As the buyer for Mei Leaf, I have to taste hundreds of teas each year and try to quickly assess the quality of the tea. Of course, quality assessments are personal but here are some of my insider tips on the key quality markers which I recommend you use to judge quality.
In this video, I compare the experience of tasting a tea to a date to give you my impressions of the value of each quality marker.
1. APPEARANCE OF THE LEAVES - ‘the Tinder Pic’
While the visual appearance of a tea can reveal a broad idea of its quality it can be deceptive and faked by producers. Do not be fooled by pretty tea - a lot of pretty tea is low quality and produced for appearance and some not so pretty looking tea may taste divine.
I advise seeking tea with the following:
- Whole instead of broken leaves
- Consistent colour palette
- Consistent shape
2. AROMA OF THE LEAVES – ‘the actual appearance’
Aroma is instinctive - are you attracted to this tea? Many people make the mistake of trying to judge a tea by the smell of the dry leaves. This is not going to give you a genuine idea of the quality of the tea and is akin to meeting your date in a very dark bar. So turn on the lights or get out in the sunshine to really see each other. For tea, you do this by hydrating the leaves and is one of the great advantages of rinsing the tea in Gong Fu brewing. You should be searching for:
- Depth & complex aroma
- A balance of bright and deep aromas
- Long lasting aroma even after the initial heat and after multiple infusions
3. TASTE & AROMA OF LIQUOR – ‘the conversation’
While your date might look attractive, the conversation is going to make or break the experience. In the same way, the taste and aroma of the tea liquor is the essential interaction which will make or break your appreciation of the tea.
Exactly like a conversation, the taste and aroma should be enjoyable, interesting and maybe a bit challenging in order to be satisfying. It should have a balance of lightness and depth and should match your personal tastes. So, try to find teas that speak to you through:
- Clear and rich in character
- A balance of light and deep flavours
- Personally enjoyable taste with maybe some challenging aromas
4. MOUTHFEEL – ‘the physical experience’
This is probably the most important of all the markers as it relates to the quality of the leaves. It cannot be faked – much like the physical experience of any relationship.
You are searching for a tea which has a distinct and enjoyable physical experience and I look for:
- A texture which is thicker than water
- Balanced astringency
- Lingering mouth sensation which might be transforming from dry to juicy and tingly
5. LENGTH & FINISH – ‘the day after’
The days after a date, how does that person affect you? Are they easily and quickly forgotten or does their charm persist in your memory?
A hugely important quality marker is the memory of the tea and how long it lasts after swallowing. A great tea has a lingering and transforming taste in the mouth which reveals the depth of character in the leaves and often gives an idea of how many infusions you can get out of the tea.
Search for teas which have:
- Lingering aromas
- Transforming taste
- Fleeting but not persistent bitterness
Use these tips to find your perfect partner (tea of course).