Andre Biedenkopf is a representative for Ronnefeldt tea company Dubai/UAE and Oman Andre Biedenkopf is a representative for Ronnefeldt tea company Dubai/UAE and Oman

The difference between Tea and Tea: Why hoteliers need to watch what material is being used for their teabags

Leaf, broken, fannings, dust — the art of defining leaf grades affects the taste and quality of the oldest hot beverage in the world. But it is not only the content that makes a good tea.

The appearance, the feel and look and the way it is served at your table really make a difference. Tea bags, tea caddies, tea buddies or ideally a strainer are the tools for surrounding the black and green tea leaves and for providing the basis to develop the right flavour in cups, mugs and tea pots.

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However, it very often happens that the material of these tools does not match the quality of the tea. Synthetic fibre and metal do not live up to the expectations of a modern lifestyle that is characterised by a strong ecological awareness.

For instance, a certain hotel is known for its environmental standards and policies. What would be the consequences of using synthetic fibre tea bags? Well, in this case the breakfast service staff will have to cut every used tea bag with a pair of scissors and separate the wet tea leaves from the bag in order to properly recycle the different components.

Just imagine a hotel with more than 1,000 rooms where 50% of the guests drink at least one cup of tea at breakfast! Compared to private households, hotels produce a far greater amount of trash. This is why hotels use professional recycling systems for packaging materials, glass, paper and organic waste.

The tea bag that is disposed of every day is only a tiny item in the overall recycling process. Therefore take a closer look at the tea bag, not only at the quality of its contents, but also the kind of material that is used for it. Small matter, maybe — but nevertheless essential when you consider the issue of sustainability and ecological standards.

Sustainability is a very important topic in the tea business. First of all, we are dealing with one of the oldest natural products that is still harvested by orthodox methods, mainly involving manual labour. The professional cultivation of the tea plants over the years and the right methods of harvesting are the essential processes in the production of a good tea.

Today only 40% of the world production consists of tea that is hand plucked and therefore living up to the high standard of “two leaves and one bud”. The other 60% comes from C-T-C (crushing - tearing - curling) production and mostly sold in retail shops, supermarkets and low budget hotels.

However, first class hotels all over the world are counting on the quality of the teas they serve because a real tea drinker is a connoisseur who immediately notices the difference between a tea of superior quality and a tea that is mass produced.

In order to maintain a top tea culture in the daily working processes of a hotel, a qualified tea ambassador is needed, a person who has the skills of a sommelier, a barista or a chief bartender.

As is the case with wine, the different tea regions have their special harvesting periods, and they use different drying times and methods for producing their teas. Only a qualified tea ambassador or connoisseur would know this and the correct way to treat the tea.

The oxidation process is an essential element in the production of black teas. When it comes to green teas, the tea leaves are not fermented and stay green. This result is obtained by both the Japanese and the Chinese methods.

The best tea leaves, plucked by hand and cultivated for centuries in the tea gardens of China, Darjeeling, Assam and Sri Lanka need a proper packaging, just like a good bottle of wine or champagne. Besides a sustainable packing material, the size of a tea bag guarantees the full flavour once the tea leaves are brewed.

Take a closer look next time you pick up your ‘cuppa’ during breakfast or tea-time. There’s a big difference between tea and tea!

André Biedenkopf is a representative for Ronnefeldt tea company Dubai/UAE and Oman who in the past decade has moved from the hotel industry and with his team set benchmarks in tea quality, tea culture and customer service in the United Arab Emirates.