What's most important for you when buying Tea?
price? quality? taste?
The simple answer is that they are all equally important.
They’re all important. Is the quality justifying the price—and does cheapness make up for subpar quality? Taste tracks closer to water and brewing parameters; I can make Kusmi and Lipton be equally terrible in the wrong water.
When I’m trying new stuff, I look for sales and small-volume goods. 50c-100c is enough to make me pick up a box of a new flavor in a trusted brand.
If I’m not dipping into my own stash and actually purchasing tea, depending on the price, I’ll try and purchase a sample first and then decide whether it is worth investing in. I get to vet the quality and taste that way.
If the price is below a threshold, then I’d probably risk it and buy the smallest full size I can. But I dislike ending up with tea I am not going to drink, especially since I usually have a lot of tea lying around after becoming a vendor.
Like many here, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of samples. For instance, If I’m buying Taiwanese oolongs, which tend to be pricy, I prefer 10 or 25 g samples instead of 50 g bags. I have a lot of half-finished 50 or 100 g bags of things I don’t really like. Also, vendors need to be upfront about shipping costs, as they can add substantially to the overall price.
The price is important… if a tea is less than $0.25/g I probably won’t buy it. If it’s more than $1/g I’m much more likely to try it out!
I like greens, yellow, white, green oolongs and gaoshan, shou and very aged sheng. Yancha from time to time. Essentially everything as long as it is high quality, obviously the price points of high quality tea is different depending on the category but I think $0.25/g is a good general base number for finding teas that will have multiple dimensions to them and no immediate flaws. If I’m being honest, I usually only get excited by $0.50/g and greater but that number isn’t always relevant for something like shou or sencha.
Out of curiosity, would you label Indian teas as multi-dimensional/multi-faceted? A good Darjeeling, for example? I ask because $0.50/gm or above for such teas would be an unfair price IMO.
Then again, from your description it sounds like you preferences lean towards Chinese teas.
Regardless, thanks for humoring me!
You are right that I don’t drink much Darjeeling, it is not my preference. I’ve been given this tea for free and it was good and it’s selling for more than $.50/gr USD but I have little knowledge about its fair market value: https://www.myteaguy.com/product-page/darjeeling
Hard to tell. If its from 2017 when the Darjeeling 2nd Flush was decimated by political strife, then perhaps the curtailed supply would allow for such prices. Thanks again for the insights!
50c/gr = slightly more than $14/oz. I buy things that are in the $3/oz range. What are you drinking and how do you afford it?
For me, Darjeeling tea is all about quality and taste. My favorite retailer does not offer free shipping, nor do they offer sample sizes and their prices are on the expensive side. Spring Darjeelings start at around 30 to 40 euros per 100g. Their customer service is impeccable and my orders arrive at my door (France to US) ,5 days after I place the orders.
The quality and taste justifies the price and sample sizes for me, are a non-issue. Why? Because I often require brewing 4, 5, 6 mugs of a particular Darjeeling to nail the parameters to extract the best possible taste, The parameters differ for each and every Darjeeling variety. It would be great if I could just order the same Darjeeling, same flush, same estate, same DJ number and use the parameters from years previous, however, depending on the prevailing climate and situation of that year, the best parameters change, year to year, and the best Darjeelings, change as well, year to year. So each year in the Spring and Summer, I’ll order about 20 different varieties of Darjeeling to determine which ones I like best. For 2016, it was the Margaret’s Hope FF, and Namring Upper FF. I did not order any teas of 2017.
Back to the question. My answer, is an exceptional Darjeeling needs to be multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, with a myriad of complex flavors. Is 36 euros per 100g a fair price?
You sound more like a Darjeeling connoisseur than your average Darjeeling drinker. Perhaps you buy from Mariage Freres. They do select good invoices within each estate, which to me justifies a higher price. However, it is also the brand name. And the fact they have locations in choice real estate in Paris, London, Berlin, and Tokyo.
For example, I have a DJ5 from Goomtee Estate in my shop. My selection is minute, and I’m a nobody in the tea world. I priced 75 gms at $22 (currently on sale at $17). Willing to bet the same tea at MF would be close to 2x my price.
More power to them!
