How Do You Select Good Tea
Everybody wants good tea and is quick to say it is important to find good tea. however, what specific tips and tricks do you use to find good tea? And also to put the question in the inverse, what red flags do you look for to stop you from buying from a merchant?
A good sign of a good tea is when it uses full sized leaves (or not too terribly broken). I also reference tasting notes.
A red flag for me is when there’s no image of the leaf on the website. I like to see what I’m buying. I feel like a shop is more confident in their tea if they show it off, making you want to buy it just by looking at it.
Another red flag is when they can’t tell you where their tea is from. If all it says is “black tea” then I’ll just move on.
In store, I check how its stored. Do they open the entire tin to let you smell or just a sample? Is the tea just sitting out in the open, uncovered? (I saw that today, in the sun too, ick).
It is also nice if they can tell you year it was picked and such.
Best, of course, is checking reviews on Steepster regarding the company and tea. This helps very very much!
All fails, get a sample. There’s been many tea sellers I will pass on if I cannot purchase a sample.
- if the tea is exposed to air or light. Samples in the open are OK, but not the main tea.
- if they have no brewing instructions, or the brewing instructions are generic to all types of tea, or even within a type. The very best tea sellers will give brewing instructions specific to each tea.
- edit – if seller says EVERYTHING can be resteeped several times. Not everything can! A good reseller will say how many times something can be resteeped which can totally vary from year to year – and some wonderful great quality teas may not resteep well, seller should be aware of that!
- it should have a “best before” date. It´s actually a legal requirement here, but I have not seen it on some teas, and it is always a good thing to know, particularly when you forget when you bought something.
- when buying online, just go for reputable sellers. Photos of stock can be stolen or faked anyway.
I am not TOO bothered about teas being called just “black” or “green” or something – multiorigin blends can be great, and some very reliable resellers can be very evasive about the origins or flavourings of some blended teas. Leaf size can be deceptive sometimes as well before steeped. And for some black teas, I really do not mind if they are ctc, it works! (though ctc should always be cheaper!)
Thanks for the input everyone…
Any more tips on finding what teas to purchase?
What other qualities do you look for when purchasing?
I just look for good reviews on steepster.
I tend to find most of my favorite teas through trial and error. I try to sample a large number of teas and then just repurchase my faves. Sampler packs, smaller sizes, trades with other tea drinkers and free samples are all good ways to try teas without investing a lot. If I’m somewhere where they serve tea and they have some I haven’t tried before, I usually will give them a shot.
I drink a lot of flavored teas, so I also will be tempted to try flavors that sound interesting to me. I’ll often focus on companies that have been recommended here, but if I read about a tea in a blog that sounds interesting, I’ll try to get a sample or a small size to taste.
Has the tea been stored away from light?
Has the tea been minimally handled?
Has the tea been kept away from air (and especially humidity)?
Has the tea been kept separate from strong smelling spices?
Is the tea free from tea dust? (Unless it is a fannings grade tea)
Is the tea mostly free from twigs and stems? (Unless it is kukicha, pu-erh, or one of the other “traditionally stemmy” teas, or it is a discount tea that reflects the extra stems in the price).
Will they allow you to try a sample? (Not necessarily for free, although that is a nice gesture.)
Bonus perks (although expecting these as normal is probably unrealistic unless you are in an area with multiple competing tea shops):
Can they tell you what year and what flush the tea is from?
Can they tell you what province or state the tea is from (Assam, Anhui, etc.) if the packaging has a non-helpful name?
You can help yourself a lot by reading everything you can about tea. For example its often stated that “fresh is best” but some, like puer are best aged, and others might be best just 6 months after picking. A tea dated as spring 2013 might not be old after all.
By reading about teas that interest you, you can understand the descriptions given. If the seller has posted a description that does not make sense for that tea type, you will know to pass on it!
You will also begin to understsnd pricing a bit better. A seller offering “the finest” gyroko at $16.00 for 50 grams, isnt really selling gyroko and certainly nothing close to the finest!
Reading about what you intend to buy and educating yourself as much as possible will really help you weed out good sellers from bad, and good buys from bad.
Personally I think it’s important to make the difference between ‘good’ tea, and ‘higher grade’ tea. Most of the responses I’ve seen here show things that are good to look for if you know specifically what you want and care about those specific markers.
‘Good’ however can be interpreted any number of ways. I think you mean ‘quality’ at least. The very least basics you should know is that tea has several quality levels usually, and grade (the technical definition) is usually by the size of the leaf (which is why looking at the tea is nice). You should also know that tea degrades with time and exposure to sunlight, air and humidity (with some exceptions) (and why storage conditions and age are important).
Personally I find that for myself, trying to buy really high grade or trying to discern teas by when they are harvested is mostly lost on me because I don’t have enough experience in those types of tea to really tell the difference. The more tea you drink, and the longer you’re at it, the more refined your palate will get. If you’re at that level of tea drinking, that stuff will be more important for you. (Like if you look for ‘organic’ labels on your food if organic food is what matters to you.)
If you’re rather new to tea in general I would recommend poking around the boards and seeing what companies people tend to talk about for the types of tea you like. (For example I’ve heard people talk alot about Mandala for pu’erhs.) Occasionally a tea company will post about a sale too. If you are not too picky between types of tea or just want to try new things from reputable companies, try the ‘places’ part of steepster for company reviews. For example I wouldn’t ask what year and flush some of my teas are from certain companies 1:because it doesn’t matter to me, 2: I trust the company, 3: I trust that their turnover rate is high enough that no matter what, what I’m getting is reasonably fresh.
If you randomly found some tea vendor on the internet, maybe try asking around if anyone has tried it before. Make sure it’s a legitimate company, and if you can’t find anyone to vouch for the vendor, it’s probably best to try samples first to see if you like what they have on offer and you aren’t out too much money if you don’t like what they have. All sellers want to sell you something, and frankly even if you ask all the right questions, you could get completely falsified information in return if they really want to make the sale.
Or maybe if you’re like me and am in ‘MORE TEA! TRY ALL THE TEAS!’ newbie mode, reading reviews helps alot in hearing about more tea companies. It’s nice to read and get to understand what you personally might look for in a tea versus someone else. Also there might be teas you like alot or don’t like, but it helps to narrow down what (for you) makes a tea go from ‘meh’ to ‘blah’ to ‘unpalatable’.
Red flags for me is usually when no one has ever heard of the company, and/or there are several ‘neutral’ or ‘negative’ reviews in the last year. Or if on the company’s website there’s no paypal option or https. And I’ll always pay with credit because if something goes wrong, you can set up a dispute with the credit card company. But tea people are seem to be nice people, I’ve never had to go that far (yet), but those are buying practices in general for me.
I think trusting the seller is important, as it says in The Tea Enthusiasts Handbook it is of benefit to the vendor to sell you a quality product to keep you coming back.
We have two teashops in Manchester that sell their teas to take away so if I like what I taste when I buy a pot of it then I can buy 50g bags of it to take home for about £4-6
I think the more time you spend drinking tea the more you will realise what is good and what is sh*t quality.