What makes a quality tea? Part 2

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In the previous section we talked about the importance of origin and transparency. Now we're focusing more on the appearance and flavour of tea when determining the quality level of tea.

Of course not only the appearance of the leaves tell you whether the tea is of high quality, but it helps to know how to recognize a well-made leaf, which means that the leaves are made with love and care, with the focus on the leaf and its flavour properties when processing the tea.


Make sure the tea is unbroken. So that you see a whole leaf, not half or a third of it, not to mention ground tea leaves. When it's unbroken it means that the tea is speciality tea, i.e. the highest quality (be cautious however, the word "speciality tea" is thrown around quite a bit in tea packages without the connection to its right meaning, so don't be blinded by the words alone used in the tea package). When the tea leaf is kept whole, there's no possibility for the oxygen to enter the leaf and damage the it's structure, creating unwanted and uncontrolled volatile flavours in the leaf before processing. Think of an apple: when bruised it becomes black and tastes bad.

White tea from Malawi

Are the two leaves and a bud intact? It's always a sign of quality when the buds are together with the upper leaves, that way you know that the picking has only included the top parts.

When looking at the tea leaves, are there buds present? The buds are unopened leaves, and are often golden in black teas, silvery in green and white teas.


Check if the scent of the leaves is apparent (and here we're not talking about flavoured teas, as you only detect the scent of the flavourings..) When no scent comes out, the tea can be old or poorly processed.

Then the flavour of the tea. As each tea is unique there's no way of describing how a quality tea should taste like. But what you need to focus on is the clarity of the flavours. Are they clear and apparent with distinctive top notes, middle notes and low notes? Or is it just a homogenous mass where it's impossible to find any flavour notes (this means that its growth period and production hasn't been properly managed and/or it's a blend of many origins, making it difficult to perceive any clear flavours in the tea. Often the flavour is just strong and then it ends).

The tea needs to fill your whole mouth, feel like it's pressing down your tongue with its heavy weight, with a long aftertaste. Lower quality teas' flavours are monotonous and short, and the tea's feeling in your mouth is hollow and narrow with a straight line over the tongue, whereas higher quality teas feel round in your mouth, so you can feel it on your tongue, cheeks, palate and gum.

Checklist tea leaves and flavour:

  • are the tea leaves unbroken, meaning whole leaves?
  • are the two leaves and a bud intact, and the buds are visible?
  • is the scent of the tea leaves apparent?
  • is the tea filling your mouth with rich, long-lasting flavours?

One thing to focus on as well is the tea seller. It can be that the packages are luxurious and feel premium and their teas have fancy names, but don't let that fool you. Is the tea seller offering mostly flavoured teas? That is the first sign that there's no quality to be found there. Disguising the tea behind posh packaginf and names is the easiest way to get consumers thinking that this must be a quality tea. But look more closely with the checklist I've provided here and in the first part. That's the true indicator of quality.

As I often say: the quality of the production IS the quality of the product. So no high-quality products can come from lousy production. And it goes without saying that I not only focus on skilled production methods that brings out the best flavours, but equally as much on the quality of the employees' and nature's handling as well, so that the people, animals and environment thrive in the tea farms where I buy the teas from.