Colours and Shapes: Part 1

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Tea leaves are a delicate thing. To ensure optimum quality, they need to be plucked with specific care, the result being a quality leaf that may be fully appreciated. Experienced tea drinkers and masters can often tell you the quality of a leaf just by looking at it, and today we’re going to give you a few clues as to what to look for, so you can too.

Please note, of course, that it takes much time and tea drinking to uncover what the leaf conveys. Experience is paramount in order to separate the subtle differences, but don’t treat it too seriously. Enjoy tea as you always have, and don’t pressure yourself into being able to tell with every single leaf. Your experience will build simply by making the conscious decisions to take a look at your leaves before you simply throw them in your teapot.

One of the first indications of quality that you can look for is whether the leaves of a batch are of a similar size. If not – for example, in a whole leaf tea you can see leaves that are obviously broken and some tea dusts – this can indicate that the tea was processed by machine and thus will be inferior to a manually processed version. Not only that, but it will also mean that the tea will not steep at an exactly even rate. While this is hardly detrimental to a tea’s flavour, at the same time it certainly isn’t favourable.

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Grades of Tea

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There are three major systems of grading black tea and the grades refer to the size and state of the leaf.

The most common incorrectly used grade is OP. This refers to one of the grading categories of tea “orange pekoe”. Often people ask for an orange pekoe tea and they relate it to the flavour but in fact this has nothing to do with flavour, or oranges. It is only the grade of the leaf size.

There are many other grades such as “P” for pekoe and “F” for fannings, which is the size of the leaf commonly used for tea bags. Usually the more letters the better quality the tea.

There is a lot to learn about grading and this varies in different countries. The main thing to remember, which is more important than the grade, is to understand the flavours and aromas of tea as this is what counts the most.

You can have high grades of tea as far as leaf-size goes and yet they may have been poorly processed, so unless you taste the teas you will never know.

FTGFOP is a grade that has been jokingly referred to as “Far Too Good For Ordinary People”.

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A Cup of Gold

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There is no reason why customers should have to pay a lot for a good cup of tea. Tea is a relatively inexpensive product and you can get an excellent quality loose-leaf tea for roughly the same price as a quality coffee.

Some inner city tea shops are charging their customers up to $1000 a cup! This came as a huge shock to us. No tea costs enough to warrant charging that much per cup.

Regularly we have seen tea shops charge up to $20 for the same teas that are elsewhere being sold for $4 a cup. Why is this so? And who benefits from this? Not only will it limit the amount of people seeking specialty tea but it will put off the ones who are.

The point of this story is to encourage people to “shop around” for good tea. Just because a tea shop is on a main street and has lovely teaware, it does not mean they have the best tea in town – or the cheapest. If you want to sip your tea surrounded by smoke and mirrors, then you might have to pay five times the amount for the same brew as you would from the quiet tea house down the road.

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A Pot Full of Memories

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Made from a special clay found only in the city of Yixing, China, this extraordinary teapot possesses the ability to absorb the flavours of the teas inside it over a number of years.

Those who have the privilege of owning and using one over many years are said to be able to brew tea simply by adding plain, boiling water to the pot.

Before the teapot is made, the mined-out clay is left in the sun in the form of large rocks after extraction to weather. This process will take in excess of a year before the clay is ready to be pounded into a powder and sieved to remove impurities. The clay is then placed in a large fresh water tank for three days, and is then allowed to dry out under sunlight. Finally, before it is ready to be sold, excess moisture is drawn out of the product using a vacuum processor.

Such preparation seems excessive, but it doesn’t end there. The potter artisan must make time for a further two days of processing, which involves pounding the clay with a wooden mallet while every so often adding some water, until there are no air pockets to be seen.

With such a lengthy process and renowned tea-brewing capabilities, Yixing teapots are not nearly as expensive as they might sound at first glance. The unfortunate truth, however, is that while commonplace in China, much of the Western World is unfamiliar with them.

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Uncovering the Truth: Tea is Full of Pesticides?

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Damning truth or fantastic fiction? Tea Biz’s latest post gives us a much more insightful look into the world of tea growing and how pesticides are used.

Uncovering the Truth: Tea is Full of Pesticides?.

(And don’t worry, tea addicts. As far as we can tell, the news is fairly good.)

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