One of the first pieces of advice I can share about buying tea is to consider why you are buying it. Are you buying it for the health benefits? Are you a tea enthusiast who wants to enjoy premium quality tea? Do you just need a quick hot beverage?
BUY LOOSE LEAF
Generally speaking, the quality of tea sold by the tea behemoths in tea bags is low quality. It is a convenient warm beverage, but, like hot dogs, may have been swept up off the floor. I don’t mean to sound arrogant or elitist. Tea bags have their purpose and I have used them too. Of course, if you try a premium loose leaf tea, you’ll be amazed at the quality difference. The good news is you can increasingly find quality loose leaf tea in new and improved tea bags. For what it is worth, I did not see many tea bags in use during the time I lived in Japan and China. There are lots of tea pots, of varying styles, which make the need for a tea bag unnecessary. Personally, I find the tea is the most flavorful and aromatic if it is loose leaf.
BUY FROM TRUSTED SELLERS
Know who you are buying from. When I do online shopping for tea, I always check the seller’s web page and look at what other products they are selling on sites like Amazon.com or Ebay. I am shocked sometimes to see what else sellers are selling besides tea. I once saw a seller selling tea and tires. What do you think the odds are the tea was decent quality? It was an opportunistic seller, trying to flip products, not someone dedicated to tea.
Another reason the seller is important is because you want to know the tea is healthy. I see a lot of overseas sellers selling tea on Amazon.com. They are not in the US and not technically subject to Food & Drug Administration guidelines. They are shipping directly from their overseas location. If you check out the English on their site, you can usually tell it is being sold from overseas. I don’t mean to disparage all overseas sellers. I am confident there are many good ones. However, you need to understand as much about the tea growing and processing as possible. Sadly, pesticides are used in excess and chemicals are used to artificially produce tea flavor or smell. Whoever you buy tea from, make sure they are reputable and know the tea source.
MAKE SURE ORGANIC IS ORGANIC
Even organic certification, doesn’t necessarily assure a quality tea. It helps, but just make sure you check the certification. Is it USDA organic certified, certified by a US state, certified by Europe, some other country, or just made up? There are lots of Amazon.com sellers claiming organic certification, without the certification. Ultimately, ask yourself do you believe the organic certification?
Of course, there are terrific organic teas, which aren’t certified organic. Our teas are not USDA organic certified, at least not yet. We are a startup and the cost of certification is very high. Instead we visit the tea farm and deal with reputable people we can trust. All tea goes through health inspection before being exported from China. Of course, if a Chinese tea seller ships via Fedex or one of the other carriers, it skips this important health inspection step.
Ultimately, there are many good and reputable sellers in the market. Do your research and taste the tea. Try to understand how the tea is stored. Good tea, if stored improperly, can disappoint. I can think of one large tea company, which sells loose leaf tea that tends to disappoint. Buy from people you trust, whether it is Bamboo Mist Tea LLC or another reputable tea purveyor.
CONSIDER THE TERROIR
Terroir is another important factor to consider. Similar to wine, the location of the tea plant has a big impact on the smell, flavor, and color of the tea. The climate, altitude, and soil all influence the tea quality and taste. While I can tell you that white teas of Fujian Province, China or puer teas from Yunan Province, China are the best in the world, the specific location of the tea plants within those vast areas makes a big difference between good and great. For us, it came down to having lots of personal relationships with tea masters in those areas and taking lots of trips to try different teas. When you buy tea, the more information you have on the location of the tea plant, the better. It’s a signal the person selling you the tea is aware of the importance of terroir.
If you have any questions about buying tea, from Bamboo Mist Tea LLC or in general, feel free to post on this blog and we’ll do our best to get you a prompt answer.