Adventures of a Tea Trainer by Lucy Chappell

Adventures of a Tea Trainer by Lucy Chappell

Time and again I come across clients who feel they have been mis-sold to.

If we are not careful, we can easily find ourselves buying old, crumbling, dusty, flat or just plain substandard teas. So how do we avoid this and ensure we only stock a high-quality range of teas? What are the criteria when choosing tea for your establishment? Where do you start?

Do you pick a big brand household name, because ‘they must know what they are doing’ or do you want an independent brand that is, bespoke and unique because you want to be different and support the little guys? Or do you opt for buying through a wholesaler and putting your own stamp on it? Whichever way you choose is great. What is important is that you find a way to source fantastic teas that you are proud to have as part of your range.

What makes you choose specific teas? Is it customer research, personal preference, the latest trends? Do you use a rigorous testing process? Is sustainability and ethical criteria the most important factor? Or does it simply boil down to price? Make sure you understand what is important to you and your business, consider your demographic, do your research and never just take the first teas a supplier offers.

Do you know your Matcha from a ground Sencha? Bai mu dan from your Pai mu tan? What about provenance? Where does my tea come from? Is it supposed to look like that? How old is it? Are the workers being paid fairly? Has the tea been adulterated and how do I know it is not a fake?

There are so many important questions that we don’t know we should be asking.

Tea as a trend is growing exponentially and no matter where you buy it from the vendor or specialist should be able to answer all these questions for you. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

The downside to this is that, as certain teas become ever more desirable, demand is outstripping supply which unbeknownst to many buyers and sellers drives the production of fake teas. There is also a lot of poor quality matcha, white and green teas and puerhs on the market. They may seem like a great price, but the quality will be poor and the resulting tea bitter.

So how do we know the difference between a correctly made bai mu dan or a fake?

Here are a few tips for you to get started:

  1. Look for teas with an ‘Ethical Tea Partnership’ stamp. This will ensure a high level of fair working standards for everyone at the plantation and is a good starting point when trying to select reputable gardens or plantations.
  2. Confirm how old the batch of tea is. Whole leaf tea is at its best for 2 years, provided that it is kept in a sealed container, tea bags will perish even quicker. Make sure the batch is as fresh as possible and ask for proof of this.
  3. Always ask for samples first, they should be free or available for only a small sum, test them against other companies’ teas of the same variety and select the best ones.            
  4. Ask about the teas origin and then research online to confirm the given answer is correct.
  5. Ask for help and advice from a qualified tea specialist.

Most importantly put some time and thought into the process. As with anything we do, what we put into something directly equates to what we get out of it, and this is no different when sourcing high quality, great tasting tea!


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