I can't stand it when someone tells me they are a tea connoisseur and their favorite tea is Tazo. It is like a person telling me about their great trips to Napa Valley for a wine tasting and their favorite wine is Yellowtail. It's not that it is a bad thing to like Tazo or Yellowtail, but if you truly like something you should explore it, learn about it and try new things. If you want to take this path with tea, then there are two basic rules
1) Avoid the big brands. The general rule is if you have seen any type of print or television advertisement for it that the tea is going to be substandard. Lipton gets almost all of their tea from Kenya, but they try and pass it off as Ceylon tea.
2) Drink Loose tea. You really can't appreciate the flavor of tea unless you buy the good stuff. Here is a quick guide describing the difference between loose and bagged tea.
The difference is the way the tea is sorted
Both Loose tea and bagged tea come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. The difference lies in the sorting and drying of the tea leaves
How are they sorted and dried differently?
As the leaves are dried, they usually go on a large table where they are shaken. What remains on the table are the loose tea leaves. Since dried tea is brittle, the small leaves sometimes crumble and break and fall to the ground. This leaves a sort of dust of broken tea leaves that are caught in grates beneath the floor. The dust is called fannings.
Fannings are inferior to full leaf tea
There is nothing wrong with fannings by themselves. The problem is they are so tiny they must be held in a container that will not allow them to leak out, like a teabag. The teabag prevents the water from fully circulating around the tea, and thus producing less flavor.
The key is circulation
As tea gets wet it expands, allowing the water to circulate through the leaf itself. With loose tea the leaves are allowed to unfurl and release their essential oils and tannins that create a lot of flavor. With teabags, the bag itself restricts the tea fannings from fully expanding. Since the tea cannot expand, the water cannot fully circulate through the tea releasing its essential oils and tannins.
But if they both come from the same plant, won't they taste basically the same?
No, they will not taste the same because of the lack of water circulation with teabags. In addition, because they use the best leaves for loose tea they contain more of the essential oils and tannins that give tea its flavor. So if you have only had bagged tea before, give loose tea a try. Even a low quality loose tea is generally better than the highest quality bagged tea.
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