Next time you’re settling in with your favorite cup of comfort tea, close your eyes before you sip, and inhale. Your senses will give you your first clue as to why tea has, for centuries, been equated with relaxation and a sense of wellbeing.
Most tea aficionados have a tea of choice based, most often, on aroma. We all have our individual tastes and preferences, and as senses go, we recognize that taste and smell go hand in hand. One of the greatest aspects of what we do here at A&E Coffee & Tea is making sure we always have a wide variety of loose leaf teas available, so you can experience for yourself the subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – differences.
Because we understand that a perfect cup of tea begins with quality leaves, we are choosy about the teas we serve and sell. There are six main criteria we look for when purchasing teas to present to our customers:
Look of the leaf:
Tea leaves should primarily be whole, which is what we feature at A&E. Although sometimes difficult to discern visually, depending on the type of tea or blend, generally speaking tea 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.
Aroma of the dry tea:
This refers more to a straight tea rather than a 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 or which have a chemical smell – a good indication that the flavoring component was not natural.
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.
Color of the liquid:
The cup should be clean and represent the type of tea. Some blacks steep to a dark red and some whites are pale green to yellow in your cup. If a black tea is yellow, then there is a problem. This criteria requires that you know what color the liquid should be, although in most cases, it is fairly obvious.
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.
Flavor the 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, pu-erh, oolong. If all the other criteria are satisfactory, and there is still an off flavor, then an error in the steeping method occurred. It is important to note how you steeped the tea, as water-to-tea ratio, water temperature and steep time are all important factors.
Ultimately, the essence of tea is to take time to prepare your cup and also to take time to enjoy it.
For us here at A&E, being conscious of these six criteria and passing along this information to you is how we honor the tradition of tea – something we take to heart, so that your tea drinking experience warms and sustains you, mind, body and spirit.
Read our previous posts if you’d like to learn more about the history of tea or how tea is processed.