With the growing interest in tea, the opportunities to buy high-quality products are also increasing. You may be able to find decent teas at a specialty food store but the best tea purchases are to be made at tea shops and tea houses. Good teas are available online as well but it is much more difficult to assess the quality of the tea before making a purchase. When buying online, try a few samples of the tea to first assess the retailer’s quality before making a large purchase.
At the tea shop, loose leaf teas should be stored in airtight caddies. It is possible to buy some teas prepackaged but most of the product is usually sold by weight. This allows you to first buy a small amount, not only to test the tea but also the retailer. Are they selling good quality teas or are you disappointed with the product? How was the customer service and is the staff knowledgeable? It is also a good practice to purchase smaller quantities of tea often rather than to buy large amounts infrequently. You don’t want to run risk of the tea spoiling or drying out before you have a chance to enjoy it.
When looking to buy premium loose-leaf teas, you’ll need to rely on all of your senses to assess their quality. These will serve you better than any guide on how to buy tea, but here are some important characteristics to keep in mind anyway:
- The color of the leaf – If you are buying Pouchong tea (an oolong fromChina) for example, you’ll want to make sure that the leaves you purchase have the characteristic black color. Never purchase leaves that look faded or old.
- Size and shape – Apart from a few exceptions, a batch of tea should contain leaves with a consistent size and shape. Again, if you are purchasing Pouchong tea, you would be looking for leaves that have a long shape.
- Smell – The aroma of the tea should be attractive without any unpleasant surprises. A tea’s scent will be strong for some types, fainter with others, and should never take on the odor of its packaging.
- Time of Year – Based on a little background research, if you know that the tea you would like to buy is harvested in the spring and it is currently March, you may want to wait a few months to make your purchase when the tea is at its freshest.
- The color, aroma, and flavor of the tea liquor – Certain colors, smells, and flavors are expected for a particular type of tea. Generally, the infusions of black teas have a reddish color. Oolongs tend to have an orange-brown liquor and green teas are usually a pale yellow-green. If possible, taste the tea liquor before you buy the tea.
- The color and the aroma of the wet tea leaves – Also if possible before buying, examine the tea leaves after they are steeped. The hot water will expand the leaves and they will look much they like did before manufacture.
If you are unsure about making a tea purchase, ask the staff questions. They should be knowledgeable about the teas they are selling and will be able to help you find a tea that is suited to your tastes and needs. Let them know how you would like to enjoy the tea. Maybe you are looking for a green tea to drink in the mornings or a black tea for special occasions. Having your tea-drinking habits in mind should help to narrow down the choices considerably and make the first buying experiences a lot less overwhelming.