Cheap tea = bitterness?


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Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby Mo the leftfoot » Feb 8th, '11, 11:59

In a "Yahoo Answers" topic a guy asked the question why cheap green tea get´s always so bitter that easy. The answer he got was that cheap tea almost always contains plant material that doesn´t belong into the tea at all like lower and full grown tea leaves.

Recently I had a longjing that suprised me by beeing so cheap (I thought how can a longjing be that cheap at all) and I got my reward when I first brewed it: No flavour at all and gruesome bitterness at ANY temperature.

So my questions: Is it right that cheap tea is stuffed with things that don´t belong in it and is this the reason why it gets so bitter at any temp? or is it just that it´s to old?
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby Chip » Feb 8th, '11, 12:06

It may be less desirable leaf bits and particles, maybe manufactured poorly, fake, later harvests, and/or contaminated.

Just generally lower grade in likely every respect.
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby tenuki » Feb 8th, '11, 12:57

Who really cares why? It's cheap tea for a reason. I suppose the people who process tea _might_ know the answer to your question, but the bottom line as drinkers is that the why is largely immaterial. Even if you were able to ask a tea producer (the only one likely to know for sure) who was willing to answer it honestly it's likely that you would get a less than exact response.

I'm not being rude, I'm just pointing out that why is kinda a pointless question to ask here. Just quit buying cheap tea if you don't like it. :D
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby Mo the leftfoot » Feb 8th, '11, 16:56

Don´t worry Tenuki. Not offended at all.

I just wanted to know what makes a bad tea a bad tea and how I can avoid getting a bad tea. Believe me when I say that I had teas that were quiet fine and I had teas four times worth those teas and they were plain crap.

So avoiding cheap teas at all makes no sense...especially for us non-Aston Martin-Drivers...if you know what I´m talkin about.

@ Chip:
Chip wrote:It may be less desirable leaf bits and particles, maybe manufactured poorly, fake, later harvests, and/or contaminated.

Just generally lower grade in likely every respect.


Good answer, makes sense. There seem to be alot of fakes, mostly from sechuan, going around in the world. But damn that Longjing I bought looked nice. Not as fresh and yellow as the real deal, but the leaves looked excelent. And still that tea was crap. I wonder what they do with a fine looking tea like that to make it taste so poorly. I hope it wasn´t contamination, like you said. Don´t want my urin to glow in the dark.
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby entropyembrace » Feb 8th, '11, 17:01

I´m really not sure why exactly...but it´s definitely my experience that cheap teas are often extremely bitter and rather bland. :?
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby debunix » Feb 8th, '11, 17:28

Sometimes a tea is cheap because it's lesser known variety or production area, or from people trying new things with their tea (like the interesting oolongs and green teas coming out of Yunnan, as people who planted during the puerh bubble look for other things to do with their tea), and those can be quite wonderful finds. But I generally try to stay away from teas with a well-known name but unbelievably low price, because they're usually disappointing. From what I've read and seen on video about tea production, it is complicated enough that there are easily quite a few steps where the tea can 'go wrong'--poor quality starting material, careless handling after harvest, and the many tea-specific production steps like wok-drying, rolling, steaming, turning, pressing, final drying--all places it can go wrong. But poor leaf seems like the first and likeliest culprit.
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby rdl » Feb 8th, '11, 17:31

Mo the leftfoot wrote:So avoiding cheap teas at all makes no sense...especially for us non-Aston Martin-Drivers...if you know what I´m talkin about.

i think you better need to define cheap. as chip replied with so many possibilities, cheap can mean many things.
however - if cheap means the tea non-Aston Martin-Drivers drink, then bitterness is not always a bad thing.
there are lots of teas that are not meant to be anything more than what they are. and lots of people have been drinking these teas for generations.
there is a certain baseline price for most tea types, sold from honest merchants you know you are geting that tea. but for teas that are priced at the bottom of the scale, the price/quality ratio is easy to discern. just expect bitterness and avoid the real junk.
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby tenuki » Feb 8th, '11, 19:03

On the topic of avoiding bad tea, my simple strategy is to stop ordering from a vendor if I get bad tea from them more than once. My current list of places to buy tea from is pretty short, but also pretty long lived. Think of the vendor as the equivalent of a editor of news website. Good ones do all the work of weeding out bad tea for you so you don't have to do it.
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby Mo the leftfoot » Feb 9th, '11, 14:58

Thank you all for your advice.

Like I said, I got myself some good cheap tea and some bad cheap tea. The bad cheap tea was always some of that kind debunix mentioned: big name - cheap (unreasonable low) price. (Thank you for that!!!)

