The definition of specialty tea seems to have ‘loosened’ over the years and it is increasingly a difficult thing to define. It used to mean a much higher quality or much rarer blend of tea than you would usually come across i.e. it’s not your usual supermarket blend. However, with the increased ease to shop anywhere, order teas online from all over the world and generally have access to much more variety, there is now a bit of a blurred line between ‘specialty’ tea and a supermarket variety.
A good definition of a genuine specialty tea is one that has either been hand-processed and is rare in the industry or that specific market. What is rare to a tea-buyer in the UK is possibly an everyday tea to someone in China or India. When we refer to rare, we don’t mean an exotic blend of fruits, we usually mean a tea that is uncommon such as a pu-erh tea or a white tea.
Generally the specialty teas do tend to be a little more expensive than others and the leaves are usually larger and not as fine cut as tea leaves that go into a tea bag.
Whilst previously you couldn’t find specialty teas in the supermarket, there are now many available and easy to buy. – there are boutique tea companies, specialising in their own blends, there are organic tea companies, tea companies that focus on green teas or on white teas. There are tea companies that specialise in regions.
There are no real standards across the industry but the term is widely debated. A great deal of the decisions as to which teas fall into the specialty tea category comes from clever marketing by companies who choose their words and their image carefully and the consumer is none the wiser.