“Artisanal tea” is one of the factors to take into consideration, when looking for superior quality tea. This post is part of a series of articles dealing each with one aspect of tea quality. So far, we have written about “directly sourced tea“, “spring tea“, and “high mountain tea“. In this post, we explore what artisanal tea exactly means. We also look into the upsides and potential downsides of artisanal tea.
Artisanal tea: What does it mean?
The answer to this question is more complicated than it would seem at first sight. Is it just a synonym for handmade tea? The making of any tea variety requires a whole chain of production steps. Any of these steps can be done manually, or with the help of some sort of machine. It is also often the case, that different persons realize different steps, everyone having his own area of expertise.
In our view, the most important aspect of artisanal tea is the tea artisan himself. To be called “artisanal”, a product has to be planned and realized by tea artisans, according to their intensions. Of course, as the word artisan suggests, a high degree of skill is required. Accordingly, artisanal tea can only be mostly handmade tea. Even more so, every tea type has some crucial processing steps that should only be handmade, for a tea to be called artisanal. In the case of green tea or yellow tea, we are of the opinion that artisanal tea equals handmade tea.
What about a product made with first quality leaves, entirely done by expert hands, except for one step accomplished with the help of some electrically powered machine? We know some tea artisans we respect a lot, who prefer to roll their leaves with an automatic tea kneading machine. They don’t do it because it is easier, but because they like the result better. Their teas are among the very best in their category. Not calling them artisanal would be a mistake.
Advantages and risks of artisanal tea
As implied by our definition above, everything rests in the hands of the tea artisan. Good artisans make the very best teas. Teas made by poorly skilled artisans can not compare with machine made teas. While machines can not give you excellence, they can give you the guarantee of an average quality. With artisanal tea, there is no such guarantee. When sourcing artisanal tea, getting to know the artisan is therefore extremely important.
Artisanal tea in itself is not a guarantee of quality: even the best skills can not make up for bad leaves. Only when combined with other criteria of quality, can it be a sign of good tea.
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