Chinese Green Tea - A Guide to Purchasing Quality Tea

As an example the local Chinese price for 500 gms of Dragon Well tea (the most popular green), could vary between $US 3 and $US 3,000 (ie a 1000 fold difference) related to perceived quality. (ie similar to the price difference for a cheap bottle of Chardonnay versus a vintage produced in limited quantities by a respected well known brand). Since the local Chinese market is relatively mature with experienced buyers, the local populace generally understands and accepts this - but other buyers, particularly westerners can become confused by the quality differentials within the same Chinese tea type (ie Dragon Well Tea).

Are all teas labelled with 'premium' quality good quality?

Short Answer : No. There are teas on the market labelled 'exotic' and 'authentic' of very low quality, or with inadequate packaging or storage to enable quality retention.

How important is the geographic association with a tea type?

Tea is an extremely traditional product. It takes a long history to refine the art of production particular to a type of tea produced in an area with conditions favouring that tea variety. For example Dragon Well tea is traditionally produced in the Western Lake area in ZheJiang province, which as a tradition of the best plants and natural conditions for this tea plant. Competition between tea producers in the area has attracted the best craftsmen to grow, harvest and make this tea type. Techniques that give an edge are a closely guarded secret and passed down through families. As such, one would not associate say FuJian Province (where the best Oolong teas are produced) with quality Dragon Well Tea.

Indications of quality green tea

Packaging and storage: This is especially important for green teas. High quality teas, exposed to high temperature, air (oxidation), light and foreign order will deteriorate quickly.

Vacuum sealed and refrigerated after production is an indicator of good quality teas. By contrast Green Tea left sitting on a grocery store shelves, even if in a glossy container (and especially if the container is a glass bottle) rarely are of high quality, since tea quality is degraded by exposure to room temperatures and light.

Appearance: Premium quality teas always have the right appearance.

- Leaf shape: differing green tea varieties may have different shapes as a result of tea making processes - strings, flat, needle shape, spiral and ball shape. Dragon Well tea for instance is a flat tea, the tea leaves ought to be full bodied, flat and smooth.
- Tenderness of the leaves: green teas are made of tender leaf tips, not more than one bud, two leaves.
- The abundance of white fur on the back of the leaves is also a good indicator as to the freshness and youth of the tea leaves.

Colour: This also varies with the type of tea. Some quality indicators include glossily/fresh green, dark green or green with "tinny" yellow (such as Dragon Well). Indications of low quality are: a variety of tea shapes/lack of body, leaves of various stages (young and old), dull/dark/lack of gloss in colour.

In summary then, by example, Dragon Well Tea quality is indicated by flat full leaves of consistent size that are a green with "tinny" yellow leaf colour.

Future Valley Green Tea articles will describe specific quality characteristics of other tea types.

Brewed tea and taste/appearance of quality:

Freshly brewed, a good quality tea should yield:

- A clear tea liquid.
- A fresh aroma.
- A refreshing first taste.
- A lingering after taste.

Indications of low quality: the liquid is cloudy (don't confuse with the presence of floating fur from young tea leaves which indicates good quality). a bitter or moldy taste. lack of flavour or freshness.

Hints for purchasing premium grade green tea:

- A quality supplier: quality tea is far more than growing the plants and drying the tea leaves. There is no lack of self claimed 'tea experts', Chinese or otherwise offering 'quality' or 'premium' teas. A naive consumer could be open to large "mark ups" since there is such a wide range of quality on supply. Understand who your supplier is and their connections.
- Ask for samples or try small quantities first. Check that the samples match the pictures on the web.
- Compare prices based on quality! This may take experience. Price alone does not mean much in a market that has not matured.
- There are suppliers using limited amount of teas leaves mixed with much cheaper ingredients, eg. gogi and roses. True quality teas are 'dew from heaven (Chinese tea scripture)' and have no need for additives to mask flavour.

Users Reading this article are also interested in:
Top Searches on Tea Guide:
Bed And Breakfast Guide Gogi Juice
About The Author, Jetfly
Wu Yi Source offers even more excellent reasons to start drinking wu-yi tea. Learn more about the wu yisource system and see how it can help you look great and get healthier.