Six criteria for selecting tea

August 25, 2011

By now you know that August is Tea Month at A&E Coffee Roastery & Tea. We have featured a handful of teas each week to bring awareness to the diversity of tea and our tea program. Most customers select a tea based on how it looks and how it smells. However, there are actually six criteria we look at when we purchase a tea:

1. Look of the leaf:
Since we feature whole-leaf tea, the tea leaves should primarily be whole. That can sometimes be difficult to identify depending on the type of tea or the blend. However, the leaves should be of similar size for a consistent steep; they should be uniform in color and be consistent with tea of the style or type; and they should have a clean appearance with minimal broken leaves, stems or tea dust.

2. Aroma of the dry tea:
This refers more to a straight tea; not flavored tea. The aroma should be that of tea, not plastic or cardboard. The aroma may be delicate or robust depending on the tea, but it should reflect the origins of the leaf and plant. Flavored teas should smell like the flavoring, but we have come across a few that are too strong and chemical-y; which is a good indication that the flavoring component was not natural.

3. Aroma of the steeped tea:
Tea, like coffee and wine, has complex flavor notes. Some teas are subtle and more simple in flavor, and others are much more complex. The flavor notes are a reflection of the tea cultivar, the growing region and the processing style. In general, the aroma should be enticing and reflective of the style of tea. Off flavors can occur in processing, storage and transportation. Common descriptions include floral, bamboo, grass, crisp, musky and smoky. Again, flavored teas should have a clean, clear natural flavor representative of the ingredients.

4. Color of the liquid:
The cup should be clean and represent the type of tea. Some blacks steep to a dark red color and some whites are pale green to yellow. If a black tea is yellow, then there is a problem. This criterion requires that you know what color the liquid should be; although in most cases, it is fairly obvious.

5. Aroma and Appearance of the wet leaf:
The rehydrated leaf should look similar to the leaf in its original state. The size and shape should reflect the leaf that was picked. Depending on the type of tea that is being processed, the leaves can be small or large. The aroma should smell like a tea leaf and reflect the aroma while the tea was steeping.

6. Flavor of the liquid:
Here is the ultimate test. The flavor should represent all the other criteria. There will be nuances of flavor: highs and lows, fruity, floral, spice. The flavor notes in the aroma should be present in the sip. The taste should be pleasing and enjoyable. You should be able to identify the type of tea; white, black, green, puerh, oolong. If all the other criteria are satisfactory, and there is still an off flavor, then there may be an error in the steeping method. It is important to note how you steeped the tea, since water-to-tea ratio, water temperature and steep time are all important factors.

The essence of tea is to take time to prepare your cup and take time to enjoy it. These six criteria are another way of taking the time to enjoy the process of making tea.

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