If you're new to flavored teas, no doubt you're wondering how to choose flavored teas of the best quality. The variety of the tea, the country in which it's grown, the way it's processed, the time it's harvested and the way it's flavored all affect the way a flavored tea will taste. In many varieties of tea, the time of harvest is particularly important, and can be difficult to understand and determine.
Following is some information that can help you choose the best flavored teas based on their harvest time. Flavored teas come in white, green, black and oolong varieties, and all varieties have different harvesting requirements for the best flavor.
Green tea -Flavored green teas have a very natural and mild flavor and brew to a pale green or light amber color. They are often somewhat sweet, and are described by many to be grassy in flavor. Many people who don't particularly like the flavor of plain green teas, love flavored greens, because the flavorings mask the grassy taste while leaving the lightness that makes green tea so tasty. Green tea harvesters often pluck green tea multiple times during the growing season. However, the first pluckings, or the “first flush" green teas will always be the best. This is because this first flush is picked in the spring, before the weather gets too hot. Tea that is plucked later in the growing season has baked in the heat and sun before harvest, which compromises the tea's flavor.
White tea- All white tea is first flush tea. White tea is, by definition, picked only in the spring, when the tea plant blooms for the first time of the growing season. The tea is harvested before the buds are fully opened and while they're still covered with a fine white hair, which is why it's called white tea. One of the reasons that white tea is the rarest of all teas is because it can be harvested just once during the growing season. Flavored white teas are not yet common, but they are gaining availability. White teas are the mildest and sweetest of all teas, and absorb the fragrances and flavorings very well.
Black Tea - Most flavored teas are made from black tea, though other varieties are growing in availability. The best flavored black teas are also made from the first flush, for the same reason that was mentioned about green tea. Later flushes of black tea have been exposed to more heat and sun, and their flavor may have been compromised. The exception to this rule is Assam black teas, grown in the Assam region of India. The second flush of Assam black teas are said to be the best of the season. So, if you find an Assam flavred tea, look for second flush of the season.
Oolong Tea -Oolong teas are semi-fermented, meaning that they go through a fermentation process like black teas, but for a much shorter period of time. Most oolong teas are fermented to about 30%, unless they are pouchong oolong teas from Taiwan, which are only about 15% fermented. The longer an oolong tea is fermented, the more it tastes like a black tea. Therefore, pouchongs are much closer in flavor to a green tea. As with green and black teas, oolong teas are best from the first flush, when the weather is milder and the tea has had more rain. Oolong teas have a fruity flavor and a very smooth finish that pairs beautifully with many fruit flavors. When choosing a flavored oolong tea, be certain to check as to whether it is a true oolong or pouchong, if you have a preference for a tea that is closer to green or closer to black.
Some of the best tea gardens only sell first flush black, green and oolong tea. Tea gardens that do harvest their tea all throughout the growing season should label their tea according to the harvest from which it was plucked, so there is no confusion about which teas are the best of the year. First flush teas are typically priced higher than teas harvested later in the season.
To choose the best quality flavored teas, you need to consider all of the following elements:
- The grade of the tea - this indicates the quality of the leaf itself.
- The tea plucking - this is a good measure of the tea's flavor, as earlier pluckings are more flavorful.
- The quality of the flavorings - You should always choose teas flavored with all natural ingredients over those that use artificial flavorings.
By considering all of these elements, you'll be able to choose a delicious, high quality tea, whether it's green, black or oolong. Shop with tea merchants that specialize in only the very best quality of flavored loose teas, regardless of the variety.
Flavored teas are a wonderful treat. The combination of your favorite flavors with your favorite tea varieties makes for a great beverage, whether hot or cold, morning or evening. And, if you've never compared the taste of really high quality teas with that of inferior teas, you'll be very surprised at the difference. High quality flavored teas are well worth the trouble and expense you'll go to finding them!
Jon M. Stout is Chairman of the Golden Moon Tea Company. Golden Moon Tea recently placed first and second in the best tea competition at the prestigious World Tea Expo in Atlanta Georgia. For more information about tea , wholesale tea and black tea go to goldenmoontea.com