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Tea is almost everywhere around us. You can find a cup of it anywhere, in seemingly countless numbers of brands, varieties and packaging. What makes the highest quality tea, is also rather muddled. There’s the first picking of highly sought after tea leaves, organic speciality teas sourced from far and wide, and herbal blends developed in tea houses across the world. In a lot of ways, tea is what you make of it. It’s a warming and stimulating experience worth sharing. When it comes to quality though, certain things are not up for debate. We’ll dive into what makes the highest quality teas to help you make informed purchases. (And become a little more tea savvy along the way!)
What is it That Makes the Highest Quality Tea?
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You’ve probably been able to discern between teas you’ve liked, and ones you haven’t. For many of us this happens the first time we’re offered a blend of black tea bags that we didn’t grow up with. I remember the first time I tasted Lipton’s black tea. (Which is a stark contrast to the familiar Tetley black tea I grew up around. Some may attribute taste preferences to quality, but in many cases there actually are discernible differences. For instance, all black teas are processed to release a high number of tannins, and flavor when they’re brewed. One tea company might produce their black tea with perforated bags, to enhance the brewing experience and thus the taste. A lot of people would say that’s one example of a high quality tea, one that gives you a better brew!
Quality in Sourcing: Organic Teas
Organic, and fair-trade teas are products that you can be sure have been produced to a quality standard backed by a standard of living assured to the people who have dedicated their lives to producing it. Why does an organic tea stand apart from its non organic counterpart? They are teas that come from growers, estates and farmers that ensure a consistent level of quality. Soil quality, and environmental conditions can have a lasting and serious effect on the finished tea product. Buying from certified organic producers not only ensures the safety of the environment and workers, but also the product you’re receiving. One good way to make sure only the highest quality teas make their way to your cupboard is by looking for the certified organic label.
Sip eco-friendly for a warm cuppa you can feel good about buying, and drinking too! You can be sure that the entire product has been sourced from one or more producers who all have the same commitment to the blender they’re selling to. That means a cleaner and smoother cup of tea for you. Fair-trade brands work to make sure that tea farmers are being compensated properly for the product they’re selling. Happier and more secure people make healthier and more environmentally-conscious tea. And, considering that tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world! This isn’t something you should take lightly! Start bringing high quality teas into your home by checking for these labels.
With Quality Comes Taste
The mark of a high quality tea is all in the leaves themselves. Tea is as versatile, and complex a product as wine. You might not have realized it, but a lot of the geographical, climate and environmental factors that give certain wines their character can be attributed to teas as well. Much like wines, not all teas are created equally either.
For instance, some of the richest and most full-bodied, antioxidant packed green teas in the world are carefully tended to. Of all the green tea produced in a region, or on a farm the top leaves, carefully plucked form under a controlled growing shade carries a much higher price tag than the leaves from the bottom of the plant. They soak up the most sun, and have the least amount of bruising. The highest quality green tea is called Gyokuro, a premium picking for the freshest aroma, and most vibrant colors. Bancha, the lowest quality brews a more pale color, with less pronounced aroma. This picking is often mixed with brown rice, pan seared and processed for additional flavor. It’s plain to see, not all leaves are created equally. What’s in your cup?
Is More Expensive Tea Better Quality?
Strictly, no. In some cases you might just be paying for packaging, a zany or unique blend of herbs, or lifestyle promise. In other words, a tea that promises to make you slim, will probably try to make your wallet slim, too! You can source organic, flavorful and responsibly produced teas at fairly modest price points. Many of the best teas are actually quite affordable. Think of it as ‘the people’s drink!’
What are the Highest Quality Teas?
As you’ve more than likely suspected, specialty tea merchants often have access to some of the higher quality teas. The mass-produced tea bags you find on shelves aren’t entirely a write-off, though. There’s a well circulated myth that your favorite black bagged tea consists of sweepings from a tea factory. That is of course entirely unfounded. (If for no other reason than it isn’t mathematically possible!) It’s more than likely that your favorite tea is produced in one of the foremost tea growing states in the world. Located across Sri Lanka, India, China and Kenya. Realistically, what sets them apart is the way they’re produced ‘down the line’, so to speak.
A traditional paper and string tea bag is packaging quality that hampers the flavor of your tea. Other blenders use pyramid-shaped silken bags, with lots of perforation. On the other hand, a tea that includes less careful blending might not lend itself well to your region’s water. That is of course an example of how blending the product can alter the tea’s quality.
Alright, Just Tell me What the Best Teas Are Already!
It comes down to three main attributes. Certified organic, and fair-trade (or direct from farmer) tea. Innovative and sustainable packaging. And meticulously picked, and blended tea leaves. I’m going to round off this little primer on tea quality with my top 5 favorite high quality teas!
Here you go, enjoy!
Kirkland Signature Ito En Matcha Green Tea
100% organic and masterfully blended with authentic matcha powder, this green tea packs flavor and quality in droves. The green tea is grassy, buttery and as fresh as any good one should be! Pick up one of these hefty 100ct boxes for my personal favorite green tea that you can find in stores!
Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold Black Tea
I compare every cup of black tea I have to this stuff, and nothing makes the grade. Taylors of Harrogate has a commitment to responsible tea sourcing that goes as deep as the foundation of their company. Extremely drinkable, and easy to brew this is my absolute favorite black tea!
Tazo Organic Chai Tea
A flavorful, complex and spicy Chai blend, Tazo delivers a remarkable and authentic take on this classic tea blend. If Chai tea is for you, all you need is a box of these for a cup of tea that will take you across continents.
Harney & Sons Lapsang Souchong
This variety of tea is born of a processing technique discovered entirely by accident! Oolong tea leaves exposed to smoke created the now legendary Lapsang Souchong, a deliciously smokey and hearty tea if you want a real kick of flavor.
Tick Tock Organic Rooibos
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This red bush African tea dates back centuries, known for its effective soothing. Not only that, it’s a deliciously organic tea that can be enjoyed with or without milk and sugar. Caffeine free, it’s also a good option for the late evening, or if you’re just looking to switch things up a bit!