Someone asked a question – so I answered it as a blog post:

I am fairly new to the Tea Movement so I do not know a whole lot. For example what is the segment part of a tea. What is more important in a Tea the Flavor or the segment?

A good question and one that deserves further explanation. A segment can mean many things. Some examples are the type of tea (green, oolong, fruit/herbal), geography (i.e. China, Japan, India), loose tea versus bagged tea, etc. One thing to understand in the tea world is that there are no rules, few “definitions”, and a lot of grey areas. Let’s discuss “flavor” i.e. teas with added flavors. Take one of the world’s most popular teas: Earl Grey.

This tea is defined as a tea containing oil of bergamot, which gives the tea its famous flavor. Unlike some products, there is no worldwide governing authority that regulates the tea market. That means that the amount of the flavoring, the type of tea, or any other ingredient isn’t set in stone. Which means that if you purchase Earl Grey from ten different vendors, you potentially can get ten different versions. Some may taste substantially different from others. Let’s start with the underlying tea. While traditionally Earl Grey is a black tea, you can find versions based on green tea, white tea, or even herbal tea. But not every black tea is the same. When it comes to flavored teas, most vendors will stick with a reasonably priced base blend that is going to be compatible with most flavors. This is why you typically will not find a robust Assam tea used in a flavored tea. Often a medium-bodied tea from Sri Lanka (Ceylon), India (Nigiliri), or China (Keemun) are used.

While you may be able to find some higher-end flavored teas, for the most part, there isn’t a good enough reason to put down more dollars on a super high-priced tea whose natural flavor will be obscured by added ingredients. However, on the lower end, very cheap tea found mainly in grocery stores are over-flavored to mask the poor quality of the underlying tea. The type of flavoring can vary also, from the exact chemical aspect of the flavor itself to the actual amount used in the blend. It’s a delicate balancing act that needs a little finesse to provide the right balance without being too weak or too strong.

Some vendors may have several dozen different flavored teas that look very much the same. Most of the “flavor” from flavored teas comes from the invisible liquid part. These flavoring agents are added to the tea during processing. Blenders will sometimes add little bits of fruit or other eye candy which has negligible impact on flavor. Take Earl Grey for example. Technically you just need to add the bergamot flavoring and you have Earl Grey. Adding a few strands of cornflower or marigold will make the tea look a little more fancy.

But since there are no strict rules with Earl Grey, there are probably hundreds of variants. One blender may use a Ceylon, the other a Keemun. Is one better than the other? That depends on what you prefer. One vendor might use a less potent flavoring, the other use a stronger tea. Only sampling different varieties will answer the question as to what you think is best. You may find one blender that blends an Earl Grey you love, but prefer strawberry mango blend from another. Because of the thousands of teas available, there is no one vendor that can realistically cover every base.

In summary, it would probably be the flavor that has more of an influence than the “segment”. Just avoid teas that are “ultra cheap”. Once you find your favorite flavored teas, you can start venturing out to pure teas. Here is where the segment – the quality, growing conditions, and other factors have the most influence: with no flavors added!

Photo “Earl Grey” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution Generic License 2.0 to the photographer Rob Pongsajapan and is being posted unaltered (source)