A Guide to Evaluating the Quality of Tea In-Person and Online

Tea quality can be challenging to judge both in person and online. While guidelines can be helpful, it’s important to remember that they are subjective and not hard and fast rules. These tips were adapted from the Chinese Encyclopedia of Tea, but they are not comprehensive. Judging tea quality online can be particularly tricky since you can’t see, smell, or taste the tea beforehand, especially if it’s an expensive variety.

Chinese tea, in particular, is notoriously difficult to grade objectively, especially when it comes to high-quality tea. Unlike the coffee or wine industries, the tea industry operates in a different way. It’s like trying to grade fine wine; there are too many variables to consider. With thousands of teas available, the best way to learn about tea is to taste it yourself. Ultimately, the tea you enjoy the most is the best tea for you. While we take pride in our teas, we also encourage you to explore other tea vendors. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned tea enthusiast, we hope these guidelines will help you navigate the vast world of tea.


Appearance is an essential factor to consider when judging the quality of tea. The shape and color of the leaf can vary significantly between different types of tea, and the condition of the leaf provides valuable information about the tea’s quality. It’s always preferable to choose unbroken tea leaves, whether they are leaves or buds, as broken leaves can result in bitterness. However, it’s worth noting that some teas, such as black tea, may be deliberately cut to create a stronger flavor, and certain oolongs may be bruised or abraded to improve their appearance and taste.

Examining both the dry and wet leaves can provide insight into the tea’s processing and oxidation. The wet leaves, in particular, can reveal a lot about how the tea was processed and the level of oxidation it underwent. The color of dry green tea can vary depending on how it was processed, with hand-fried leaves having a yellowish tinge, steamed tea resembling leafy green vegetables like spinach, and baked green tea appearing very dark green. When brewed, green tea should retain its original color as closely as possible. Age can affect the color of the tea water, causing it to turn brown or murky green. The color of black tea water should be bright reddish-gold, leaving a ring in the cup after brewing.

The appearance of oolongs can vary widely depending on the type, with dark fermented oolongs like Wu Yi Mountain and Dan Cong/Phoenix Mountain oolongs having a dark green or brown color. Tie Guan Yin oolongs, on the other hand, have a bright to dark green color and are said to resemble the head of a dragonfly. Anxi oolongs tend to be lighter in color than Taiwan oolongs. Generally, good quality green teas have smaller, delicate buds and leaves, while oolongs have larger leaves with obvious serrated edges. By paying close attention to the appearance of tea, you can gain valuable insights into its quality and processing methods.


When evaluating tea, it’s important to consider the aroma both before and after brewing. There are two categories of aroma to consider: the dry aroma and the wet aroma. The dry aroma should be evident when you smell the dry leaves. If there is no aroma, it’s a warning sign.

Green tea should have a light, fresh, and soothing fragrance. It could be a light orchid or a chestnut smell. Black tea, on the other hand, should have a sweet and floral fragrance that lingers. The dry aroma of oolong tea can range from peach to osmanthus flowers. The aroma of Tie Guan Yin should remind you of sweet corn.

When judging scented tea, such as Jasmine, it’s important to note if the fragrance is maintained over multiple infusions. A scented tea that loses its smell quickly is of poor quality. It’s worth remembering that the fragrance of a tea is just as important in evaluating its quality as its taste.


When examining tea, touch can reveal a lot about its quality. Smoothness and coarseness can be felt, as well as the tea’s weight and tendency to crumble. High-quality green tea will feel smooth and the wet leaves should be tender. Tie Guan Yin should be dense and heavy, and its wet leaves should be tender yet sturdy like silk. If the tea crumbles easily, it may have been baked for too long or be too old. Paying attention to the texture of the tea can help determine its quality.


Tasting tea is one of the most reliable ways to judge its quality. Green tea should have a fresh taste, free from staleness and excessive astringency. On the other hand, black tea should be full-bodied and fresh. In general, good quality tea has a sweet aftertaste and should feel smooth when swallowed. The aftertaste should linger in the mouth for a noticeably long time, similar to the way a beautiful melody lingers in the mind after listening to music. Some teas can produce a remarkable taste by sipping some water while the aftertaste lingers, creating a dramatic effect. It is essential to remember that tasting tea is similar to wine tasting: slurping the tea helps to aerate it (in China, it is a sign of appreciation and knowledge and not considered bad manners), allowing it to flow down the tongue in one sip, followed by the sides and then the whole tongue. It’s important to pay attention to the subtleties and complexity of the tea. A significant part of learning to appreciate tea is to slow down and pay attention to its nuances.

Tips for Buying Tea Online

Buying tea online can be a great way to access high-quality tea that may not be available in retail stores. However, it can also be challenging to judge the quality and authenticity of tea based on photos and descriptions. Here are some tips to keep in mind when buying tea online:

Be cautious of staged photos

Photos of tea online can be deceiving, as they are often staged to make the tea leaves look organized and perfect. Tea is best viewed in natural sunlight, and digital photography can make it difficult to capture the true colors of the tea. Be sure to compare the photos you see online to the tea you receive to ensure that they match.

Beware of mislabeling and misinformation

Tea is subject to mislabeling, misinformation, and inconsistent pricing. Deception is prevalent in the tea business, so be cautious and research the company before making a purchase. The best tea is never cheap, so be wary of deals that seem too good to be true.

Buy from knowledgeable vendors

Look for companies that can answer your questions about the tea convincingly. Some companies claim to buy directly from producers, but in reality, very few are able to. The depth of knowledge a vendor provides is usually the depth of information they have themselves, so do your homework and research the company before making a purchase.

Consider the source

If buying tea from China, be aware that most exporting is handled through an export company with a license. Few producers have export licenses, and those that do are often limited in the variety of tea they can export. Be cautious of remarkable deals on premium tea, as they are often too good to be true.

Read reviews and do your research

Take the time to read reviews and research the company before making a purchase. There are many companies selling tea online, but only a few have substantive sites and tea catalogs. Look for companies with authentic content and a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied.

In the end, the best tea is the one you enjoy drinking the most. Explore the world of tea and try as many varieties as possible to find the ones that you love. With these tips in mind, you can enhance your tea experience and find the best teas for you.

Leave a Reply