I am never too busy for tea. Although, clearly, I was too busy to notice the spelling mistake on this $2.50 mug before I paid for it. Oh well! Conversation starter? Gift for an English teacher? We get what we pay for I suppose.
In the tea-world the general rule ‘you get what you pay for’ does not always apply though. (And the rule does not always apply in the writerly world either.) Good everyday teas do exist that will not cost an arm and a leg – a couple of fingers maybe. (Again the same can be said of books.) So you can not always judge a tea by price, or package. (Nor a book by its cover.)
The everyday teas readily available to me include Nerada, Dilmah, Twinings and Bell. Mass-produced CTC (Cut-tear-curl) teas are graded by particle size: broken leaf, fanning and dust. The larger the leaf, generally speaking, the better the tea.
Learning to tell the difference between a good tea and a not-so-good tea by a) what is stated on the package, as well as what-is-not, and b) by the condition of the leaf, enables us to make good choices. Unfortunately there are unscrupulous people who package inferior tea, label it as superior tea and who then ask superior prices. On the other hand there are also good inexpensive teas to be found and, chances are, most of us will make compromises between quality and cost when selecting from the shelf. Which is not to say we may not rise above our shelf from time to time. Anyhow, just because the tea is not strictly orthodox does not mean it is bad tea. Also I have not encountered so many really bad teas – I have come across a lot of tea made badly though.
Take a look at what is written on the package.
“Dilmah is traditionally made and packed fresh right where it is grown.” So this tea will be fresher than a tea trucked and shipped halfway across the world before it is packaged. Note: ‘traditionally made’ is not the same as Orthodox tea.
“Single origin guarantees unblended pure Ceylon tea fresh and full of flavour ..” Single origin tea is preferred because blended teas can be rather personality-less in flavour. The lack in one particular leaf is filled by the addition of tea grown elsewhere. However Twinings is a blended tea and is still a good quality tea. I check for an ethical tea logo, which all display, so I know workers are treated fairly.
Bell tea is one of the cheapest teas at my supermarket. It is mostly fanning and dust. Bell tea is “owned, blended and packed in New Zealand”. Bell tea is “ethically sourced“, has “close and longstanding relationships” with suppliers and are “active members of the Ethical Tea Partnership“. You do have to wonder what has been sacrificed to make the tea so cheap though.
Twinings tea is: “A traditional blend of black tea … blended and packed in the EU”. You can tell by the size of the leaf Twinings source good tea for their blends. Twinings also carries the Ethical Tea Partnership logo.
However Australian grown Nerada tea is fully machine processed, cut finely and still has loads of flavour! Nerada is also pesticide free.
Consumers have to make so many decisions today. Cheap or quality? Cheap or ethical? Blended or single origin? Do we want to know where our tea is grown? Or is this less of a consideration. Perhaps our final decisions will be based on thrift or the decision is made for us by the size of our purse. Whatever the limits, or lack of, there is a best choice to be made in each tea category. Something-for-nothing is only great when we don’t have to work for nothing of course. But now my tea is stewed!
P.S. I recently enjoyed the book ‘Hot Tea Across India’ by Rishad Saam Mehta. I like books to make me laugh – which this one did. I loved the cover too … but … there was a lot of travelling about by motor cycle in this book and descriptions of engines and road conditions. The name of the beloved machine, a Bullet, lit up my husbands eyes. So I gave it to him.
“Rather than having some illusory amount hanging in the air that might later create a sticky situation, I asked him how much he wanted for ‘chai-paani’. His answer was a shocking 1000 rupees. I asked him if he wanted a cup of tea, or if he wanted me to help finance the opening of a chain of tea houses. And so the verbal jousting began and we finally shook hands at Rs 1100 for the entire deal.” – pg. 64 Hot Tea Across India by Rishaad Saam Mehta.