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How To Determine the Quality of Your Tea | Heavenly Tea Leaves

How To Determine the Quality of Your Tea

As any tea enjoyer will tell you, there’s good tea and then there’s *good tea*. Sometimes, with all the fancy packaging, long lists of ingredients and bright colors, it might be hard to distinguish between true gourmet loose leaf tea and some leftover dustings in a tea bag. 

There are many elements to a solid brew: organic and real ingredients, freshness and preservation, mouthfeel of the brewed cup, and so on. It’s easy to get distracted by the frills and the endless options at the market—but high quality will make all the difference in your experience with tea, as well as the benefits you reap from it. If you’ve ever wondered how to discern, we’ve distilled the three broadest elements of an excellent tea blend so you can make the best choice. (Hint: Heavenly Tea Leaves is always a safe bet.)


As they say in the real estate biz—location, location, location. This applies to the origin of tea leaves, as well. “Terroir” is a French blanket term that refers to a number of elements that comprise where and how tea leaves are grown, as well as what they’re affected by. These include climate and humidity, soil composition, type and location of terrain, elevation, biodiversity, and some human elements, too (which we’ll get to next). Is there vegetation around? Rocks? A river? Snowy winters? All these factors and more contribute to the geographic area, known as a terroir, which results in the differences in the quality of the tea. Famous tea types are actually named after their respective terroirs (think Darjeeling, Yunnan, and Assam), much like fine wines. 

Tea Artisans & Human Influence

Creating gourmet loose leaf tea involves a fair amount of skill, and the behaviors of the people in the vicinity of the tea’s terroir also contribute to the plant’s well-being. Tea must be cultivated and cared for by humans who are skilled, have the right techniques and machinery, as well as timing. The rounds of harvesting must be performed correctly in order to grow and collect the optimal crop. Then, the leaves must be processed and treated so as not to compromise the leaf and to deliver the tastiest final result. Artisans may roll, wither, oxidize, ferment, twist, bruise or perform other steps to achieve different results. Then there’s the packaging and preserving—remember that a lot can happen between the time that a tea is processed to when it lands in your kitchen cabinet; integrity cannot be underestimated. In terms of other human influence, certain areas or farms might be polluted, neglected and so on. Reputations precede certain farms when it comes to maintaining this crop.

Visual & Sensory Cues

The “look and feel” of a tea leaf, as well as a brewed cup, is often a giveaway as to its quality. The size and shape of certain leaves determine everything. Generally speaking, larger, fuller tea leaves tend to be higher quality and yield a more complex flavor profile. For example, is the tea leaf whole or broken? You also have what’s called the “liquor”—aka the color and appearance of the liquid yielded from the brewed tea leaves. A tea’s aroma is also telling; you’re looking for bright and full, not musky, dull, or rancid. And finally, there’s the actual taste of the tea, which is more important than anything else. Its also quite relative.


Without a doubt, flavor is the most important factor of all when determining tea quality. While the other cues combined are helpful in getting the full picture, flavor is the end-all-be-all, and the drinker is the judge. You can love a mass-produced black tea bag more than an artisan black tea, and you would not be wrong in your assessment. Trust your taste buds; you may love a tea because it's consistent, or because it brings up nostalgic feelings of tea you drank with grandma. Tea is a personal experience, and the most important part of deciding whether a tea is great is deciding how much you actually prefer it. 

As with anything, there are certain things to look for that might serve as dead giveaways for a not-so-great tea blend: a traditional tea bag—especially that’s filled with very fine dustings, artificial-looking colors or strange-tasting flavors or aftertastes, ingredients that you can’t pronounce, or even just a lack of information. You should always be able to source and trust where your tea is coming from and how it’s brought to your table. And once you determine what’s truly quality, you’ll never turn back.

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