Do you have any Spring Teas with a higher DJ number? A Margaret’s Hope DJ40, Singbuli DJ30, Risheehat DJ32? I prefer Spring Flush Teas that are less green, more mature, with more body, than the lower DJ number earlier picked Darjeeling teas. I don’t necessarily like Summer Flush with the bolder, brisk flavor.
Also are all DJs equal? Should a DJ5, same flush, same estate, same year taste the same regardless of the retailer? Maybe I was deceived but there was a significant difference in taste between Mariage Freres, and other retailers. So if I have to pay a higher price for the better taste and quality, I will. And to realize the taste, it taking a lot of time and patience. It takes numerous brews and steepings to extract the true taste of a particular Darjeeling.
The Mariage Freres salon in Tokyo is beautiful. Even though it’s on small side street of Ginza, it’s always filled with customers more than anxious to part with their money in exchange for tea. The Mariage Freres brand name, in Japan, carries more weight than other established retailer like, Fortnum & Mason, Fauchon, Marine de Bourbon, TWG, Harrods, Lupicia, etc, I buy the tea for the taste, not for the name.
One more question I have, and you may confirm or deny, does Marage Freres have access to selection of teas before they are offered to any other retailer? This was explained to me from the manager in their Tokyo (Ginza) salon.
The only other FF Darjeeling I have is the Thurbo Estate, which is a DJ 39. I had an exceptional DJ 45 white Moonlight tea from the same estate, but I’ve been out of stock for a while.
You got me with your question – should the same invoice, same estate, same flush, same year taste the same regardless of the retailer? In theory, I would think so, but I cannot say with any certainty. But practically speaking there could be factors that impact the taste profile. Perhaps the way it is stored, how soon after production you consume it. I would think differences would be subtle, but yours seems like a trained palate (much more than mine, to be honest!), so to the discerning palate the differences may not be as subtle as I think.
And just to be clear, I was not insinuating you buy tea for the brand. Clearly, you’re a Darjeeling aficionado. However, the brand name carries a lot of weight and surely lends itself to higher pricing.
I source from the estate, through a couple of people in tea production (estate owners, tea tasters, exporters themselves). If I was established enough to warrant the sourcing of multiple teas (say 50 or more), I am quite confident I could get the estate and invoice I wanted. But I have a ways to go. I bought small volumes last Spring and Summer, so I don’t have much pull…yet. My guess is Mariage Freres pays top $ for what they source, and given their brand can be first at the table to select what they want. But Japan and Germany, big buyers of Darjeeling tea, also have that reputation. So my guess is anyone with deep pockets could experience that.
Obviously taste and price are important but vendor reliability is a huge win for me. Someone might sell great tea at a great price but they will lose my business if they are indifferent to customer service and reliable shipping times. I don’t care if a vendor needs a week after receiving the order to ship. But I care that shipping is not a guess for example: sometimes shipping in a week, sometimes shipping in 2 weeks.
Also of importance is how a tea is packaged for shipping. I have heard of vendors that will ship flavored tea in paper in tie sacks that allow the whole shipment to be contaminated. That’s a bit like shipping onions and cake together. Tea should be shipped in Mylar zip packaging so that flavors can’t meld. Tin tie sacks also allow oxidation. There is no excuse for this practice!
As a relatively new vendor, I’d say proving we are a reliable source has been one of the bigger challenges, so I wholeheartedly agree with you. It takes time to build confidence, but just an instant/single instance to lose it altogether.
Yes to the packaging issue. I’ve seen good teas shipped in poor packaging. Vendors need to be cognizant of shipping costs, so sometimes tins/caddies aren’t the best option cost-wise. But heat sealed mettalized Kraft bags with ziplocks, or Mylar bags as you suggest, are good ways to ship tea/coffee/spices IMO.
One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet that is a major factor for me is the available sizes from the vendor, as I live in a small apartment and have limited space for my growing collection. If a vendor doesn’t offer sampler sizes or smaller size quantities of their teas (around 1 or 2 ounces) I often won’t order anymore, even if I’ve used their services before and enjoyed them in the past. I’ve found many vendors only offer 4 ounce bags (and larger!) and I simply don’t need that much of a single tea, as I’m a variety drinker and personally prefer sampling many different kinds of tea than keeping just a few teas of larger quantity around. It just takes up too much space when it takes way too long for just myself to go through that much of a single tea.
