There was a time when you drove to the grocery store, went to the coffee aisle, and hunted for that box of teabags filled with “black tea” dust. At one point, someone started claiming that green tea was more healthy to drink, so boxes of teabags labeled “green tea” began appearing alongside the black tea ones. No other labeling. No tea garden name. No harvest time or flush time. No specifier to the exact type of each tea (gunpowder, sencha, Mao Feng, Chun Mei, etc., for the green; Keemun, Assam, etc., for the black). Are these things really important? Certainly. Let me share some of my thoughts on labeling teas with you by way of explanation.
Different Levels of Label Information
There are various levels of information on tea labels. Here are some:
- Level 1 (Basic): general tea type (white, green, oolong, black, pu-erh), weight (usually ounces or grams net weight, which means it does not include the packaging), the number of bags if it’s a bagged tea, the company name/logo, and of course the price. These are pretty essential things to know.
- Level 2: a fancy name for the tea such as “Tahitian Sunrise” or “Golden Sunset”; this is basically marketing and ends up being pretty useless to you, the tea drinker.
- Level 3: details for those who know or want to learn more about tea, but not too much, things like the tea garden name, the Romanized tea name such as “Tie Guan Yin” (or “Ti Kwan Yin,” etc.) or its translated equivalent such as “Iron Goddess,” any certifications, year harvested and/or flush, steeping instructions, the tea vendor’s web site URL, and so on.
- Level 4: actual information about the tea garden, location, harvest, processing, etc., which can become essential to you as you learn more about fine teas.
Why the Information Could Matter to You
Do you really need all that information on the label of the tea you buy? Some is good to know: the general type of tea (white, green, oolong, black, pu-erh). But how many folks know or care what Phoenix Mountain is, what “Tie Guan Yin” (or “Ti Kwan Yin,” etc.) means, or where Yunnan province is? So why put these things on a tea’s label? And that fancy name, as I said above, is just a gimmick. Right?
Well, you may not know about tea gardens and flushes and all the other details about the tea you’re buying. But having it available on the label will encourage you to find out, thus learning more about and better appreciating those teas. Knowing about the many tea growing areas of Taiwan can lead you to select just the right oolongs or other Taiwanese teas that suit your taste, for example. And that fancy name can often be easier to remember.
Some Things to Look for on a Tea’s Label
You’ll certainly want to know if it’s a green tea, black tea, pu-erh, etc., in that pouch, tea tin, or other container. Considering the vast difference in flavor between Chinese green teas and Japanese green teas, you will want to know that much at least. Knowing the amount you’re buying is also important. Steeping instructions are good for first-timers but not necessary for those used to the tea. For pu-erh, knowing the factory name and/or tea master and year the cake was pressed is good. One thing is for sure: we need to know more than just “green tea” or “black tea” like those grocery store teas were labeled.