8 Differences Between Cheap Tea & Expensive Tea

Expensive tea usually costs more for a reason. There are many reasons why expensive tea is better than cheap tea and we’re going to cover a few of them in this article. 

By learning about these differences, you will also learn how to not overpay for tea. Cheap teas can be sold as expensive teas, without actually being better.

Next time you buy an expensive tea, here is what you should be looking for: 

#1 Leaf quality

expensive tea

Of course the more expensive tea leaves will be used to make more expensive teas. Not all leaves on the tea plant are created equal, and the youngest sprouts on the top of the tea plant are the most sought after. These younger sprouts on the tea plant have a higher nutrient profile, and they tend to have a smoother and sweeter taste.

When you look at the most expensive tea in japan, gyokuro and matcha, they are all made from the youngest leaves. Cheap tea like bancha and genmaicha is made from the older leaves of the tea plant. While these leaves are less desirable, some people like the milder taste and the lower caffeine content.

#2 Appearance

You can also tell the difference between expensive tea and cheap tea by looking at the appearance of the leaves. For the most expensive tea in japan, gyokuro you want to look for large, unbroken needles and a darker color. This indicates that the leaves have a high theanine content and that they were carefully processed.

While these large needles are something to look for in teas like gyokuro and kabuse sencha, they are not something you will find in fukamushi sencha or deep steamed tea. This tea is steamed for a longer time, and during the longer steaming process, the tea leaves become more brittle and easier to break. These smaller leaf particles infuse quickly into the water and create a rich green infusion. In other teas, these small leaf particles would be a negative indicator.

#3 Flavor

Of course flavor is mostly subjective, but there are some aspects of expensive teas that make the flavor objectively better than cheap teas. The first is the complexity of the flavor.

Very “flat” flavour

With most teabag teas, you will find the flavor of the tea is very “flat”. This means that the flavor really only goes in one direction. With premium, loose leaf tea you get a complex assortment of different flavors, all being experienced at different times. This leads to a richer tasting experience, and it is the reason why these teas are more desirable. The complex flavor of these teas can only be created by nuance in the growing and production process. If these steps are skipped, you will end up with a cheap tea and a flat flavor.

Bitterness

The second aspect when it comes to flavor is the bitterness. While subtle bitterness can be an enjoyable taste in a green tea, it can very easily be overdone. Expensive teas tend to have  either no bitterness at all, or just enough to challenge the palate without overpowering the other flavors. With cheap teas on the other hand, you tend to only experience the bitterness, with no other discernible taste characteristics in the tea.

#4 Color

Loose leaf teas

Expensive tea doesn’t have one specific color palate that it follows, but there are different colors you should be looking for with different types of teas. As a general rule, high quality green tea should be somewhere on the spectrum from bright yellow to dark green, but never orange or brown. When the liquor of a brewed green tea is orange or brown, that is usually indicative of a cheap tea

Tea that is dark green is not necessarily superior to tea that is yellowish. The color of the brewed tea depends on many different factors. For example, gyokuro is a more expensive tea, but the color is yellow whereas the color of fukamushi sencha is much greener. In this case, it has to do with the steaming process. When you steam the leaves for longer, they take on a more vibrant green color and more of it is released into the water. Fukamushi sencha.

Matcha colors

When it comes to matcha, one of the most expensive tea in japan, you really need to find a powder that has a bright green color. A greener color doesn’t always mean a better matcha, but the steps that are taken during the production of high quality matcha yield both a smoother flavor, as well as a greener color. When these steps are skipped to create a cheap tea, it is likely you will have a very bitter matcha and a dull green or brown color. 

#5 Price

most expensive tea in japan

It’s a given that expensive teas will cost more than cheap teas, but how much more? When we are talking about matcha for example, high quality matcha should cost between $1-$2 per gram. If it is sold for significantly less than that, it is usually the case it is lower quality. The big exception is the noike matcha a super smooth Okumidori matcha made by Mr. Noike outside of Kyoto. This tea has a flavor that rivals teas double its price.

When it comes to leaf teas, you should be looking somewhere in the price range of 20 cents per gram to 45 cents per gram. With gyokuro, the most expensive tea in japan other than matcha, you can expect to pay between 30 cents per gram and $1 per gram. The gyokuro cha musume is a great value here. Because of Mr. Sakamoto’s careful production process, this tea picks up a rich and sweet flavor, but you can get it for a much lower price compared to other gyokuro teas. 

#6 Brewing

If you compare all the cheap tea and all the expensive tea, there is one common theme you will notice. Cheap tea is almost always sold in teabags and expensive tea is almost always sold in loose leaf form. There is a reason for this, and it’s the same reason why when you buy expensive tea in a teabag, you are most likely overpaying. This is because the expensive tea leaves are almost always reserved for loose leaf teas.

Cheap Tea is always consumed in tea bags

If a tea company wants to make a large quantity of cheap tea, they will attempt to buy as much leaf material as possible for as low a price as possible. The customers of this mass-produced tea will likely want the tea to be instantly prepared and cheap. These constraints don’t allow the company to purchase the most desirable leaf material, so they almost always purchase the leaf material that can’t be used for premium teas, as this will be the cheapest.