Interesting point. When I was brand new, all I offered was 50 gm (~1.8 oz) bags for the lighter, fluffier teas (a white peony, for example), and 75 gm bags (~2.7 oz) for other, denser teas. Helped keep the number of different bags I needed down to one size.
Quickly I realized the need for samples – establishing trust with a new vendor is hard. So I introduced 10 gm samples and created a sampler of all the in-stock teas I had. Not surprisingly, a lot of first time buyers opted for the sampler.
Price/quality ratio for me! It has to be good and it has to be worth the asking price. Quality is a complex topic! I’m looking for exceptional tea without flaws. That takes a lot of sampling!
What’s a “Darjeeling Number” ?
Its basically the invoice number, represented by DJ ##. DJ is Darjeeling, and the number indicates how early in the season the tea was picked. The lower the number, the earlier the picking. A number of people prefer earlier invoices for Spring Darjeelings. If you go to the Mariage Freres website and look at their spring Darjeelings, they carry a number of lower invoice teas.
You may also see an “EX1” instead of “DJ#”. EX1 should represent the first invoice. Usually goes for top $.
Very interesting! Thanks. I’ve heard the Japanese are major players at the auction houses now and get a lot of the good stuff that previously would’ve gone to UK and German buyers.
Yeah the Japanese and Germans are fairly large buyers of Darjeeling teas. The common belief is the Germans salvaged the Darjeeling industry. The British were adamant on having all tea production yield a beverage that went with milk and sugar. Apparently that is how they wanted Darjeeling tea produced as well. After they left apparently it was some Germans who advised Darjeeling producers to harvest Darjeeling tea as we know it today.
Can you clarify “invoice number?” Is it by lot-shipment or by estate? Does the tea get the number when it arrives at an auction house?
The estate assigns an invoice number to a batch of tea depending on time of plucking/harvest.
The batch of tea should be assigned a number well before entering an auction. The auction house will make all relevant info known to buyers beforehand. Buyers in the know will bid varying prices depending on the invoice.
How is the amount of an invoice determined? Is it by time duration when the tea leaves are picked? Is it determined by the weight of the picked tea? Or is it by some other stipulation? Does the amount on an invoice vary? I’ve seen numerous retailers selling out of teas. Yet even after a year, Mariage will still offer the same tea with the same invoice number, seemingly never selling out of a tea. At what DJ number does a Darjeeling change from a Spring Flush to a Summer Flush? How, who, and when, is the grade of a tea (SFTGFOP1) determined? Is the Spring and Summer tea leaves picked from the same plant or does an estate allocate sections of the land specifically for Spring Flush teas, Summer Flush teas, Monsoon Flush teas, and Autumn Flush teas?
Some questions I have regarding tea. Sorry for going off topic from the original post.
The amount of an invoice is determined by weight. In the first flush, leaf intake is low and so first flush invoices are of smaller quantity. Second flush, when cropping is in full swing, invoice weights are more standardized.
Invoice numbers change with the date of manufacture, from what I understand. Different sized gardens pack different amounts and so different invoices.
Grading for teas has to do with the size and leaf appearance and is assigned by the estate. In the case of orthodox teas like Darjeeling, grading also speaks to the tip content and style. An SFTGFOP1 is the top whole leaf grade at an estate, but will naturally vary in quality from estate to estate.
Spring, summer, Autumn teas are all picked from the same bushes.
I’m not sure how much MF buys to never run out of an invoice. Perhaps they are really big players in the Darjeeling market, though I think the quantity of Darjeeling teas they carry may also play a part.
Basically, if I love how something tastes I will buy it again. Usually, but not always, that means it’s “high quality” — as an example, there are some herbal blends that I am just as happy if not happier to buy from the grocery store than to order for a lot more money from a high end tea company. Just because I prefer how they taste to others I’ve tried that were more expensive.
My ex husband would only buy store brand boxed macaroni band cheese. He said Kraft did not taste right. Creamy or mixed cheeses were sniffed at with sustain. Only bright orange powder and skinny dried noodles would do! Odd duck.
I have yet to find a lemon herbal I like as much as Bigelow’s I Love Lemon, or a mint herbal I like as much as Tazo Refresh. And I have tried a lot that are far more expensive.
So many people have a strong attachment to the Kraft stuff too! I didn’t grow up eating boxed mac’n’cheese, but I can see how that could happen! Twinkies were always my guilty pleasure. :)