How to Evaluate Tea Quality

by Maxine Wallace

High quality jasmine tea for sale at a market.

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Tea is enjoyed for its variety of flavors and appreciated for its antioxidant benefits. However, poor-quality tea can leave you with little-to-no health benefits, as well as a bad taste in your mouth. Evaluate tea before buying it so you get the best possible quality. When you get your tea home, properly brew and store it so you can enjoy it for as long as possible.

Appearance Evaluation

Tea leaf size is a good indicator of quality. While some teas have larger leaves, others are prized for their small, needle-like leaves. Each type of tea has a different size and shape that is an indicator of quality for that particular type. Many black teas are noted for their larger leaves, while some green teas have smaller ones. Additionally, many types of broken leaf teas are of high quality, and due to the smaller leaf sections, the tea can infuse more of its flavor into the water faster. Avoid paper tea bags that contain powdered tea particles, which are typically low-quality teas and most susceptible to rancidity and staleness because of their high surface-to-air ratio.

Color Evaluation

Color is another indication of quality in most types of teas. Whether you are brewing a green, black or oolong tea, some factors are visible that are good indicators of the quality of the tea. Freshly brewed tea should have a vibrant color, whether it is green, brown, amber, golden or red. If your tea is dull, with poor color extraction, it's an indication of low quality. Most teas are clear upon fresh brewing, but some turn cloudy once cooled, which is not an indication of poor quality, but, instead, a characteristic of that particular tea.

Taste and Aroma

When brewed correctly using the right water temperature and brewing time for the particular type of tea, most teas are not bitter; instead, they have a lasting, pleasant flavor and aroma. Some teas are on the bitter side naturally, and in this case, the bitterness should not be overwhelming, but balanced to the tea's other notes. While much of tea's taste is largely subjective from person to person, generally high-quality teas should have unique characteristics based on the varietal and growing conditions of the tea.

Freshness Evaluation

For the best quality and to maintain its high level of antioxidants and vitamins, tea must be fresh. Choose whole leaf teas for the highest quality and freshness available. Source teas from a trusted retailer that has a high turnover. When you get the teas home, store them in an airtight tin container in a cool, dry location. Teas pick up the scents of other items, so avoid storing them near spices, and never refrigerate teas, which can create condensation. Properly stored quality tea can be kept for up to two years.

Photo Credits

  • DENIO RIGACCI/iStock/Getty Images

About the Author

Based in Portland, Ore., Maxine Wallace is a writer with more than 12 years of experience. With a bachelor's degree in journalism and experience working on marketing campaigns for large media agencies, she is well-versed in multiple industries including the Internet, cooking, gardening, health, fitness, travel and holistic living.