Whether we spend 5 minutes in the grocery store searching for a tea to soothe our troubles or we scour the internet hunting down the name of a mysterious tea we once tasted, it’s in our best interest to know as much information as possible about a tea’s cultivation. While I know many teaheads familiar with this analysis tool, I can’t help but share and spread this acronym coined by Don Mei of Mei Leaf.
Now that we see this listed, let’s take a look into just why this information is important when preparing tea and making thoughtful purchases. This is a general outline of my discussion points with each one, and the inter-connectivity of this analysis means that with just a few questions we can understand what makes a tea so unique!
Season: When a tea is picked provides an indication as to the size of the leaf, style of picking, and can provide general insight into pesticide usage. Spring harvests, especially Pre Qing Ming, tend to command a higher price due to the tea bushes growing during the dormant winter months. Summer teas generally have the challenge of insects and an increase in pesticide usage. Unless we know the trends and common practices for seasonal harvests of a tea, we could be drinking teas that are out of season while still paying a pretty penny.
Origin: Understanding the source of tea allows us to authenticate the leaf to some extent, understand its pricing, and provide a connection to the particular terrior, or landscape a tea resides in. Knowing the county, village, farm etc, empowers us research and make decisions. When I know the land in which a tea was grown, a bridge is built to the culture and environment, especially when our global climate trends continue to shift.
Picking/Processing: Knowing whether it’s a tea that prominently displays buds or utilizes the 3rd and 4th leaves gives an outlook into the chemistry, compound balance, taste, and price of a tea. If I can find the processing specific to a batch of tea, I then know, and coupled with visual markers on the leaf, if a tea was processed by hand or with the aid of a machine. This impacts the value and story from leaf to cup.
Elevation: Has the tea been cultivated in the ideal village but grows alongside a dusty road? Maybe the same cultivar and type is growing just a few hundreds meters higher, away from the din of daily life. Maybe there’s plentiful sunlight in a lower elevation garden versus a mountainous one. Understanding this aspect provides us with insight as to the obstacles and processing techniques used to produce tea, as well as the growth of the plant.
So there are a few of my thoughts into why I value this process and similar processes used within the community. Does every tea vendor readily share this information? Not always, but in my experience thus far most are happy to provide the information when asked. With practice, tasting, and experiencing the leaf, you’ll be able to gain a lot just by the taste and visual cues.
Is there a tool or method you use when making tea purchasing decisions? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you look for when it comes to investing in your tea drinking!