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.)
Fresh and fragrant when package is first opened.
Unlike most other beverages, the magic flavor of tea is often in its after taste. Words used to describe this include: lingering, refreshing, smooth, aromatic etc.
Premium quality green teas sometimes taste slightly bitter at the beginning, followed by a beautifully refreshing, mellow taste that lingers for long time. A clear mind and calm body are associated by-products of drinking a quality tea.
Teas of bad quality: In contrast, teas of bad quality are often dark and dull in color, leaves in various sizes with plenty of dust, moldy in smell and tea liquid cloudy. Tea tastes rough and bitter, lack of lingering and refreshing after taste. Novice tea drinkers take some time to appreciate the quality differentials (similar to wine tasting). However, with experience comes the issue that "once you have tasted and appreciated good quality tea, the memory of this makes it easier to discern lower quality - and harder to be satisfied with it'’.