China offers thousands of different teas to choose from with different tastes, quality and purposes. You might wonder how is it possible to distinguish one kind from the other, unless they have a completely different appearance – or is it possible to tell the quality of tea just by tasting it, without seeing the leaves first? And, even if you do see the leaves, how can you tell what kind of tea they will produce?
While there are some basic guidelines that can help you in making a wise decision when choosing tea, what is most important, is how much you enjoy drinking the chosen tea. Some teas can leave an impression that will be forgotten by the end of the day, and some will be long remembered.
Visiting a tea house or a tea shop in China will make your choice quite easy. The hospitality of shop owners will add a new dimension to your tea knowledge, even if you are already an experienced drinker. For beginners, it will be a unique experience that will help you establish the basic foundations of tea.
To get the most out of your tea shopping experience, you can prepare yourself with our short guide. There are a lot of factors to be considered when determining the quality of tea, and we suggest that you focus on the following: the appearance of tea leaves, scent, aroma, liquor color and the feeling you get from the drinking it.
The Appearance of Tea Leaves
There is not a general rule for what a tea leaf should look like. Sometimes teas made from only buds are cheaper than teas made of leaves. Each tea has its own rule for making, but when using either buds or leaves, each should remain intact and when possible, don’t use small broken bits –but, the whole leave or bud. Color and shape are very important, and the whole appearance should be appealing to you. Beauty cannot be mistaken, even by the untrained eye. Same is true for wet tea leaves. They should retain healthy color and nice shape.
Did you know that Chinese Tie Guan Yin shouldn’t have any branches, while Taiwanese gao shan teas always include them? Did you know that even the used-up wet leaves still retain a lot of scent and freshness, even after many hours, if they are high quality?
Every good tea should have a fresh and intense scent to it. Some teas are more intense than others, some are fresher, but none of them should have a dull or mold scent, or no scent whatsoever. Whether it is the sweet and vegetal scent of famous Mao Jian, or floral and light scent of green Tie Guan Yin, you will be able to distinguish the quality of tea just by smelling it.
Did you know that freshness of all teas can be recognized after washing the leaves?
Aroma is the most important factor for many tea drinkers. There are thousands of different flavors that all come from the same tea plant. Aroma depends on a varietal used, processing method, storage and many other factors. Perfect cup of tea should be pleasant to drink, not too bitter and not too weak. Did you know that every steeping offers a different aroma, and the beauty of proper tea preparation lies in discovering these layers cup after cup?
Color of the brew is as important as any other factor. Every type of tea is different, but the color should always be healthy, not murky or washed-out. Even the teas with the palest color have a beautiful visual feeling to them. Color of the brew is always in connection with their taste. Light green pan-fired teas with delicate scent will have a delicate bright yellow-green color, and the most aromatic and strong pu’er teas could even have that a bit greasy look at the surface. Did you know that the color of tea liquor is as important as scent and aroma, and will have a great impact on your whole drinking experience?
If any of these aspects leaves a very good first impression on you, you can be sure that the drinking experience will be long remembered and the tea you are buying is worth the price. There is beauty to be found in any quality tea, so keep your eyes wide open. Did you know that tea, just as people, is described by its character? Some teas have a lot of character, some have less, and some poorly produced and poorly stored teas have almost none.