The low cost teas with a not-so-bad flavour i got were 10 bucks/500g health food shop - no name teas. Nine times out of ten those teas are vacuum-packed, the flavour didn´t last for months but for that price it´s a quite nice substitute if you drink more than half a gallon of tea a day like me. I think one needs an every-day-tea that has to be cheap but good in flavour. By good I mean it doesn´t kill you. :lol:

What really bothers me is that you cannot see or smell a bad tea when it´s offered to you in a professional tea shop. I mean I´m not able to smell a difference since most teas don´t seem to have a strong flavour unless they´re brewed.
The damn plagiarization of well known teas is just wrong. Since China is mostly a poor country, it makes sense, but I can´t see why so many vendors in the western world fall for them so easily.
Money is a bad thing.
Period. huhuhuhu...
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby riccaicedo » Sep 16th, '12, 21:14

Bitterness doesn't correlate with quality, all it correlates with is caffeine.
Houjicha is not bitter at all (thanks to the roasting process). Is it great quality tea? Not really.
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby mageta » Oct 6th, '12, 14:00

My dad got some Longjing from a local tea shop, I tried it on two occasions and was kind of surprised at how unremarkable it was. I'm used to a very mellow grassy taste with a very sweet and pleasant finish. With the tea he had there was the initial flavor and then it just falls flat, and yea it is kind of bitter, that nice sweet finish isn't there at all.
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby kittylovestea » Nov 17th, '12, 09:25

My reply is more about the quality of the tea for the price. In most online tea shops you can compare the same type of tea with different qualities that reflect the price. Most of this is due to the type of leaves used and the location of the plant that they have been taken from.
For example: If you imagine a stalk of natural green tea (as shown below in basic form) it will have leaves at the bottom which are usually larger and smaller newer leaves at the top. The top leaves for a lot of tea's are considered to be the tastiest and freshest so they are picked separately for the finer quality tea. Then the middle leaves will be chosen for a good quality and it will continue in that way until you get to the bottom which are the oldest leaves.

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Perhaps some greens you get are cheap purely due to the type of leaves used to make it. I am sure that some companies may pump it up slightly but it's not something they would admit to so I cannot give an example. You get what you pay for :)
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby zeto » Dec 12th, '12, 00:08

Quality comes from 3 aspects in my opinion:

1) how and where was the plant grown? This is the starting point... all great tea is greatly taken care of in great soils and great sun conditions.

2) What part of the plant are you drinking? Not all parts of a plant are created equal... which part you drink matters.

3) What is the leaf size? The smaller the leaf size, the more exposed it's been. This aspect can be helped by nitrogen packing, but packing shake in such a way is pretty much unheard of.

The question then becomes, which metric are you looking at for quality? Given great conditions, tips, and whole leaves, you are going to get the most 'stuff' inside the leaf... whether or not that 'stuff' tastes the best is up to the individual.

Clearly shake off the ground that is swept into a bag can have foreign material in it. I honestly wouldn't even consider that type of thing for 'quality.'
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby AlexZorach » Dec 21st, '12, 17:36

I've sampled hundreds of teas now, over 100 pure green teas, and I don't believe that there's much of a meaningful relationship between the price of a tea and its bitterness. I also think that there isn't a direct relationship between bitterness and quality.

I recently tried some longjing that was, in my opinion, quite overpriced, and quite low quality, but it was very smooth tasting, with very little bitterness. It actually had a lot less bitterness than two samples of longjing that I recently tried that I found much higher-quality. It just didn't have the most pleasant aroma--the aroma was weaker and rather unpleasant.

Another example is bancha. I've found that bancha is often less bitter than some sencha, and it's usually cheaper and considered a lower grade. But I find it's sometimes more astringent, and it is also just really different...it has a very different aroma.

There are some teas where the price corresponds to quality, and where quality corresponds to less bitterness, but I don't think that these are really true as general rules. There are many different ways teas can taste bad--too much astringency, unpleasant aromas, too sour, or just straight-up blandness. I actually find that when I separate out bitterness from the other sensations of flavor and sensations on the palate, bitterness is often higher in higher-quality teas, because bitterness corresponds pretty well to caffeine content, which is often higher in higher-priced teas, because of the greater portion of tips.
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Re: Cheap tea = bitterness?

Postby zeto » Jan 8th, '13, 05:56

I'd argue price is mostly a function of perceived need and supply... simply supply and demand.

I do think price correlates with quality somewhat, here defined as unoxidized antioxidants and other nutrients, but only so much as it contributes primarily to the care needed to produce such a product, making it more rare, and thus more expensive.

In the upper tiers of tea which all have essentially the same care taken, price is a function purely of supply and demand, and is not going to be correlated with quality at all.

Demand will often correlate with taste, and ironically, it's VERY possible that people choose less astringent, less bitter teas at the top tiers, making them both the most expensive AND the lowest quality. (since astringency and bitterness are often hallmarks of antioxidants and nutrient density.)

Moral of the story is you have to know what to look for, and you have to have a definition of quality that others can agree on. Here I defined quality as health constituents (more objective)... others may define it through taste (less objective.) I believe more objective definitions are better and accompanying explanation can round out the subjective flavor profile.
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