In case you are not a tea connoisseur and are just about embarking on your tea journey, you need some help and guidance on selecting and buying your tea. If you visit a supermarket you shall find various tea brands selling numerous teas at different price points. So, where do you start? How do you know which tea to buy and why one tea is more expensive than other? Or, in simple terms what determines the premiumness or price of a tea? Here is a very simple thumb rule for you for your next tea purchase.. Keep these mind and you will always identify the best tea in each of its category.
Before I begin let me clarify that I shall only be discussing orthodox teas (please see here for definition https://itsourcuppatea.wordpress.com/2018/03/31/why-you-should-drink-orthodox-tea/ ).
Here are the 5 things to keep in mind:
- The origin of tea
- The season of tea manufacture
- Single estate or tea blends
- The leaf sizes
- The type of tea
Though these are serial numbered here, when you use them for selection process, they are to be considered all together. So, let me explain each of the above:
- The origin of Tea – Origin here means country of origin / region / province, for example – Hunan province of China, Darjeeling region of India, Nuwara Eliya region of Sri Lanka, etc. The tea quality and therefore, value changes with different origin. So, even though the major producing countries for tea are China, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya, a tea from China or India could be more expensive (better quality) than that of a tea from Sri Lanka or Kenya. For example a green tea from China can be more expensive than a green tea from Sri Lanka, as well as from a green tea in India, say Assam. Similarly a Black Tea like Darjeeling can be expensive than a black tea from Assam (both in India) as well as than a black tea from Sri Lanka or Kenya, or even China (though China is primarily known for its green teas).
- The season of the tea – Tea is cultivated (plucked and manufactured) 3 times a year in some regions, and 4 times in some others. However these seasonal cultivations are most prominent for the Darjeeling teas, where each season produces a different kinds of teas. The seasonal produce here is called the Flush, and the spring produce is the first flush, summer the second and autumn the third. Darjeeling doesn’t typically produce any tea in winter due to the weather conditions. The first flush or the spring produce which is plucked and manufactured during March – April is the most expensive and valued tea of the region. They fetch very high prices in the international market. The prices go down with the flush.
In other regions, season doesn’t make much of a difference.
- Single estate or tea blends – It’s a no brainer that a single estate tea will be more expensive than a blend of tea from different gardens or estate. Here again, Darjeeling in particular, is also known by its various very famous tea estates like Makaibari, Castleton, Arya, Badamtam, Gopaldhara etc. The teas from each of these estates are almost like collector’s editions and are considered very premium.
- The leaf sizes – This is a little technical stuff but I shall try to keep it single. Simply put a whole leaf tea will be much more valuable than a tea that consists mainly of broken leaves, or broken leaves and twigs. Also if the tea is all leaves and buds then it is even more expensive. On the tea boxes you shall see terms like OP, FOP, TGFOP which only means the sizes and shapes of tea leaves. For more details, please see here : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_leaf_grading . Just keep in mind that these grading are only applicable for black teas.
- Type of Tea – Last but not the least, the type of tea – white, green, oolong, black, will also ascertain the value of the tea. A white tea will be more expensive than green which may or may not be more expensive than an oolong tea (again this depends on the origin), but definitely more expensive than a black tea.
Just to give you an example : A single estate Darjeeling First flush white tea will be the most expensive tea in India.
The subject is much more complicated than these simple steps. However, I have tried to give a very basic explanation on why some teas are more expensive than others and what are the things that you should look for before you buy your tea and pay a certain price.
Hope this helps. And if you have any questions, you are most welcome to ask me here or drop me a DM at my Twitter Handle or at my Instagram profile. I shall be happy to help.
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