What to Look For When Buying Loose Leaf Teas

                                           And conversely, if a tea seller has few or no testimonials, well, that kind of speaks for
itself, too, don’t you think?  (Unless, of course, they’re a brand new company).
With so many teas available today, the problem becomes choosing what you want to
buy.  I always advise buying small amounts of any new tea.  Some companies even offer
small sample packets so you can do a taste test on several different teas inexpensively.

New advances in technology such as vacuum packaging, and air freight, have given us
access to a cornucopia of teas we didn’t have a decade ago.  We now can sample from
teas produced in small batches, from small, local tea farmers, from some of the best tea
producing countries in the world, such as

ChinaJapan, and India, delivered fresh to our doorstep.So don’t be afraid to try new teas often, or you’ll be missing out on so many delightful, flavorful, and

healthy teas
that are now available to us.  As always, 

Cleanliness – Next to Godliness

For years buying tea meant grabbing a box of Lipton black tea bags from the
shelf of your local supermarket.
But today it’s a different story.  We have nearly unlimited choice of not only
loose leaf teas, but a variety of styles and flavors of bagged tea as well, all
available from specialty tea shops, online tea sellers, and by mail order.
Unfortunately with the myriad of choices,
comes the dilemma of what to buy and how
to know what you’re getting is good, fresh,
quality tea.
Although there’s no surefire 100% guaran-
tee, I have a few tips and suggestions on
what to do and look for, both in person and
online, or by mail order, to help you get the
best teas possible.

One of the first things you should do before
setting out, is to familiarize yourself with the
types of tea you’re interested in buying.

Get an idea of what the tea should look like.
Is it round, shaped like a small pellet, like

gunpowder tea, one of China’s oldest tumble dried green teas?  Or are you searching for Bai Hao
Yin Zhen or
 Silver Needleone of China’s white teas, that gets its name because it is covered
with soft silvery hairs and rolled needle thin.
You may also want to check on what the tea’s growing cycles are, for
example, is it a spring or fall harvested tea.  You also shouldn’t see stems
or debris in the tea, (with the exception of kukicha tea) and the leaves
should all be of a similar size and shape.

Smaller pieces of leaf

brew faster than larger, so all tea leaves should be
of a uniform size and quality.
Another step you might want to take before heading out, is to research
the average price of the teas you’re planning to buy.  Go online and com-
pare several different sources, and you should be able to get a good average ballpark price, for
the same size and

type of tea you’re shopping for.

If shopping in person, take note of the clean-
liness, assortment, and staff.  Are you greet-
ed with a smile, and does the staff seem eag-
er to help you?  At first glance, is the store
clean and does the merchandise pop, or does
it look tired, and dusty?
Is there a smaller assortment of well
tended teas…or a huge assortment of
musty looking packages that look as
though they’ve seen better days?  A
large assortment of teas in which to
choose from is nice, but if it’s not turn-
ing over and current and selling well,
with steady buyers, it’s just a big waste
for everyone.

And, while we’re on the topic of freshness, as a rule of thumb, proprietary brands – tea
bought in bulk by independent tea merchants and packaged under their name in tins,
foil sacks, and tie bags, is generally fresher than branded
teas, packaged by the big tea companies.

Now, moving on to mail order and online tea merchants.
One of the first things you should do is to check out their
catalog or website.  Is the information easy to understand
and are the prices clearly marked?  Or, is their catalog or
website a cluttered mess, filled with marketing lingo and
self-promotion and hype, rather than useful information about their products?

Whenever I order online or by mail order, I like to call and talk to a “live” person the first
time ordering.  You can learn a lot about a company by talking to them in person.

First off, is the staff friendly and seem genuinely interested in helping
you, rather than just pushing for a sale?  Secondly, they should be
able to answer any questions you have and be knowledgeable about
all their products (I usually ask a few general questions I already
know the answer to, just as a little test).

But you should feel free to ask about anything and get a clear an-
swer.  Ask about the growing cycles and when a new crop of fresh
tea will be available.  If you don’t understand the

 grading  terms, or
markings on tins and packaging, ask about it.  You’ve heard the say-
ing – the only stupid question is the one not asked.  So true.
Another useful way to check out an online tea vendor, is by reading their customer
testimonials. If they have plenty of positive customer testimonials backing up the pro-
ducts and seller, chances are they’re a good choice.  Testimonials are given voluntarily,
so if someone takes the time to praise a product or seller, it’s pretty safe to say you can
trust that.