How to choose a good green tea can be just as important as how to brew green tea. In this article, we are going to take you through a short buying guide and give you the 8 things to consider when it comes to how to choose a good green tea. By following this guide, you’ll be able to save money and still enjoy better cups of green tea at home. Without further ado, let’s get started!
8 Golden Rules for how to choose a good green tea
It’s important to at least understand the variety of tea you are buying before evaluating it. There are many different types of teas, and depending on what type of tea its being sold as, you can change your criteria of what to look for. The question of How to choose a good green tea is different for gyokuro compared to fukamushi sencha. When you buy gyokuro tea, you want to look for large, unbroken needles. When it comes to fukamushi, it is okay to have more broken leaves, because the deep steaming process makes the tea leaves more brittle and easily broken. While these broken leaves would normally be a negative quality indicator, it is no problem for fukamushi sencha. It even makes the tea more flavorful, as the smaller leaf particles have a greater surface area, and therefore more of the tea is able to flow into the cup.
We could continue on this subject for a long time, but the important thing to know is that when it comes to how to buy green tea, it is important to have a good understanding of the tea you are looking for, because quality indicators don’t apply to all teas.
2. Don’t buy a tea that is generic
When it comes to how to buy green tea, you want to avoid teas that are being sold under very generic names. Generally speaking, the more specific the category of the tea, the better the quality. For example, a tea called 'Green Tea' at the grocery store is likely to be among the worst quality. A tea called 'Japanese Green Tea' may be slightly better and a tea called 'Gyokuro' will most likely be even better than that. You really want to challenge companies to tell you more about tea, otherwise it’s possible for them to find the cheapest leaves, and try to convince customers it's a more expensive tea.
Another tip on how to choose a good green tea is to look for the cultivar. As we mentioned before, finding out what cultivar the tea comes from gives you even more information about the tea. If you are buying from a high end tea shop, they should know which cultivar each tea comes from. This is an easy way to identify tea suppliers that know a lot about tea. If a tea company goes out of their way to find a rare cultivar like Saemidori or Okumidori, they are likely to be very proud of the fact and make it visible on their packaging. This is not to say that more common cultivars produce worse teas, but by mentioning the cultivar the tea comes from, a supplier is showing their intention of capturing a specific taste profile, rather than just selling a tea.
Finding the source of where a tea is produced can be a good tip when it comes to how to buy green tea. As a company, we are very transparent about which farms produce which teas, but we acknowledge that many companies do not like to give away their suppliers. Suppliers should at the very least provide you with the location or region the tea was produced. The reason for this is that you want to look for single origin teas. Mass produced teas are grown in many different locations around a country, and therefore they aren’t able to capture the subtle nuances of a particular region or processing style. When you buy tea produced in one location, it is more likely that the tea was produced by a smaller operation where the producers were able to capture a more specific flavor profile. These small batch teas are what tea connoisseurs are really looking for, and it can be a fun adventure once you realize that every small batch tea is just a little bit different!
5. Always choose loose leaf and never teabags
The easiest step to follow when it comes to how to buy green tea is to always go for loose leaf tea over teabags. This advice may seem simple enough to follow, but in places like the U.S and U.K, teabags are far more widely used than loose leaf tea. This is sad because teabags tend to be made from very low quality leaves and the material and chemicals in the teabag itself can interfere with the taste of the tea. This means that people that drink teabags are really missing out on the vast spectrum of flavors that can come from loose leaf tea.
The reason teabags are more popular is likely because people dont have the knowledge of how to prepare loose leaf tea, nor do they have the proper tools. We would like to attempt to solve both of these issues by showing people how to prepare loose leaf tea, and giving you all the japanese teaware you need to prepare it in your very own home. Just browse our selection of kyusu teapots to find the best teaware to prepare loose leaf, Japanese green tea.
6. It has to be fresh
When it comes to how to choose a good green tea, you will want to choose tea that is fresh. Tea doesn’t go bad nearly as quickly as other types of packaged goods, and if properly sealed it can retain its flavor for at least a year. That being said, you want to make sure that the packing date of the tea is within the last year. At Nio, all the teas we sell have been packaged within the last year. If it gets too far beyond the packing date, we will give the tea away.
7. Organically grown
Another tip on how to buy green tea is to always make sure you go for organically grown or pesticide free green tea. This is particularly important when it comes to matcha because you are consuming the entire leaf, so you get an even heavier dose of everything that was used in the production process.
If you want to know how to choose a good green tea that is also more sustainable, you will also want to make sure you go for organically grown tea. We have visited many organic and non-organic tea fields and the tea fields that are organically grown are able to support a much more diverse array of flora and fauna. On these fields, we can see wild plant species growing and thriving population of insects, birds and even mammals. By purchasing tea produced on fields like this, you are not only ensuring the tea fields themselves are healthy, but also the surrounding ecosystem as well.
8. Quality of the leaves
When it comes to how to buy green tea you can tell a lot about a green tea just by looking at the leaves. In this short segment, we are going to go over a few different things you can look for in the leaves.
When searching for how to choose a good green tea, you can look at the shape of the leaves to determine whether or not you are getting the tea you are looking for. Gyokuro will have tightly rolled needle shaped leaves, sencha leaves will be slightly flatter and looser, fukamushi sencha will have small leaf particles mixed in kamairicha will be rolled into more curly shapes and tamaryokucha will be rolled into comma shapes. By following this brief guide to leaf shapes, you can make sure you choose a good tea, without buying the wrong kind.
When it comes to how to choose a good green tea, you can actually get a sense of how sweet the leaves are just by looking at them. Dark green leaves will tend to produce sweeter teas, while light green leaves will tend to produce teas with more astringency. This doesn’t mean that either is lower quality, but it will help you select teas based on what you are looking for.
The reason the color changes is due to the shading process. The shading process used to make the tea sweeter, also boosts the chlorophyll in the leaves and makes them greener. This makes it easy to tell unshaded teas apart from shaded teas, and as a result you can actually tell a little bit about the flavor of a tea just by looking at the leaves. For example gyokuro tea will be shaded for the longest time and as a result it will have the sweetest flavor and darkest green leaves. If you are interested in getting a good gyokuro, you now know what to look for!
Scent of dry leaves
A lot of people will claim that the scent of a tea is locked safely inside the rolled tea leaves, waiting to be released as soon as it is exposed to water. While there is a lot of truth to this, it is important to use every sense you have when it comes to how to buy green tea.
This is not necessary when buying tea online of course, but if you ever buy it in person, try your best to smell the leaves and see what you can detect. The explosion of aromas will not come out until the leaves are soaked, but you should be able to get some sense of the flavor just by smelling the dried leaves.
Final words on How to choose a good green tea
When it comes to how to buy green tea, there are many factors to consider, but the only way to choose a tea with near 100% accuracy is to taste it first. This is why we created the mega sampler, a collection of the 30 best green teas we’ve found during our travels throughout Japan. This includes different kinds of matcha, sencha, bancha, hojicha, gyokuro, kukicha, kamairicha and genmaicha. You can try all these teas at once, and buy your favorite teas later. This way you can get a surefire solution to how to choose a good green tea.