There are a lot of different types of tea and tea preparations out there, from the highest quality whole leaf artisan teas to the lowest quality $5 a case teabag teas. What I want to know is – what drives your choices? Is it purely taste or purely cost? Or is it both? Does convenience play a significant factor in your selections? Are you guided by a connoisseurship that drives you to purchase the best or most interesting teas you can find, or is it the pursuit of the perfect ritual? Are you driven by a craving for the latest flavor combinations? Might some of you just be reacting to all of the media hoopla about the health benefits of tea and buy anything that has green tea in it, regardless of taste and cost?
For me it’s a combination of things. Taste is certainly one important component, but it’s not the big sweet, candy or fruity type taste that I think many Americans prefer and which I pursued with mindless addiction most of my life (and haven’t quite abandoned for some things). I think the main reason for me, related to beverages, is that I gave up sugary sodas many, many years ago and had consumed mostly water as my beverage of choice (although, as I indicated, I still have strong sweet cravings in other areas, but when it comes to beverages I have lost my interest in super sweet). At this time in my life I am very much enjoying expanding my palate. I have become extremely intrigued with the variety of complex and subtle tastes and aromas that I find in whole leaf teas.
Another factor for me is freshness. Fortunately, being in the tea business, freshness is not an issue as we always buy the freshest teas and keep them in cool storage to extend their freshness over time. However, when I go out for dinner or am away for an extended period of time and out of our own tea, I always first look to purchase the freshest whole leaf tea I can find. When you are just drinking pure, unadulterated tea, freshness matters as far as taste goes, although I am beginning to wonder whether some teas actually have positive changes over time. Even with bagged teas, freshness matters in terms of health benefits. The longer the tea has been standing around in less than ideal conditions, the more the healthy components fade away. If I can’t find any fresh whole leaf, then I will tend to pick up some boxed or canister whole leaf. If I can’t find that, then I will buy flavored bagged tea because, although it is probably not fresh, I know I will be able to get some flavor out of it.
Because I have a dedicated interest in tea, connoisseurship is also an element that I consider. I look for teas that will add to my knowledge and experience base by providing me with new aromas, tastes, visual craftsmanship, geography, terroir etc..
Health also is a factor which is why for the first 5 years or so I drank only white and green teas. As my knowledge base and palate continued to grow over the next 5 years, however, I came to understand and appreciate that there are health benefits in all tea, just as there are from the myriad vegetables and fruits out there. Some may have more powerful or pervasive physiological effects on the body, but they all benefit in some ways.
Finally, I also consider cost although that is less important than the others for me. If I find a tea that I consider particularly spendy but has some of the above mentioned elements, I will probably buy at least a small amount to taste.
Let us know what factors drive your tea selections.