q: WHAT DIFFERS US FROM THE MAJORITY OF TEA COMPANIES?
A: We strive to make a difference in the world. We focus on three things: people, nature and quality, and not one of them is compromised at any given time. We aren't trying to offer everything for everyone, and that sets us apart. We offer only the best teas done the only way possible: the ethical way. We're solely focusing on our top 3 priorities and we do them perfectly, without cutting any corners.
We try to find a perfect match by seeking the qualities in a tea farmer that are the most important for us:
-PEOPLE: the farmer needs to respect their employees - paying more than the minimum or average wage, providing extras for them (like housing, schools, year-round occupation), training them and lifting the status of tea workers
-NATURE: the farmer needs to carry their weight in order to fight climate change: organic farming, sustainable development (taking advantage of the goods on-hand, self-sufficiency, taking care of the animals near the farm, sustainable energy sources etc)
-QUALITY: the farmer need to respect the tea: only small-scale farming - no plantations, only orthodox-way of doing tea (for more info look the question about orthodox tea), only whole leaf tea, only the topparts of the plant, i.e. max. two leaves and the bud.
We choose only small farmers and they ship their teas direct to us, without any middlemen. That way they receive the rightful compensation for their hard work.
Once we've found our kind of farmer that has the values that we're looking for, it's time to taste their teas. All the teas go through a strict scanning by The Seventh Cup owner, tea sommelier Petra Ahlman, and are evaluated by universal tea evaluation technique. If the taste and quality meet our requirements, the teas receive their place in our selection.
Q: WHAT MAKES A QUALITY TEA?
A: A quality tea is a joint matter of location, climate, variety of the plant, plucking method, plucked part of the plant, plucking time, processing steps and the expertise of the farmer. If the tea grows in right place (e.g. if it grows under a shade it grows slower making the flavors more interesting), in the right climate, if the variety is of good quality (and no blending of the varieties), hand-picked, the tea is newly picked (the top parts of the tea plant contain the freshest and best flavors and most nutrients) and if the tea is processed thoroughly and well without crushing the tea leaves, then you can say that the tea is of great quality. You need to know the farmer and their methods as well as see the final leaf before being able to tell if that's a quality product. Read more on the blog: Quality teas.
If you don't know these factors mentioned above, you don't know if your tea is a high quality tea.
Q: what is the difference between tea bags and loose leaf tea?
A: The majority of the tea bags contain the lowest degree of tea called dust and fannings. There's a big difference in comparison with tea leaves, as quality tea leaves have minimal breakage. Dust and fanning are often created by the CTC method (more information in the question about orthodox teas).
Tea gets its flavors in the steeping process when the leaf opens, and because there are no leaves in dust and fannings, the flavor is really off, creating a bitter and strong liquid. Tea bags often hold 1,5g of tea dust. When you compare 1,5g of dust tea with proper loose leaf tea (especially if it's whole leaf tea), you notice the difference. Tea leaves need a lot of space to get bigger in the steeping process and you see from a proper loose leaf tea that the leaves open and get bigger slowly. In dust tea the size is exactly the same after the steeping as it was before the steeping, because there are no leaves unfurling.
Q: is there any difference between loose leaf tea and whole leaf tea?
A: A big one. Whole leaf tea can be loose leaf tea and broken leaves can be loose leaf tea. Whole leaf tea is just more descriptive because then you know that the tea consists only whole, unbroken or uncut leaves. Broken leaf tea is a lower quality than whole leaf tea, as the leaves have been damaged and cut into smaller pieces. You can read more about that on the blog: Pro Tea Tip: Choose whole leaf teas.
Q: what is orthodox way of doing tea?
A: The orthodox method is the traditional way of doing tea, where the technique takes decades to master, where there's only great respect for the tea leaf, nature and the classic way of producing tea. In orthodox method all tea is hand-picked with utmost care, picking only the best top parts of the plant (as they contain the freshest taste and most nutrients), process the leaves as they have been processed for centuries: with time and expertise without any machines that take away the artisan work. The tea leaves are never ground to smaller pieces, although broken leaves can be produced the Orthodox way. Tea is of good quality, as the tea leaves won't get destroyed. Our tea leaves are always the top category of specialty teas: whole leaf only.
Opposite to Orthodox is the CTC method, that's used in the mass-producing countries like India, Kenya, Sri Lanka. CTC stands for Crush, Tear, Curl, and is really descriptive of the method: you really grind the leaves into very small particles, process and agitate the leaves so that they would process faster and would fit into a smaller space, so that the margin of the product would be the maximum. That's not a quality product, but unfortunately that's the product that we in the Western countries still count as tea.
In short: orthodox tea production preserves the unique, complex and authentic attributes of the leaf while CTC is about faster, cheaper production of a standard quality of tea, altering the flavor towards generic, strong and astringent.
Q: how can i make great tea at home?
A: First you need to know what tea you're brewing. Is it a white, black, oolong, yellow, green or puer tea? All the teas have their own unique characteristics and there are no universal brewing instructions for each type of tea. However a rule of thumb is: boiling water for black and puer, ca 70-80 degrees for green, yellow and white, and 80-90 degrees for oolong. Try measuring about 1g of tea to 1dl of water. Brewing time ca 1-2 minutes for green, white, yellow and oolong and ca 2-3 minutes for black and puer. Ditch the old infuser balls and buy a proper infuser where the tea really can unfold.
Q: why is transparency in tea so important?
A: We've seen how unethical tea trading is and we are chocked how little people are aware of the situation. That's why we are making everything differently and hope this will catch on. When tea is bought straight from the farmer, the road is 100% transparent. When choosing farmers, it's important to get to know them and their values. The majority of teas are traded my multiple middlemen and the connection to the origin disappears. The information how the tea is processed, where it's grown and when it's picked is the most important things when evaluating whether the tea is of great quality or not. We only choose farmers, that share our values and with their actions improve sustainability and social awareness in the tea world. We are passionate to make a change and we do that by being absolutely blunt about what's going on in the world. We want to explain the conscious side of things: how is the tea traded today and what impacts it makes in the bigger picture. Then want to open up the concept of quality tea and what all it entails. Because in order to create change people need to be informed of the status quo and offer them a better way.
Being transparent is one one the most important things a company can have. If the company doesn't tell everything about the product and its origin, either there's something to hide or the company isn't that acquainted in the subject.
Q: direct trade? how is tea traded normally?
A: Normally it's the big companies that dictate the selling price, tea farmers seldom have a say in this. The big companies want to buy tons of tea with a low cost. That's why we have tea bags and dust in them. The road from plantation to the buyer has several middlemen, often via estate factory, to auction and to distributers. From there the tea often goes to separate blenders/packers and first then to wholesalers and retailers.
Direct Trade tea means the tea comes straight from the tea farm to the retailer. Quality-conscious retailers understand the importance of transparency and traceability, as the knowledge of origin tells everything about the quality of the tea.
Hopefully this way of trading will get more popular as people increasingly question their products' origin and highlight the transparency.
Read more about Direct Trade and traceability on the blog: Transparency in regular tea.