Monday, June 4, 2012

Why Can Green Tea Bags Be Worse Than Black Tea Bags?

Before I delve in, I want to explain the exact meaning of this post's title. Among tea bags, there is a broad range of quality. But my personal experience has been that green tea bags range much farther into the low end of quality, poor quality, than do black tea bags. In other words, the worst green tea bags are much worse than the worst black tea bags.

It's been my experience that there is a certain base level of quality one can expect from even stale, low-end tea bags of straight black tea, as well as familiar styles of tea like Earl Grey, Ceylon, Irish Breakfast, etc. And it has also been my experience that the best green tea bags are about as good as the best black tea bags...but I think there are some really terrible green teas out there in tea bags.

The following highly subjective diagram illustrates this point:

Why? Because people buy green tea for reasons other than taste:

Although there may be other factors, such as a tendency for black tea to hold its flavor longer, which can partially explain the phenomenon I'm getting at here, I think there is one factor that overwhelms the others.

I think the broader range of quality among green tea bags for sale in America can be mostly explained by noting that here in the U.S., people frequently drink green tea for "health" reasons, whereas they rarely drink black tea for health reasons.

Black tea, on the other hand, is consumed primarily for taste, so any products on the market that were bad beyond a certain point would quickly stop being purchased. Green teas, on the other hand, persist, because people are buying them and drinking them because they feel they "should" drink them. There's that word "should" again, causing problems in our tea culture.

My advice, to everyone, is to drink what tastes good to you. Not only will you be helping to shape the marketplace in a positive way by weeding out the inferior products, but you'll probably be healthier too because you'll be drinking fresher, higher-quality tea.

What do you think?

Do you buy into my reasoning here? Does your own personal experience fit with the point illustrated in my diagram? Do you agree that the word "should" and beliefs related to statements involving what we "should" drink can undermine quality and allow inferior products to persist in the marketplace?


  1. My experience with green tea is opposed to this, probably because I have different tastes in tea. I have only liked green tea that comes from a tea bag, and I tend to think that cheaper, more generic brands of green tea taste better.

    1. Haha...this is interesting...I guess this shows how personal and different tastes can be.

      I guess when it comes down to it, anything that is a question of tastes is still going to be a matter of opinion. It's interesting to hear different perspectives.

      I can see certain reasons that people might not like a lot of loose-leaf green tea...the vegetal qualities, in particular.

    2. That's very interesting and I've seen people who also enjoy lower grades of green tea better. I guess one reason is, high grade green tea is mainly featured by their subtle taste from amino acids and other fragrant molecules responsible for "freshness" or soupy taste. Lower grade tea (later harvest) has more polyphenol taste. I guess the former category may fall into some people's "blind spot" of taste, and then it would seem rather "tasteless" to them.

  2. Interesting conversation, and I tend to agree with you. Also, green tea will lose its freshness must faster, so one might be getting stale tea off the shelf.

    1. Yes! There is a follow-up post on its way, stay tuned...I'm planning to go into more depth, mentioning the freshness issue too.

    2. Yeah I think that's a big factor. Green tea is all about freshness. A good green tea, when stale, could taste worse than any bad tea.

  3. Another factor that I could think of is, decent green tea costs a lot more than decent black tea. For example, in Chinese domestic market, a $20 per pound black tea (keemun or others) could be quite decent. But a not so picky family wouldn't usually go down to $20 per pound green tea (a picky family may go directly for $200 per pound green tea or above, regardless of their income). There are still sources of good $20 per pound green tea, but much fewer sources than those for black tea.

    Teabags are big on value added due to packaging. If the tea is not cheap to begin with, there is little to none value-adding space left. If you put $100 per pound tea leaves in teabags, it's not very realistic to sell it for $500 per pound due to the market size for expensive tea. On the other hand, if a company is capable of selling teabags for $500 per pound, they will be capable to do so with $50 per pound tea leaves to begin with. Then why bother with better tea leaves ;-) That's my understanding of marketing :-p