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Just what constitutes a “top tea brand”? The question of what tea is “best” is a highly subjective one. Just looking at sales figures alone does not adequately paint the picture of which brands and tea companies offer a premium-quality product, since there are many tea drinkers who buy certain brands out of convenience or habit. If you want to discover which tea companies offer the top-quality brands of tea, you must dig a bit deeper.
Rather than presenting a quick-and-easy list of the top 10 tea brands, I am going to present a more critical take on what it means to be a top tea company: there are different notions of quality and different measures of what is best. Which brand is best for you depends on what you are looking for.
Big corporate tea brands dominate the market by numbers and popularity:
Different brands of tea dominate the market in different countries. In the U.S., Lipton. In the UK, PG Tips is one of the leading brands. Interestingly, both Lipton and PG Tips are owned by Unilever, a multinational mega-corporation that also owns, incidentally, Red Rose Tea (popular in Canada) and Bushells (a brand of tea in Australia and New Zealand), among other tea companies. There are a number of other large corporate brands too, both owned by public and private companies. If you want to drink the tea that is most popular, these are the brands for you.
But do these mainstream brands offer the highest-quality tea?
Most tea connoisseurs and even a large number of casual tea drinkers would be quick to agree that they do not. The mainstream tea companies have the main advantage of consistency, employing professional blenders to ensure that the flavor, aroma, and other qualities of their tea remain more or less the same not only from year to year, but during different times of the year as well. If you’re looking for predictability, these brands may offer what you’re looking for, but if you are looking for interesting and unique flavors, these brands may not be the best choice.
Why does tea have so much variety?
The main source of variability in how tea tastes is how it is processed. Different processing results in different types of tea: green, black, white, oolong, Pu-erh, and a few other more esoteric types. Furthermore, within green tea or black tea, there are many different types of processing that profoundly influence the flavor of the finished tea. But this is not the only source of variation.
Although most casual tea drinkers do not realize it, tea is a seasonal product. Tea tends to be harvested at certain times of year, and different harvests of tea have different flavor profiles and aromatic qualities: the qualities vary not only from one time of year to another, but also from one year to the next, as the changing weather influences the flavor. Furthermore, the flavor and aroma of the tea are affected by climate and soil conditions as well, so they vary regionally.
Choose a brand based on what qualities you like:
Different tea companies have different areas of strength, based on their focus, knowledge, and expertise. Many brands focus on one particular region, such as China or Japan. If you know you like teas from a particular region or tea culture, buy from a brand that specializes in that type of tea culture. Even if you are buying from a top brand of tea, you may be disappointed if you buy a type of tea from a culture that is a weak point of that company’s offerings.