illustration of Camellia sinensis plant

Matching a Standard

Buying tea is a challenge and an adventure for even the most seasoned tasters. Crops change year to year, prices fluctuate, and there are no independent quality control organizations advising the global market or requiring specific labelling practices. While working with established and reputable vendors is one way to ensure a quality product, the ability to evaluate and select teas for purchase is critical for your business.

Here are a few guidelines and tools for evaluating and selecting premium teas:

Understand the country and region of origin.

While black tea is produced in many areas of the globe, different regions express different characteristics. Familiarity with these characteristics means less reliance on labelling which may or may not be accurate.

Understand seasons of harvest for specific teas.

While tea leaves are harvested year-round, some styles of tea are only produced during certain months. Buying teas relative to their harvest cycles means fresher, higher quality product.

Have a specific purpose in mind for each tea you select.

Criteria for choosing an iced tea will be different than those for a blended or flavored tea. Attributes like liquor color and aroma matter more for some teas than for others. Specificity can also help your broker or importer find the right tea for your needs.

Ask questions of your vendors.

How many years has your vendor been in the business? What countries do they import tea from? Do they specialize in any style or source multiple ingredients? A reputable and knowledgeable vendor should not hesitate to offer advice and recommendations for your specific tea program.

Be focused and specific in your requests.

Since there are multiples ranges and price points across all tea categories, parameters will help your vendor offer the most useful teas for consideration. If you need special documentation or details for a tea, specify that right away.

Cup all sample offers comparatively and take notes—then cup again the next day.

Accurate tasting requires comparison and repetition. An initial impression may be impacted by outside factors. Before making purchasing decisions, be sure you have thoroughly evaluated the tea under consideration.

Save offer samples and cup them against purchased tea.

Confirm that the tea you ordered is the tea you receive. Identify any potential defects or storage issues that may have occurred in transit. Should any problems arise, alert your vendor immediately.