Buying tea is a bit of a crap shoot, especially over the internet. It’s hard to know what you are getting until you drink it for the first time and by then it’s too late. Of course seeing and smelling a tea in person is always preferable but for a lot of people there just aren’t any local options. After drinking tea for so many years I’ve got a mental list of things I look for before ordering tea. Hopefully it will help some of you to weed out the not so great options.
A picture says 1,000 words.
I absolutely will not purchase a tea online if there is no picture of the leaf shown. Preferably, I want to see clear, high quality shots of both the dry leaves and what the tea looks like after brewing. If these aren’t included on the product page I have a hard time trusting that I will receive exactly what is advertised. If I can manage halfway decent pictures in my poorly lit basement apartment, online retailers can certainly get it done too!
Timing is everything.
One of the first things I look for when buying tea is harvest date. The year should be listed at the very least but ideally I want to see the month or even the exact date. This is especially important for green tea in relation to price. I’m OK with paying more of a tea is pre-Qing Ming from the current year. Not listing the year can mask deceptive practices like selling very old tea as though it were new. Puerh brings a whole other level to this. I prefer to purchase tea where I know both the year of harvest and the year of pressing. The two are not always the same and that can affect the tea than ends up in the cup.
Location, location, location.
If a company does not list the location where the tea was produced they more than likely don’t know. Country is not enough! Telling me that a tea is from China reveals absolutely nothing. Transparency is the new way of doing business in the tea world. I want to see the province and village information for every tea. This is especially important for teas that should be from very specific regions such as Darjeeling. If you can’t tell me what estate the tea is from, how do I know that it’s not just a tea from a neighboring area that is labeled as Darjeeling for the higher price tag?
Specialists seem more trustworthy.
I find that a lot of the companies I buy from are specialists in a particular type of tea. While this doesn’t directly imply better quality, it can mean that the vendor is more knowledgeable about that particular category. They are also more likely to directly source the tea themselves rather than buying through a large wholesaler. I find this is particularly true for trendy teas like puerh and matcha.
I get by with a little help from my friends (and fellow bloggers).
The opinions of tea friends definitely has a big influence on the tea that I purchase. I read A LOT of reviews on tea related blogs (362 according to my Blog Lovin profile). My Instagram feed is also full of lots of enablers. Tea friends like +Jo J, +Rachana Rachel Carter and +Geoffrey Norman are always finding cool stuff that I want to try as well. Simply put, if someone I know enjoyed a tea I am much more likely to purchase it.
What do you look for when buying tea? I’d love to hear about it the comments!