Tea Kettle Philosophy — Judging by Appearance

These days the politically correct thing to do is to avoid judging things and people by their appearance. But in tea, judging by appearance can be a very good thing. This thought comes to mind as once again I set the kettle on to boil. A time when the old brain starts cranking.

Tight leaves with a tender bud inside and a silky downy coating outside – the appearance of a truly fine white tea. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)
Tight leaves with a tender bud inside and a silky downy coating outside – the appearance of a truly fine white tea. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Once upon a time, I dated this very handsome guy. He was six-foot-two, broad-shouldered, built like a very in-shape lifeguard, with sandy blond hair and bright blue eyes. Too bad that by the end of the second date I discovered his outward appearance was a very thin veneer hiding a totally rotten personality. He yelled at waiters, ogled other women quite openly, dipped his fork into the food on my plate without asking, and got a bit overly frisky when saying goodnight. Ugh! The good thing was that it taught me a valuable lesson. A nice appearance was no guarantee of a nice personality. The next handsome guy to ask me out had to be someone I knew a bit about first.

Time for the tea tie-in.

When the tea appearance fooled:

Awhile back someone commented that the gyokuro tea he got did not look like good quality. The leaf pieces were broken up. Now, I understand that some tea experts say that broken leaves for gyokuro and some other teas is a sign of lesser quality. But that is a general rule and so not true in all cases. I tried some of the same tea and found the flavor to be very nice.

When the tea appearance was true:

On the other hand, I recently tried a white tea whose appearance really did presage its quality and flavor. It was comprised of leaf-bud combos that were tight and had the silky downy covering which distinguishes these teas from normal green teas. For this tea, appearance was everything in terms of telling how good the taste would be. It was an indicator that the tea leaves were plucked at the right time by experienced workers and then sorted by people who knew which leaf-bud combos were the best.

Another example is CTC versus orthodox teas. Their appearance is a fairly accurate predictor of their flavors. You can get more bitterness from CTC and more subtlety from orthodox, generally speaking.

“Generally speaking” seems to be the key phrase here. Appearances can always be deceiving as the saying goes, especially when relying on the appearance of tea leaves to be a good sign of the tea’s quality.

Kettle’s boiling and time to get that CTC Assam steeping.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

2 thoughts on “Tea Kettle Philosophy — Judging by Appearance

  1. Judy Trapp

    Don’t we all remember “that” guy? It usually takes only once. So far I have never been unhappy with a single tea vs. a tea blend. I buy bulk from a reputable company, Stash, Harney and Sons, to name two, and they never seemed to disappoint. Nice article. Judy

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