You've probably felt the pain when beautifully aromatic tea ends in disappointment.
Your taste buds are eager. You take a sip and but your heart sinks.
Is that just the nature of tea? A cup of hollow promises?
The good news is not all tea tastes like dishwater. There's a hidden world of beautiful tea out there.
You just aren't likely to find it on your supermarket shelf.
For centuries, tea companies have peddled tonnes of poor quality tea by dousing it with aromatics.
Earl Grey tea? Originally flavoured with bergamot oil as a taste enhancer for bad tea. Nowadays synthetic flavours are used to make it even cheaper.
No wonder so many of us don't like Earl Grey.
(Unless you've tried this Earl Grey.)
Deception is an easy sell.
Truth can be harder to find.
Ever since we founded Tielka in 2009, I've been fascinated by the effect of truth-telling through tea.
A year before Tielka was launched, I received some tea samples directly from tea gardens in the Yunnan and Hubei Provinces of China.
The samples didn't look like tea. They looked like art. Each variety unique. Each leaf with its own story of the hands that created it.
There was nothing worth hiding.
A group of friends sampled the tea. "Is it really tea?", they asked. "I never knew tea could taste like this!", "I thought tea was only the dusty stuff you find in a tea bag!"
We've been purchasing tea from these growers ever since.
How to Recognise Good Quality Tea
Here are three easy ways to instantly recognise good quality tea.
1. The size of the leaf
Generally the smaller the leaf, the lower the quality (yes, this rule has limits).
Tea dust is the stuff you find in your supermarket tea bag. Otherwise known as "floor sweepings". It belongs on the floor, in your garden, or in your rubbish bin after you sweep it up.
A larger leaf is often a sign of good quality. Whole leaves or larger chunks of leaf retain flavours and nutrients that are otherwise lost when tea is cut down to dust.
2. The consistency of the leaf
When the cut and shape of the leaf has patterns of consistency, you know the tea is good. It is designed to bring out the best flavour profile, there is a complex range of layers bringing depth to your first sip through to the aftertaste. It takes time, experience, and care to create consistency, so this comes at a cost.
3. The colours in the leaf
Let's take black tea for example.
When tea leaves are processed to create black tea, the leaf colour is black. When tea buds are processed, the bud colour is golden. Tea buds are leaf tips that are not yet developed/unfurled. They are more prized for their flavour, the sweetness, smooth mouth-feel. Tea buds are rare, they cost more.
A high-quality black tea will be speckled with gold (the buds) and you will know it by its lingering, sweet flavour.
As a rule, vibrant, life-giving colours in your tea leaves are a sign of good quality.
They may not even have a strong aroma, but the flavour. Yes. You know it.