years old. All attempts to grow Chinese sorted teas in India still have not succeeded. Indian tea is poorer and simpler. The reason is not only lack of agriculture experience. The role of climate and local specific is huge for a fine tea production.
7. Mass tea is harvested out of the appropriate weather conditions, out of season and by machines. It means that very often, large companies don’t pay attention to such important factors as harvesting in the proper day time, season and manual harvesting. For example, green tea must be harvested in spring time in sunny days, the high season is from mid-March to mid-April. Instead, mass green tea is harvested in any weather in summer.
8.And finally due to specifics described in paragraph 2, large companies produce blended tea. It means that different sorts of tea are mixed to gain standardized taste and large value for mass sale. Blended tea could be fine, but mass production average standardized tea becomes worse than sorted samples.
Mass market leaf loose tea has higher quality than branded teas. Leaf tea is sold in specialized tea and coffee chain stores, by large wholesalers and HoReCa wholesalers. Plenty of small wholesalers and on-line store purchase tea in such stores. This tea is not such poor as large branded tea, but it has the same defects described in paragraph 1, 2 and 4.
These are the specificities of smaller tea companies:
1. Quality standards are undefined and there is no proper quality control.
2. Due to low level of customer tea “education”, HoReCa wholesalers sell middle quality tea as high quality “elite” tea. Sometimes it happens without malice prepense, just because Chinese sellers betray tea. And situation is sadder when one tea is sold as another one. There are two main reasons why low quality tea spread on the market. First - tea buyers don’t have fine experience in tea culture and second - it is physically difficult to test each tea parcel while buying huge amount of tea. The term “elite tea” should be an alert and using these words presents tea dilettante.
3. Tea buying agents often buy old tea in chase of lowest price. Originally this tea used to be fine, but after a couple of years it becomes poor and sold out at the minimum price.
4. Long chain of intermediaries makes tea overpriced.
5. Originally named teas could occurred fake ones and sellers can’t prove the original location of these teas.
Only a few specialized stores have a different approach to select tea for sale. These are shops of tea connoisseurs and highly-educated specialists with a rich experience in tea testing and tea buying directly from local producers and growers.
That is the reason why these kinds of shops guarantee fine quality tea.
Our shop is one of the few shops selling really fine tea.
Our principles for buying tea in China:
- No intermediary. Our headmaster Sergey Shevelev buys tea on his own from tea growers directly at their production location. He travels to buy tea in China and Taiwan up to 10 times a year.
You can watch a lot of videos about travelling in China on Sergey’s Youtube channel.
- We sell only original tea from original growing location. We ONLY buy tea at its growing location. For example, if we sell Taiwan oolong from Alishan mountain, it means we bought it exactly on this mountain. And if we sell Tie Guan Yin from Xiping village, it means we bought it exactly in this village. And if we sell Zhu Ye Qin, Sichuan tea from Emei mountain, it means that it was bought at the farm located on this mountain. If some sort of tea is not present in our shop, it means we haven’t been yet where it grows and it will be sold afterwards.
- Our tea collection is handmade selected and constantly renovated. We love tea so much that even hundreds items in our collection seem to be a small amount. We constantly bring new sorts of tea.
- Indispensable three-stage testing of each tea parcel. First test is made in China while buying tea, second is made before departure to Russia and third is made when tea arrives in Russia. If a parcel does not fit our standards at any test stage, we don’t sell it.
- Strategic logistics. We deliver tea that is fresh with maximum speed from China. As a result, the customer can enjoy freshest tea in early spring. We don’t store tea for long time, we only buy small parcels so our tea is always fresh.
- Scrupulous attention to tea quality. Tea is not only our job, it is our favorite drink and we sell only tea we like to drink ourselves. We regularly check the quality of our goods and have all documentation according to Russian Federation legislation and Customs Union.
And then we aim to give our customers the best service because we want to perfectly do what we love.
We follow these rules strictly and that’s why we can declare that we sell highest quality tea.
The main principle in choosing fine tea is based on the ability to differ what is natural, fresh and quality and what is not. This skill does not appear in a moment, but it comes with time to everyone who is in contact with genuine natural quality tea. Fine external look of tea is not always enough to understand tea quality. That’s why the main principle is to drink tea and understand its quality. In time fine tea shapes raw sensation and attention to tea improves sensibility to all aspects of life. One becomes demanding to real quality of subjects and phenomena starting with food and ending with communication. Thus genuine tea is a key to qualified changes in life.