How to judge tea quality

*Note: contains paid advertising and contextual affiliate links where a commission (at no cost to you) is received for sale of products linked in a post. I partner with brands and products that I am passionate about and appreciate your support in making this blog possible!

Is your tea as good as you think?

There are so many different brands of tea nowadays in the market to chose from that lead you to believe that they are high quality. But are all kinds of tea available out there really high quality teas? Of course not, since there are also a lot of  vendors labeling their products as “high quality” but in reality they offer average or even low quality ones. Therefore it is important to have an idea how to recognize good quality tea. In this post I am going to give you some guidelines on how to do that and thus avoid consuming bad quality tea.

Generally, there are four factors determining tea quality: appearancecolor,  fragrance and taste. These are all related of course since a tea with a good fragrance should taste good too. Good quality means nice appearance, color, fragrance, taste and overall feeling. High quality tea consists of high quality leaves, hand-picked at the moment the leaves are full of energy in the spring. Better for you and better for the tea pickers (natural environment, no machines, no pollution and care for their product).

1. Appearance of tea leaves

Tea leaves up close
Tea leaves up close

The appearance of dry tea leaves

Spread out a handful of tea leaves on a table to check their shape, size, and tenderness (softness). There are different standards for all shapes and sizes, depending on the variety, as well as for different kinds of tea. All high quality teas should have approximately the same shape and size.

In general, the longer, thinner, denser, the better. Tenderness is also a very important factor. The more tender, the better. Excellent tenderness means that the tea leaf is tight and the color is well-balanced. The leaves should be whole and not broken without stems and twigs.

The appearance of wet tea leaves

After steeping, the tea leaves will absorb the water and then recover its original shape. The original shape can reveal a lot about the tea quality. You will see that the tea leaves look completely natural like they were just picked from the trees. The good quality tea leaves, after getting wet will not return to its original shape after pressing by hand.

2. Color of tea leaves

Black tea leaves
Black tea leaves

The color of dry tea leaves

High quality tea has a brighter color and is well-shaped. In general, the requirement of color is different for different types of tea. For green tea, there are dark, light, jade, yellow and a grayish green. Generally the deeper the color is, the higher the quality.

The color of wet tea leaves

New teas have bright and fresh colors. Aged tea will be a grey yellow and dark black color. In some cases like the raw Pu-erh teas and white tea bricks the quality can also be told by its fermenting degree. For green tea, light, clear and yellowish green is the best; for black tea, brilliant red is best; for Tieguanyin tea (an Oolong tea or Wulong tea) a bright green leaf with red trim is the best.

The color of the infusion

High quality tea has a clear, bright and fresh look. The low quality tea has dull colors and looks watered down. In general, a bright color means rich taste and a lighter color means light taste.

3. Fragrance of tea

Tea being poured in traditional cups
Tea being poured in traditional cups

The fragrance of dry tea leaves

Put a handful of the dry tea leaves near your nose and absorb the fragrance. Fresh tea and complete fired tea is surely more fragrant than low quality tea and water-full tea, in which too much water remains in the leaf, the result of unskilled processing.

The fragrance of the infusion

The fragrance is affected by the tea kind, origin, season and picking and processing method. Each tea has its unique fragrance. Black tea should have a sweet fragrance. Good green tea is fresh and subtle and not harsh or grassy; oolong tea has fruit and flower aromas. Normally, the long-lasting, fresh fragrance would mean good quality. The low quality tea will have smoky, sour, harsh, acid, musty or stale flavor. Once you gain some experience, you will be able to recognize whether you’re drinking a low or high quality tea after the first sip.


Some tea vendors add fragrances or other additives to the tea in order to cover the low quality tea leaves used. You can always judge the quality by its appearance so when opening the package try checking the leaves first.

4. Taste

Tea set on wood platter
Tea set on wood platter

The taste of the infusion

Tea is an exclusive beverage. Therefore its value is determined by the taste. Different parts of the tongue are sensitive to different taste, the tip of your tongue senses sweet, the tongue
root senses bitterness and the middle of the tongue is sensitive to a more harsh bitter taste. The less bitter the tea the better, best would be soothing. The high quality tea may initially have a bitter taste and then it will become sweet. The low quality tea will have a bitter taste before and after.

So these are the main factors contributing to either a delicious or not cup of tea. I hope this article helps with your future tea shopping experiences. If you have something to add or have any questions please leave your commends below!

I would be happy to answer them!