â€œGoodness is a decision for the mouth to makeâ€
Lu Yu, author Cha Ching, 8th Century China
The good news is that more and more premium loose-leaf teas are becoming available in an increasing number of teahouses as well as on the internet. Tea merchants may carry anywhere from a dozen teas to well over one hundred teas. But more teas mean there are more choices to be made. Here is some advise from Donna Fellman, Director of the Tea Education Alliance and a professional tea buyer.
_ Inform yourself about the tea before you buy. Tea merchants should offer descriptive information in their catalogues and on their web pages, as well as brewing instructions. These pages are often filled with interesting text and pictures. Read them from beginning to end like a good book. Youâ€™ll learn a lot and see how many teas there are. It may generate even more questions. Donâ€™t hesitate to contact your tea merchant by phone or by email. As well as answer your questions, they should be able to help guide you through the decision making process and make suggestions. Be prepared to tell them what teas youâ€™ve tasted before and what you thought of them. Also, have an idea about what kind of teas youâ€™re thinking of trying now, even if itâ€™s only to say I want something like I had before or something totally different. They should be able to take it from there.
_ Good tea is a matter of personal taste so always taste a tea before you buy a large amount of it. Never buy a tea without tasting it first unless you can afford to give or throw it away. Your merchant tasted the tea before he bought it, and so should you. All reputable tea merchants should offer either free samples or inexpensive samples of all their teas. A teahouse should offer to brew a tasting cup for you, or give you a small sample of a tea to take home to brew. Mail order and internet companies should offer to send you free samples or offer low cost samplers of small amounts so that you donâ€™t have to make a large investment in a tea before you have tasted it. Many companies offer sample sets of green teas, oolongs, Darjeelings, China blacks, etc. Try different ones and learn about tea as you find out what type of tea you like.
_ Be aware that tea is a product of nature. Like fine wines, they may vary in flavor or color from year to year. For example, there was a lot of rain during the 2002 growing season in Assam. As a result, even what were normally the maltiest Assams available had a fruity flavor due to the conditions. Learn to appreciate the nuances of the yearly and seasonal variations. If you want to have the most consistent cup of tea available, you might want to drink tea blends. Tea traders blend teas of different crops to be able to maintain, as much as is possible, the character and price of the tea over time. The most popular blends are English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast and Russian Caravan.