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The 5 Signs Of Tea Quality — Why Pay More For Quality Loose Leaf Tea

Posted by Angelina Kurganska on

If you are a seasoned tea drinker, you’ve certainly had a point in your tea journey where you questioned what dictates the price of tea. If you are getting into the vast world of tea, this questioning might just be starting. In today’s blog post, we’ll go over the top five signs of tea quality, which in turn may dictate the tea’s price.


tea quality


The 5 Signs Of Tea Quality 


1: Cultivars. Cultivars are the different varieties of tea bushes that farmers plant. Famers have cherished certain cultivars for centuries. After years of experimentation with a particular one, the farmer may find it optimal for tea production and stick with it. Some creative farmers like to go a step further and breed their tea bushes, offering a new and unique experience to the tea drinker. Many cha enthusiasts know their cultivars and will choose to buy tea based on this knowledge. Read more on Japanese cultivars.


2: Elevation. This is where high-mountain tea comes in. There are many reasons which make tea grown at higher elevations so desirable. One of the reasons is that high-mountain teas endure the harshest conditions. The temperature is unstable, often going from high temperatures in the daytime to very low temperatures at night.

The mountains of China, Japan, and Taiwan, and often covered in thick mist and fog, sometimes rarely seeing the sun. This process is similar to that of shade-grown tea. The tea bushes must work hard to stock up on nutrients to survive the harsh conditions. Furthermore, all the sugars rush to the tea leaves. Hence, high-mountain teas have a sweet taste and very gentle leaves.

Another aspect is that far lesser insects live at high altitudes. Therefore no pesticides are necessary to preserve the crops. So, Gao Shan teas (high-mountain teas in Chinese) tend to be organic, even if not certified as such.

Not to mention the hard work it takes to hand-pick all the tea leaves from the mountain slopes! No machinery can easily navigate those foggy mountain peaks. Read more. 


3: Shading. A similar concept as when the tea is grown at high elevations. Shading the tea bushes ensures that they get minimal sunlight, resulting in top-quality tea. Direct sunlight is responsible for very harsh, bitter teas. For example, most cheap black teas, like Indian black teas, are grown in direct sunlight and at low elevations. Just a few seconds of brewing will give you a cup of dark, bitter liquid that is best enjoyed with plenty of sugar and cream. On the other hand, Chinese black teas are mellow and sweet, sometimes with herbal and fruity undertones. They surely don’t require any additives.

In tea terms, shading tea helps preserve the L-theanine content (responsible for the sweetness and umami, to name a few). In contrast, sunlight kills off theanine and increases catechins (responsible for the bitterness). Shading is most prevalent in Japanese tea farming.

tea harvest

4: Harvest. Early spring harvests are always considered the best. This is when tea farmers can pick the youngest, most gentle tea buds and leaves. These tea buds are the ones that have stocked up all the best flavor throughout the harsh winter weather. As the harvest season progresses and the weather gets warmer, the tea leaves gradually get more harsh and bitter.

While many consider early spring teas to be the best, there are still some delicious summer and autumn teas you may encounter, so no need to completely cross them off your radar. Furthermore, many tea farmers choose to mix harvests to create a consistent tea that is well-balanced and available year-round. This isn’t only the case with harvest time, but also when it comes to other factors, like whether the farmers shaded the tea or not.


5: Picking style. Tea enthusiasts always prize hand-picked tea the most. Naturally, when hand-picking tea, farmers are very gentle with the tea leaves and always pick the best ones.