Tea More Equal Than Others
Many tea estates do not have their own distribution unit. This is usually the case with estates in India, even with highly regarded ones. It creates an opportunity for tea merchants to fill the void in distributing their product. That does not mean that an estate allocates to all tea merchants lots that are identical in quality.
To be clear, I am not referring to large estates that supply commercial grade tea to large multinational food companies for distribution through supermarkets. Rather, I am referring to high grade tea produced in much smaller volume by specialised estates. One well known example is the Castleton estate in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
Castleton’s spring and summer harvests are highly prized. If you are in the market for, say, Castleton first flush, then you would notice that there is a select number of tea merchants that command similar prices and others that offer it at much lower prices. The difference in appearance of the tea leaves is a bit more difficult to observe, but there is an obvious difference in fragrance and, therefore, flavour.
If you want to understand the difference, then you need to understand the different tea grades, such as TGFOP, FTGFOP, SFTGFOP et al (and they existed well before SMS, IM and Internet message boards, if you can believe it). Not all teas are graded this way, and understanding them is not at all essential in enjoying your cuppa. However, it will make you a more informed buyer because you will know that there is Castleton first flush and there is Castleton first flush.