In 2016, shopping for tea is no longer just a matter of tossing a jumbo sized box of Orange Pekoe into your supermarket cart. Sure, that approach works for anyone looking to stock the craft table on an indie film or top up kitchen supplies for the church bingo night, but just as discerning connoisseurs of beer now have more options than simply grabbing a six pack of Bud Light, those looking to brew themselves a delicious cup of tea can now take advantage of a multitude of choices that will ensure their tea drinking experience will be one that caters to specific needs. Here are the things to look for to ensure your tea consumption choices fulfill each and every one of your tea-related desires:
Know Your Leaves
Whether you’re buying online or in person, having an accurate picture of the leaves to refer to is crucial to ensure that you both make the correct selection, and if you’re trying a new blend for the first time, buy what you think you’re buying. Good packaging and marketing should also always have quality images of both the leaves and the delicious finished brew. Many retail outlets, particularly the higher end ones, will often have leaves on hand to touch and smell, as well as tasting samples of a good variety of finished product with sweetened and unsweetened options.
As with most consumables, freshness is key to quality. Tea is no exception. A dusty package that looks like it has been sitting on the store shelf forever with an ancient packaging date is an obvious tell, but buyers of gourmet blends in person and especially online will want to check for specific harvest dates as well. In-store loose leaf examination should also reveal pleasant aromas and fresh textures.
Specific Production Location
Different growing conditions can greatly influence the qualities of the finished tea. When tea is grown and processed at a higher elevation with cooler and drier air, a “hard wither” is possible to be achieved where the tea leaves dry out before they are fully allowed to oxidize. When the air is humid and hot, this process just doesn’t happen. It is for this reason that Darjeeling tea that is harvested immediately following the spring rains, aka “first flush” can sometimes possess an almost green tea-like quality, but this is also why black teas produced in lower elevation areas, or produced during the rainy season, lack this same character.
In the age of instant feedback, it’s easier than ever to try before you buy…or at least hear about what others think. Before splurging online on a brand you’ve never tried before, check out what some experts have to say before parting with your hard earned cash. A comprehensive list of the top 25 Tea Blogs can be found at http://www.blogmetrics.org/Tea
Unlike coffee, tea is all about leisure. So when tea shopping, take your time. Talk to instore representatives who are actually knowledgeable about the product they are peddling. Is the person you’re talking to merely trying to make a quick sale and hustle you along, or do they actually put their teabag where their mouth is? Is the store locally owned, or a big chain who employs a revolving door of minimum wage high school students? Ask the rep questions such as what type of tea is their favorite. Are they able to rattle off a variety of blends and flavours? If not, they may simply be trying to sell you all the tea in China…