“If you like it, then it's good tea”
Many Chinese tea vendors and tea producers out there
This is a line I hear quite often and to some extent, I agree. Everybody enjoys different things and have different tastes. If you enjoy it, who am I to say it’s bad?
That attitude I find, from the perspective of a tea vendor, doesn’t quite cut it and really, is a bit of a cop out. As a tea vendor, our aim is to bring you the best teas we can find, and to show you something that’s unique and of quality. How do we decide if it's of quality though?
While we do take tea seriously, we don't go through and attempt to judge/grade every single tea that we sample or check it off against some specific list of criteria. Where's the fun in that? That being said, there are 3 specific things that we do generally look for when it comes to deciding whether or not what we're drinking is in fact "good tea." And a little hint, it goes beyond "it smells and tastes good."
AROMA IN THE TEA LIQUOR
Can you taste the tea's aroma in the tea liquor? Is the tea's aroma reflected in its flavour or, do the leaves only smell nice but, when you go to brew the tea, all you can taste is water? Usually, lower quality teas or, teas that have had flavourings or essential oils added will smell fragrant and aromatic, but, when you go to brew them, the aromas disappear far too quickly and what you're left with is a thin, flavourless brew that almost tastes like water. What you smell isn’t what you taste and in fact, the flavours are usually very one dimensional.
With good teas, what you smell is also what you taste and more. The aroma of good tea is complex and gradually reveals itself to you in the tea liquor as you drink it. So more than just considering whether or not we simply like the flavour and aroma of a particular tea, we also consider whether or not you can taste the aroma in the tea liquor.
Is there a pleasant but more importantly, a lingering aftertaste to the tea that you’re drinking? We’ve found that the flavour of lower quality teas tend to disappear quite quickly, and sometimes, even before you’ve swallowed the tea, leaving you wanting. Great teas leave a pleasant, lingering aftertaste that hangs around long after you’ve drunk the tea. As one tea producer explained it to us (and we’re paraphrasing + translating here):
Think of where the flavour stops in the tea that you’re drinking. With lower quality teas, the flavour stops almost immediately at the front of your tongue (too thin and the flavours don't stick) while others travel to the back of the tongue (better but still leaves you wanting). Good tea has an aftertaste that lingers down to your throat, and the best teas linger even longer and return flavours all the way from your gut.
Now, we’re not saying that great tea makes you throw it back up; it’s more to do with how long does the aftertaste and sensation of the tea linger and stay with you after you’ve drunk it. It’s something that you really get once you’ve had a chance to experience it and understand what to look out for but, is definitely one of the things that we consider when judging whether a particular tea is good or not.
Everyone always talks about flavour and aroma but surprisingly, not many talk about the texture of the tea. Maybe because for a lot of tea out there, there isn’t much texture at all and it’s just thin and watery. When it comes to Chinese teas though, texture is just as, if not more important than the flavour of the tea. When hanging out with many Chinese tea drinkers and connoisseurs in China, oftentimes, they’ll comment on the texture of the tea first (it’s smooth, rough etc) before mentioning anything about flavour or aroma. Different types of tea will have different textures but in general, no matter the tea, you want something that’s smooth, a little thick and mouth filling. It shouldn’t feel like you’re drinking flavoured water because good tea is much more than that. Tea shouldn’t be harsh or rough either and as weird as it sounds, lower quality teas have textures that can only be described as feeling rough.
While each of the different tea types – white, green, oolong, red/black and dark teas – also have specific category level criteria that we won't go into in this post, if you keep the above 3 points in mind anytime you try out a new tea, it might open up your experience and appreciation for when you do encounter truly great quality tea. Think of it more as a basic framework on which you can use to start to experience different teas in a deeper, more meaningful manner.
Happy brewing :)
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