What to Look for When Buying Japanese Tea
Because there is a lot of money to be made by selling cheap tea that appears to be high quality, there are a few things you should look out for before you spend your hard earned money.
Variety: This is the most basic way to screen teas. 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 a tea, otherwise it’s possible for them to find the cheapest leaves, and try to convince customers its a more expensive tea.
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.
Source: Finally, finding the source of where a tea is produced can be a good way of judging the quality. 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!