Guidelines for Determining Tea Quality

Evaluating the quality of tea involves a careful assessment of its appearance, aroma, and taste. While there are many other smaller details that go into evaluation, here are some guidelines for covering the basics for all teas.

Good Tea Quality

Generally speaking, tea quality is judged by the appearance, aroma and taste for both wet and dry tea leaves. Let’s begin by sorting out these 2 sections.

Dry Tea Leaves

  • Color: Green tea should exhibit a dark green or emerald color. Oolong tea often appears in striped or granular shapes with a bright orange color. Black tea comes in flake or stripe forms. The flaked variety is typically dark brown, while striped black tea is tightly rolled and bright red.
  • Shape: The shape of the tea leaves can also be indicative of quality. High-quality leaves should have a consistent shape and size, with tightly rolled or well-formed leaves.
  • Smell: Premium green tea should have a fresh aroma with hints of orchid incense, chestnut, or other pleasant scents. Oolong tea may feature notes of ripe peach and floral fragrances. The presence of aging or mold-like odors can indicate poor quality or deterioration.
  • Taste: When tasting the tea, consider the balance of flavors. A well-balanced product will have the right proportions of bitterness, astringency, sweetness, saltiness, sourness, or other flavors, depending on the type of tea.

Wet Tea Leaves

  • Aroma: After brewing, smell the tea to assess its aroma. High-quality products should maintain a pure and pleasant fragrance.
  • Color: Observe the color of the brewed tea. The color should align with the expected color for the type of tea (e.g., bright olivine for green tea, bright orange for oolong, bright red for black tea).
  • Flavor: Taste the brewed tea and assess its flavor. Quality tea should deliver a flavorful and well-balanced taste profile.
  • Residue: Examine the tea residue in the cup or pot. High-quality tea should leave minimal residue, indicating that the tea has fully infused into the water.

To give you a full breakdown of what makes tea premium quality, we cover this more in depth with our gourmet tea guide.

Bad Quality Tea

There are a few redeeming qualities when it comes to identifying bad tea.

  1. Smells moldy or not fresh.
  2. An aroma is missing. Teas should have some sort of natural fragrance due to their growing environments.
  3. Excessive smells. Many tea producers add in fragrant smells to enhance the aroma. This is considered unnatural and not recommended for consuming.
  4. Fake labeling. This is hard to spot but many tea producers make counterfeit products meant to mimic high end ones. This is particularly evident in the Puerh tea world when it comes to Read Seal or Yellow Seal varieties.
  5. Bland taste. Like any food or drink, there are bland tasting products. For any tea to be considered decent, it needs to have a distinctive taste or freshness.