While craft, hard-tea, and kombucha brewers have several choices in tea formats to use, it is important to understand the significant differences of those formats in terms of their value and final products created.
Most of all, real leaf means more and better control over the desired outcome.
REAL LEAF = MORE CONTROL
In overall terms, real leaf allows for more versatility in how tea is incorporated into the process to yield these final aspects. The brewer determines the tweaks that create a distinctive, harder-to-replicate product.
- Control of Attributes: The better the tea quality, the richer and more complex the flavor becomes available for brewers to work with. The brewer gets to choose the process that will unlock the characteristics that enhance the beverage profile, and can remove the tea leaves to prevent other aspects of the tea from appearing in the product. Brewers get to tweak the tea aspect to better balance tea with the characteristics of other adjuncts that may be used. Liquid concentrates and instant tea powders are formats that are already processed to a greater degree. The results of these process can alter or diminish desirable color and flavor compounds in the leaf, making them unavailable.
- Control of Intensity: Since dry leaf provides the brewer with greater control when the leaf goes into and comes out of the process, the brewer controls the strength of flavor and color that comes through. Real leaf allows for greater control over the What? and How Much? coming from the tea leaf. Liquid concentrates, by virtue of containing water, dilutes character.
- Control of Claim: Only use of real tea leaf allow a beverage to carry the claim: "Made With Real Brewed Tea" for a true tea experience. This is becoming a standard claim among hard tea beverages. Twisted Tea, which holds more than 90% of the US hard tea market, has set the standard by creating a popular, real-brewed, hard iced tea.
Of course there is the matter of choosing the right tea leaf to create the desired effect. That is where an experienced tea partner comes in handy.