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The Tea Industry's Dark Secret

With the growing demand for tea worldwide and with pressure to maximize corporate profit, big tea companies have altered the way they harvest and process tea.

This is why the tea you try from a grocery store or a national tea chain often tastes bitter or stale.

Today we’ll go over the 3 practices the tea industry uses to cut these corners and what to look for when shopping for tea to be sure you never fall victim to poor quality tea again.

#1: Mass Harvesting

Tea plucking is an art and a science. Timing is critical for quality as tea flavors vary at different times of harvest with early season (first flush) producing the best quality teas. This process can’t be rushed.

Big tea takes short cuts by using machinery to pluck tea leaves at any time of year that’s convenient for them to increase profits by sacrificing on quality.

#2. They Use Tea Leaf Scraps

Big brands have abandoned the Orthodox method (processing tea, often by hand, using various tea-specific methods of drying, steaming, firing, rolling, etc.) in favor of the cheaper Crush, Tear, Curl (CTC) method which involves industrial machinery pulverizing the tea leaves into scraps of leaves and dust called fannings.

The quality of tea is determined by when it’s plucked and how much of the tea leaf remains intact so they’re actually destroying the flavor potential and severely lowering the quality through their processing. Why crush up the tea leaves? That takes us to #3...

#3. They Use Tea Bags - Which Inhibit the Natural Flavor Release

#1 and #2 ultimately lead to the mass produced black tea fannings used by every major tea conglomerate to be sold in tea bags at supermarkets and restaurants. This is the tea used as the base for common flavored teas and blends like english breakfast.

Tea in its natural state (loose leaf) requires space to expand as it releases its unique and natural flavors. With a greater surface area, whole leaves retain a range of flavors that showcase the quality of their cultivation, from the altitude and terrain they’re grown in, to the time of season in which they’re plucked and prepared.

Big tea brands bypass these quality indicators to meet their bottom line: cheap and efficient. They sacrifice quality for quantity, with mass produced tea bags that require flavoring and blending to mask their lackluster and often bitter taste.

Tea bag tea usually tastes bitter regardless of how you steep it because crushed leaves release their tannins much faster (crushed leaves have less surface area than whole leaves so their tannins escape more easily, rather than naturally as they do with loose leaves). More tannins = more bitter tasting tea.

3 ways to know the tea you’re buying is top quality.

#1. Look for “Single Origin” tea or the region the tea is from on the box.
Single-origin or single estate tea is a sign of premium quality tea namely because it signals that the tea hasn’t been “blended” with low quality leaves and artificial flavors.

#2. Only buy loose leaf tea (avoid tea bags).
Loose leaf teas give you the best flavor, aroma, and quality possible. They’re fresher and they last longer than tea bag teas when stored properly. “Loose leaf tea” indicates a higher level of quality and care is maintained from farm to cup. Tea bag tea is almost always mass produced and low quality which means the taste doesn’t compare.

#3. Choose pure teas over flavored blends.
Pure loose leaf teas are handcrafted by tea artisans to showcase the natural flavors specific to the teas and the regions they’re grown in. Farmers take several factors into careful consideration during harvesting and processing to ensure the greatest depth of flavor in their teas.

Tea bag tea is mass produced and filled with low quality fannings which is why they add artificial flavoring to it: to cover up bitterness and make up for the lackluster taste. If choosing flavored blends, look for naturally flavored teas that are loose leaf, not from tea bags, and single origin to find the high quality flavored blends out there.

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