Tea comes – roughly – in 3 qualities: bulk, brand and premium.
Bulk tea is harvested mechanically, leaves and sprigs get grinded together. Using this method, the leaves get bruised and damaged, which might cause a bitter flavour. Originally, Kenia did not produce tea, but thanks to Lipton, Kenia is nowadays the third biggest tea country, right behind India and Sri Lanka. Packaging is important and the flavour is – due to mixing methods – always the same. This segment is marketing orientated. In China, this type of tea is often described as ‘dust’. Tea plantations separate the high quality leaves from the dust and grit, and use these for bulk tea.
The costs of this tea is minimal, often not even a penny per bag.
Tea brands, like Pickwick and Twinings, are known for their huge marketing activities. Nowadays you see more and more new brands entering this segment, distinguishing themselves through marketing, design and view (biological, Ayurveda, …). Most of the time, it is about mixes of teas or tea combined with herbs, flowers or fruit and sometimes completed with aromas. In this segment, the quality of the leaves is average, the final mix is the most important.
Premium tea is the segment of high quality tea, often loose tea from China. These types of tea are carefully cultivated and usually handpicked, in the end this affects the quality. The best location for cultivation, is one where the tea grows slowly. This depends on altitude, light, temperature, humidity and soil. The terroir and the climate result in different tastes, just like with wine. This explains why certain teas are cultivated in a specific area and not in other regions. Premium tea types are subject to personal taste, the same as with premium coffee or wine.