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Why Does Tea From the Grocery Store Taste Different?

Tea drinkers who've grown up on tea from the grocery store might notice that Art of Tea's products tastes different. For one, they're not as strongly sweet. They also take some care to prepare. These aren't bad things! In fact, these are signs that the tea is of higher quality. That's why we suggest learning how to brew and steep Art of Tea tea. The tea leaves and blend components are different than those found in cheaper teas.

Tea Leaf Size and Quality

Next time you bag your own loose leaf tea using Art of Tea filter bags, grab a pre-packaged tea bag from your pantry and hold the two bags in your hands to compare. They feel different, right? That's because the tea leaves are different.

Of course, both Art of Tea and other tea brands use Camellia Sinensis or similar tisane ingredients, but the tea grade is not the same. You can actually think of these two grades of teas like you would potato chips.

When you open a bag of chips, the top few are potato-chip-commercial-worthy perfection. They're usually whole, unbroken, and the highest quality. Those are the same qualities we look for when we source teas. We want whole tea leaves of the right size. These larger tea leaves are superior because as they brew and unfurl, they release flavor from more constituents of the leaf. Brewing whole leaf tea also reduces bitterness and unwanted astringency.

When brewing a bagged tea from the grocery store, you're often brewing a bag of "fannings." Fannings are dusty bits of broken tea leaves. Of course, these tea bags also contain larger pieces of tea leaves, but the pieces are smaller. You can compare these leaves and dusty bits to the chips at the bottom of the bag. When you pour the final crumbs of potato chips into your mouth, (Don't worry. We've all done it.) they're flavor-packed and full of concentrated salty flavor. The flavor can be overpowering and unpleasant.

Natural vs. Artificial Flavoring

When you drink a single-origin tea, like Dragonwell, Silver Needle, or Gyokuro, you're just drinking Camellia Sinensis. The leaves are processed through steaming, oxidizing, drying, baking, or roasting, but otherwise, the tea isn't altered. Blends are a little different, though. Blends contain tea leaves, of course, but then we add other components, like botanicals, dried fruits, cacao, or other tea types. Sometimes, we add naturally sourced flavors. These flavors don't contribute to the flavor of the tea as they do the smell. In fact, we like to think they contribute "essence." They give you the essence of a fruit, the essence of vanilla, or the essence of another component.

Natural flavors are fleeting, too. Imagine a piano. When you play a key, the sound appears and then disappears. It's a short moment of sound. That's what natural flavors are like. They appear, and they disappear after a moment. Artificial flavors are like a note played on the piano while you hold down a pedal. Flavor appears and then lingers, like a prolonged note. Artificial flavors are a little bit stronger, too. Rather than capturing the essence of something, they replicate the flavor. Sometimes these flavors, like the fannings, can be overpowering. 

We never use strictly artificial flavoring in our tea blends. Some companies do. If you're having a difficult time distinguishing the taste of natural and artificial flavors, think back to a time when you drank a fruit punch or grape-flavored sports drink. That long-lasting, sometimes "chemically" taste is artificial flavoring. 

Keep all of these factors in mind next time you drink Art of Tea or a pre-bagged tea from the grocery store shelves. You'll begin to notice the nuances that make Art of Tea's products different and you'll understand why we covet those top-of-the-bag potato-chip tea leaves the way we do. 

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