Updated: Jan 3
Buying tea could be overwhelming. You want to get the right thing and pay a fair price. You don’t want to be ripped off. You may not be sure what you want or what is right for you. This guide is for you.
1: Can you see the tea leaves?
As long as you can see the tea leaves completely, which are unbroken and whole, you are at the right starting point. Whole-leaf teas are usually made from the top bud and the first leaf set of the tea plant, where the aroma and taste of the tea are concentrated. At the same time, whole-leaf means that the leaves were not processed in the CTC (crushing, tearing, and curling) machines that are used in mass production in the factories. As the tea leaves preserve their integrity, they keep their natural properties without losing them.
Just in case you haven’t had whole-leaf tea before, we wanted to add a little bit of information. The more the tea leaves preserve their integrity, the softer their flavor. In other words, the more the tea leaves are crushed, the more bitter the tea tastes. As far as Western tea drinkers are concerned, the expectation might be intense, even bitter black tea; nevertheless, whole-leaf teas do not offer us a strong taste. If we are not used to the delicate notes of specialty teas, it may be necessary to train our palates a little to enjoy them. Just don’t give up if this type of gourmet tea doesn’t give you pleasure on the first try.
Another important feature of whole-leaf teas is their ability to be rebrewed. For example, you can brew 4–6 grams of tea, which you will use in a single brew, 2–3 times in a 500-ml teapot. You can keep the brewing time between 3 and 6 minutes (3 minutes for the first brew, a little longer for the next ones).
2: Do you have a chance to try the tea before buying it?
Although you can see the leaves of the tea, you cannot imagine the energy that the tea will elicit in you — called Cha Qi ‘茶气’ in China — until you brew, smell, drink and comprehend the tea. This energy includes taste and aroma, but goes beyond these as it is the entire response of your body and mind to the tea you are experiencing.
To start with, why not ask yourself some questions? You smelled the tea; what did those smells remind you of? You sipped the tea; what flavors did you find in it? And how did you feel?
Every person, every body, and every energy are different. The energy that a tea may create in one person may be different from what it will evoke in another. That’s why you should try any tea before you buy it, and if the energy of the tea harmonizes with yours, then you should not miss that tea.
3: Do you know the source of the tea?
Today, we question many fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture. We should also ask the same questions concerning tea. Knowing the source of tea and the kind of agricultural practice that was applied in its cultivation will provide us with great information. A tea may look great, and its taste and even energy may be pleasant, but that doesn’t mean that the tea has been produced free from nasty agrochemicals. If you can, choose organic products or naturally grown (or wild) teas (for some specialty teas, organic production is rare). In fact, if possible, go to the place where the tea is produced and meet the producer. Why not?
For instance, in Türkiye insecticides are generally not used in tea production. This is due to the climate (snowy winter) keeping harmful insects away from the tea plant. If good bugs are getting close to the tea plant, know that pesticides are not being used, which is definitely a good sign!
In addition, avoid blended teas as much as possible. Because blended teas are created by mixing at least two or more teas, it is difficult to reach the source of the tea. In addition, since it will be difficult to measure the quality standards in blended teas, the risk of compromising the quality of the tea will increase. For more info, here is my article titled “Why I Stopped Drinking Tea Blends?”.
4: Do you know the production date for tea?
Some teas lose their taste and aroma over time. As an example, consider green tea or low-oxidation oolong tea. Some teas, on the other hand, increase in value when stored in the right conditions (where the humidity can be kept constant (50% and below), in ventilated, odorless, and dark environments). These include white and dark teas (such as pu-erh). Tea can be exposed to mold during production and storage. If there is mold on the tea leaves, it is considered risky to consume the tea. The shelf life of teas varies from country to country. For black tea, for instance, it is generally accepted that it should be consumed within 18 months. But if stored properly, it can be kept for 3 years or so. However, if it is green tea you want, choose the freshest one when purchasing it and aim to consume it within a year.
5: Do you have information about how tea is processed?
Let’s say your tea is picked by hand to the standard of the plant’s top leaf sets. Good start! Now we can question the harvest time. The richest teas in terms of content and aroma are the first harvest (also known as “flush”) spring teas. Then there are the autumn teas, and finally the summer teas. The seasons vary greatly in tea-producing countries, but the rule of thumb is that the less the tea plant has been exposed to the sun, the richer the beneficial components in its content. As a result, if possible, choose spring teas over summer teas.
It is important that we know the tea’s journey after being picked by hand. Was it sold or sent to a factory, where it was crushed by some machine? Or was it hand-processed by boutique manufacturers? Especially if you are after the health benefits of tea, you might be better off with whole-leaf teas. According to a report by the US Department of Agriculture, the flavonoid content of a mass-produced bottle of green tea you buy from the market is 13 mg/100 ml on average, while this figure is calculated at 133 mg/100 ml in freshly brewed whole-leaf green tea. These numbers are average, but they give us a good idea of the proportions.
I hope this article gives you some pointers as to what to pay attention to when buying tea. For more information, please contact me at email@example.com, where we offer tea consulting that includes sourcing exceptional teas from China and Turkey.
Have a look at our teas.
References https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400525/Data/Flav/Flav02-1.pdf Chacko, S.M., Thambi, P.T., Kuttan, R., Nishigaki, I. (2010). Beneficial effects of green tea: a literature review. Chinese Medicine, 5(1), 13; Arab, H., Maroofian, A., Golestani, S., Sohrabi, K., Forouzanfar, A. (2011). Review of the therapeutic effects of Camellia sinensis (green tea) on oral and periodontal health. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 5(23), 5465–5469; Lambert, J.D. (2013). Does tea prevent cancer? Evidence from laboratory and human intervention studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 98(6), 1667S-1675S.