What makes tea 'good'? Well, not to start off too cheesy, but in our eyes, any tea you enjoy is good! We find this to be a highly personal topic, sometimes you just need to follow your heart and enjoy what you enjoy and not let the experience be too fussy. With that said, there are some tips and tricks for spotting quality markers if you're looking to get deeper into understanding tea and tea production. This is a very high-level overview of the topic, please leave comments below if you'd like to see us get more granular and explain any part of this even further!
First, let's get one thing straight. Price doesn't always mean quality. There's so much that goes into market price, that it is a whole other tangent we won't be diving into here. Just like many products: location, supply v demand; source; storage; branding; all these things and more affect price. Not only quality.
When talking strictly quality markers, we usually assess using at least these five categories:
1. Look of the leaf: You can tell a lot from the dry leaves of tea. But, be aware, that it's also one of the easiest quality markers to fake. What you're looking for in the look of the leaf depends on the style of tea. But, generally, we can say that whole leaves, with consistent shape and color, are the most important. Lower quality leaves can be broken, bitsy, or dusty and not even in color or shape. This category (along with many other reasons) is often why bagged teas are of a lower quality than loose leaf tea.
2. Aroma: To judge by the aroma, you'll want to wet the leaves. This is part of the reason for the rinse brew in gong fu brewing. You're able to fully get the true aroma from the wet leaves, way better than the dry leaves. The brighter, more complex the aroma, the better the quality. If you really want to test the leaves, wait and see if the leaves hold onto their aroma. If there is a lasting aroma, that's a sign of high quality.
3. Taste: Like wine tasting, you want to aerate the tea in your mouth. Do a little squishing around and slurping. That's the best way to get the most out of the taste of the leaves and to really get a feel for quality. You're looking for a taste that is clear, balanced, and complex.
The next two are ways to separate the good from the great:
4. Mouthfeel: It's a trait that is sometimes difficult to describe with words, but is nearly impossible for producers to fake. Mouthfeel relates to texture. Is it creamy, tannic, buttery, syrupy, drying? You want it to be a texture that's thicker and more complex than water. A high-quality tea has a lingering mouthfeel, the thought of the tea sits on your palate for longer than the tea liquid itself does.
5. Finish: It takes a few sips, or even brews (when gong fu brewing) to really get an idea of the finish. The finish can be defined roughly as what flavors and sensations linger in your mouth after a sip, and how long they last. You want to see how the flavor changes, deepens or persists. We like to think of this way of testing quality, as to how memorable the tea is. Are you still feeling/thinking about it long after your last sip? That's a good quality tea.
We hope this helps you on your journey of tea education, and are always more than happy to answer questions or dive deeper! Leave comments below, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org any time.