Quality and variety in tea is – as is the production of wine, coffee, cocoa or any other natural products - subjected to a number of variables.
Colour, character and notes are largely determined by the location of the plantation. What climate predominates the area? Is it mostly warm? Or cold? Do seasons change violently? Or not? Is it wet? Or very dry? On what kind of soil are the tea plants grown? How are the tea plants treated during cultivation? These variables all influence the growth of the tea plant and therefore the development of the leaves. It is the starting point of the development of certain notes in the leaves. Also the method of picking, the type of leaves being picked, the processing of the leaves and the way you prepare your tea will be a large part of the final cup of tea.
2. Leave gradation
The quality of tea in the well-known tea bags from your local supermarket varies a lot from loose leaf teas. Generally those supermarket-bags contain residue that comes off the production of loose leaf teas. At the end of the production process tea leaves will dry in bamboo baskets and/or dry chambers. All the bits, pieces, grains and chaff that seep through those baskets are collected and offered to the well-known supermarket brands. Also loose leaves are categorized in a number of quality gradations. Much of this has to do with the age of the tea leaves. Leaves that are allowed to grow for a longer period of time will become larger; the smaller fresher leaves are located more upwards on the branch and generally produce a more refined tea.
Click on THIS link to read more about leave gradations.
In this context quantity means both the amount of leaves that are produced on a single plantation as well as the amount of tea that are bought by tea merchants. A large number of plantations produce a bulk product, which will come at the expense of flavour and leaf quality. Unfortunately, to boost up production a lot of toxic additives and artificial fertilizers are used on many plantations. Besides production-quantity there are also a lot of large merchants buying tea in huge quantities. Often they are united in larger corporations of cooperating tea companies. Buying huge quantities gives the advantage of being able to suppress prices, but the disadvantage is creating large stocks in the warehouses of the merchants. Storing tea for a long time in a warehouse causes the leaves to lose partly their strength, flavour and freshness. Leaves will become somewhat stale, which will lead to a less desirable cup of tea. The production house of Maison THEODOR organizes its procurement with regard to the processing and selling of the teas, with a maximum of six to eight weeks of stock for the major part of its varieties.
Tea can be prepared as a pure product of which the leaves itself will give off their characteristic notes. Preparing tea the right way is the fine art of getting the optimal flavours out of the leaves. (See: information on how to prepare your tea). Excellent fresh tea leaves will give you rich flavours, sweetness, depth and a full aftertaste. Apart from the pure leaves from a single variety (or plantation) it is also possible to create blends of pure leaves which will create new notes (e.g. British Breakfast, which gives robust notes from the Assam-tea and hints of fruits and nuts from the lighter Darjeeling-tea).
Throughout the centuries it has become common in Europe to add flavours to tea leaves. We then talk about about ‘perfuming’ or ‘flavouring’ the tea leaves. This may sound quite chemical, but it doesn’t need to be that way at all. Choosing the right natural ingredients – like a gourmet chef in a restaurant – will partly also make up for the quality of your cup of tea.
On THIS page you can read more about flavouring tea leaves or herbs.