Within any tea type, there is a wide range of quality produced available to consumers living in China. This range of quality is not generally available in Western countries currently.
This is similar in concept to wine in western culture - where there is a range of qaulity for a wine type, with price reflecting quality, and brand of the producer or area where the wine grapes were grown.
The quality range within a Chinese tea type is very broad, from top quality which is difficult to put a price on to very basic low price tea bags.
Fresh tea is associated with quality tea (Pu-erh tea is an exception).
This section discusses how to distinguish quality differences in teas.
Discerning a High Quality Tea
The last step of tea processing is sorting and grading. When the tea leaves are dried, they are sorted by equipments that are able to sort according to the various sizes of tea leaves. This first stage of professional grading is often not based on the taste and inner quality, but based on the outer appearance and characters (color, shape, size etc). There is however a strong correlation between the tea inner quality and their general characters. Teas of top quality will guarantee to have excellent outer characters.
Teas sorting process roughly divides teas into two major groups: leaf tea and broken tea. There are also fanning and dust tea after and they are often used to fill tea bags. Sorting is a very important stage of tea making. Various size tea leaves produce teas of very different concentration, continuity, color and taste. The bigger the tea leaves are, the longer it takes to brew.
Whilst different teas vary in their appearance and taste there are some basic indicators of quality as follows:
Tea leaves should be freshly glossy with tight but full bodies. Leaves should be equal in size. (Please expand the photos in our shop to look for these characteristics and compare against other suppliers).
Tea liquid should be bright and clear. (There are some teas, such as some green and white teas, that are made of very young tip tea leaves that are covered with white fur from the original leaves. This could result in white fur resolving in the tea liquid and should be distinguished from tea of bad quality.)
Premium versus lower quality tea?
Premium quality teas are distinguished via the care taken in cultivating and harvesting, the skill of the producer processing the tea and storage after production.
1. Plants and Harvesting
- Plant quality, the right plant growing in the conditions best suited for that plant is a factor. That is one of the reasons why different areas specialise in certain tea varieties. These areas have the correct combination of sun shine, rain fall, altitude of the plantation and soil condition for a tea variety.
- Correct harvesting is another important factor. Leaves need to be picked at the optimal time of the each year, harvested during the day and processed at night. This crucial element of timing of the harvest and processing can be a matter of hours. Working during the harvest seasons is often 24hrs around the clock.
2. Skill and experience of the producer:
- It has taken thousands of years of experiences and skills to fine tune the art of tea making - “Manual production reflecting tradition and outstanding craftsmanship (China)”.
- The art of processes tea is complicated and involves many steps. The delicacy of the process is such that the person in charge could make the difference between the finest tea and the tea of low quality on any particular day.
- Compromises in any step will affect the quality of the final product.
3. Fresh tea and its packaging
Tea is a very sensitive product. Even the top quality teas deteriorate rapidly when exposed to:
- high temperature
- foreign odour
At Valley Green Tea, we use the latest packaging technique to avoid above tea damaging factors: high quality foil vacuum bags to package tea in small quantity of 10-25gms; refrigeration when necessary.
Tea quality and the current market:
The current state of the market for Chinese teas in western countries is charactorised by a low awareness of quality as a differentiator within a tea type or of how to distinguish or understand value in terms of quality for a given price.
There is a growing understanding that loose teas are generally of better quality then tea bags. However the distinctions in packaging and storage of loose leaf teas to preserve quality is not appreciated as evidenced by :
Quality grades at Valley Green Tea
Chinese tea is all about quality. Valley Green Tea's target is the high end of the spectrum, from above average (High Grade) to the grade (exclusive) that above which even certain locals will find it difficult to taste further improvement.