The tea will then have to be put into a bag so it can be quickly prepared without proper teaware. During this process, the leaves have to be ground down into a “tea dust” so they can fit into the bag. This is also done to make the tea infuse faster. The teabag itself will negatively impact the flavor of the tea. As a result, all the expensive tea leaves are reserved for loose leaf tea, to avoid being ruined by the tea bag. Even if a company were to use these expensive tea leaves in a teabag, the flavor wouldn’t match that of premium loose leaf tea.


Expensive tea is consumed as loose leaf tea

Small farms often have a specific taste profile in mind when they are producing an expensive tea. They carefully grow the plant, process the leaves and blend the tea to capture just the right amount of sweetness, bitterness and savoriness. These small batch teas are consumed in loose leaf form, with only a few kilos being produced of each particular kind. 

When cheap tea is mass produced in teabags or in bottled tea, this nuance is lost. The producer of these mass produced teas values consistency and low price, and this cannot be achieved on the individual farm level. When you go for loose leaf tea, you also get much more variety as well as you can try teas produced on each individual farm, rather than relying on the predetermined  assortment from a handful of companies. 

#7 Nutrients

In addition to having a richer taste, expensive tea often contains more nutrients. A lot of people that consume cheap tea do so for the health benefits of green tea, but they may be missing out. As mentioned before, the more expensive tea in Japan is made from the youngest sprouts of the tea plant.

First harvest in the Early Springtime

It is also made from the first harvest in the early springtime. During the winter, the tea plant is left alone to “rest” and absorb nutrients from the soil. These nutrients are then released into the fresh sprouts in the springtime. Expensive teas like gyokuro, matcha and shincha are made from these younger sprouts. Not only is the flavor of these superior, but the nutrient profile is as well.

More Caffeine

These younger sprouts also contain more caffeine as well. Caffeine is produced by the tea plant as a defense mechanism to protect it from insects. The younger leaves are more tender and vulnerable, so they produce more caffeine. As a result, expensive tea like gyokuro and matcha tends to have more caffeine than cheap tea like bancha and genmaicha. 

#8 Cultivation

Difference Between Cheap Tea & Expensive Tea

The final difference between cheap tea and expensive tea is the cultivation. When you are selecting teas, see if you can find information about how the tea is cultivated, as it will tell you a lot about the tea itself.

As a basic rule, the more general name you have for a tea, the lower the quality it tends to be.If it’s sold as simply “green tea” its a good chance that it is made from the cheapest green tea leaves available.If the tea is known as “Shincha Asanoka Kabuse” you can tell the tea is first harvest (shincha) it comes from the Asanoka cultivar and it is shaded for a long time before the harvest.

These small details about the production process show you that a lot of care was taken in order to achieve a specific flavor profile.

The cultivar or variety of tea plant used should be clearly stated. This is similar to varietals in the wine world. If wine is simply sold as “red wine” it is likely the quality is very low. 

Don’t overpay for cheap tea or expensive tea

It is important to bring up the fact that expensive teas can be overpriced. We use the word “expensive tea” for convenience, but what we are really referring to is premium tea or high quality tea.

Of course, if low quality tea is sold for a high price, it can be considered expensive tea. To avoid overpaying for tea, it is important to go through this list of factors and ask why the tea is expensive. If it doesn’t meet some or most of this criteria, it is likely over priced. 

Why is tea in tea bags cheap? 

It’s not that all teabags are cheap and all loose leaf tea is expensive, but rather that tea drinkers that care more about convenience tend to care less about quality. This is true across other types of beverages, with canned vs. bottled beer and instant vs. ground coffee.

why is loose leaf tea more expensive?

Consumers that want the best, most expensive tea leaves wouldn’t dream of putting them into a teabag. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the chemicals in the teabag interfering with the taste. As a result, premium teas are sold to people who value quality, and therefore they tend to be a bit more expensive.

How to spot a cheap loose leaf green tea?

There are cheap loose leaf teas like hojicha that can be both delicious and affordable, but there are also lower quality cheap teas that are quite unpleasant to drink. In general, you should avoid Japanese teas like sencha and matcha that are made in China.

You should also avoid loose leaf green teas that produce an orange or brown color, as these are likely low quality and can be very bitter. Also be on the lookout for vague details that are given in the description such as origin.

What is the most expensive tea in japan?

matcha expensive

Matcha 

The most expensive tea in japan on a gram for gram basis is matcha. Matcha can sell for a few dollars per gram, making it the most expensive tea by weight in Japan. This being said, you only need 2 grams to create a bowl of matcha tea.

Gyokuro

The most expensive tea in japan that is in loose leaf (not powdered) form is Gyokuro. Competition grade gyokuro can be priced as high as $2 per gram, with some even exceeding that in rare cases. Still, all else considered this is a cheap drink, as it would cost only $10 to produce 4-5 cups of the tea. Compared to wine, tea is still very inexpensive, even on the higher end.