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Buying The Best Black Teas - Choosing For Quality And Value

April 23, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 167

The notion of the "best black tea" is a bit problematic, because different people have different tastes. However, there is a rough consensus about certain teas being higher quality than others. Some teas, particularly, those that are very fresh, have a strong aroma, and smoother flavor. Stale tea, on the other hand, can be all-around bland, and low-quality tea can often be harsh, overly bitter or astringent, with less of a pleasing aroma.

This article explores the question of how to select black teas to buy so as to obtain the highest quality tea at the most reasonable price, thus finding the best value for one's dollar.

Buy loose-leaf, not tea bags:

Most connoisseurs have a strong preference for loose-leaf. Why? There are two very compelling reasons to prefer loose-leaf over tea bags. The first is quality: most of the best teas on the market are only available in loose-leaf form. But the second is price and value: when you buy tea bags, you are paying for the packaging rather than the leaf itself.

Know the regions producing tea, and buy single-origin teas, not blends:

Black tea, like all teas, can be classified into two broad categories: single-origin and blends. Single-origin tea is grown in a particular region, like Darjeeling or Assam in India, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), or Keemun (originating in Anhui, China). Blends contain teas from different regions; common blends include English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast, and many of them are just labelled as "black tea", or are labelled by grade, such as "orange pekoe".

Although some blends can be remarkably high quality, these blends tend to be the exception, rather than the norm. Many of the best black teas are only available as single-origin, named varieties, because sellers would not want to blend these top-notch teas in with teas from other regions, losing their unique character.

Seek whole-leaf over broken-leaf:

Black tea is often classified by grades, according to a system of letters, which includes whole-leaf grades like OP (orange pekoe) or FTGFOP (Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe), and broken-leaf grades like BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe) as well as fannings and dust, the lowest grades.

Although there are certainly high-quality broken-leaf teas and low-quality whole-leaf teas out there, as a general rule, whole-leaf tends to be much higher in quality than broken-leaf. It also tends to retain its flavor better when stored, and tends to infuse slower, thus making it harder to oversteep.

In summary:

This article has provided only a brief introduction to choosing the best black teas to buy. My advice here can be summed up in buying loose-leaf rather than tea bags, buying single-origin rather than blends, and buying whole-leaf rather than broken-leaf (or fannings or dust). Because everyone's taste is different, no one can tell you exactly which teas you will enjoy the most; to figure this out, you will need to sample different teas from different companies. But the tips here can help you to make better informed decisions when purchasing black tea.

Alex Zorach is the founder and editor-in-chief of RateTea, an online community where anyone can rate and review teas, an authoritative source for information about tea. RateTea has a searchable database of teas, classified by brand, style, and region, and articles on tea, health, sustainability, and related topics. Visit RateTea's page on black tea reviews to learn more about which teas to buy.

Source: EzineArticles
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