Tea is one of the most popular beverages of all time. People around the world love it both for its unique flavour and numerous health benefits.
However, to get the most value and enjoyment from your cup, it is essential to choose a high-quality tea. It is also important to be aware that the quality of tea can really vary. Some even contain hidden toxins that can be harmful to our health.
In this article we explain how to choose a high-quality product and get the most out of your tea.
How tea can help or harm your health
One of the reasons why people drink tea is for its many health benefits. It is rich in compounds called polyphenols that have powerful antioxidant properties. It also contains the perfect blend of caffeine and L-theanine, providing synergistic energising and calming effects.
However, some teas also contain high levels of toxins, including pesticide residues, heavy metals, and mould. For example, one study found that 20% of teas contained aluminium levels above the recommended guidelines. Meanwhile, a shocking 73% of teas contained lead levels considered unsafe for consumption by pregnant or nursing women.
Another issue arises from drinking tea that comes in teabags. Many familiar brands include microplastics in their bags, which can be damaging for our bodies and the environment alike.
How to choose a good quality tea brand
Now that you understand the facts, you probably want to know how ensure your tea is the best possible quality. First and foremost, it is essential to always read the label.
Look for a brand that is certified organic to reduce your exposure to pesticides. If possible, try to find a company that also tests its tea for other toxins. Unfortunately, this feature is currently quite rare. However, some brands, such as Pique teas, do test their products and it is likely to become more commonplace in the future.
You may also wish to consider whether the tea is Fairtrade. Fairtrade products ensure that the farmers growing the tea have acceptable working conditions and get paid a reasonable wage. More and more good-quality tea brands are now participating in this benevolent scheme.
Finally, if you buy teabags, check what material they are made from. As we mentioned, lots of brands use microplastics in their bags. Fortunately, nowadays, many companies are switching to safer, biodegradable bags. However, if a brand does not specify what it makes its teabags from, it may be best to steer clear.
Loose tea vs. teabags
In the western world, most people drink tea from teabags. They are convenient, affordable, and widely available. However, they usually do not contain high-quality tea. There are several different reasons for this.
Firstly, due to lack of space in teabags, the pieces must be very small. This allows for faster brewing but depletes many of the tea’s subtle flavours. Some companies are now manufacturing tea pouches or pyramid bags, which allow more space for infusion. These varieties tend to contain higher-quality teas than those in traditional bags.
Furthermore, teabags do not retain their freshness for long, especially if stored in their original cardboard containers. This means they can degrade quickly, becoming stale and losing some of their flavour.
Finally, as a rule, teabags contain a standardised blend of tea from different sources. However, single-origin tea tends to be of better quality and has more nuanced flavours and aromas.
For these reasons, most tea connoisseurs prefer loose leaf teas. Although they are less convenient, they tend to be of far higher quality. Furthermore, brewing them can become part of a relaxing ritual, allowing time for a moment of mindfulness while waiting for the flavours to infuse.
Use your senses
After carefully reading the label, your senses are your most helpful tool for choosing a good quality tea. Here are some key features to pay attention to:
Look at the colour of the tea leaves and their shape and size. Is the tea broken up into small pieces or are the leaves still whole?
Smaller pieces have a larger surface area, resulting in faster brewing, a darker colour, and stronger taste. However, smaller pieces also lead to faster evaporation of essential oils and some loss of flavour and beneficial compounds.
Whole-leaf tea takes longer to brew but provides a better flavour. It also retains more of its active compounds and is, therefore, more beneficial for health.
Furthermore, a good quality tea should have few crushed or broken leaves and be free from stalks and woody pieces.
In terms of colour, green tea leaves should have a fresh verdant colour and not look faded or brown. Black tea leaves should have a slightly darker appearance. Depending on the type, they could vary from a rich reddish-brown to a deeper, charcoal shade.
Next, take a moment to hold a few tea leaves in your hand. A good quality tea should have some weight to it. If it feels feather-light, it may be overly dry and stale.
Moreover, the leaves should feel smooth, solid, and not fragile. If they crumble easily in your hand, this is a sign that they are old and stale.
One of the key features of a good quality tea is its delightful aroma. But did you know you should smell the tea before and after brewing?
If the tea is high-quality, even the dried leaves should have a distinctive fragrance. If they do not produce any smell, they are probably old and stale.
The exact bouquet will depend upon the type of tea. Generally speaking, green tea should have a fresh, light, and grassy aroma. On the other hand, black tea should smell earthy, woody, and slightly sweet.
Once the tea is brewed, sip it slowly and hold it in your mouth for a moment to appreciate the taste and mouthfeel.
Green tea should have a delicate and refreshing flavour. It should never taste bitter or sour. As an aside, it is important to allow the water to cool slightly before pouring over green tea to prevent bitterness. Black tea should have a deep and rich flavour and a smooth mouthfeel. Whatever tea you choose, follow the steps above to guarantee that you a buying a good quality product. Doing so will ensure that you are helping, rather than harming, both your health and our precious planet Earth.
Do you enjoy drinking tea, and do you notice any significant health benefits from regularly drinking tea?