How To Properly Taste Tea
There are subtle differences and nuanced flavors present in every tea leaf. Much like wine tasting, you can develop a palate for these small details and sharpen your ability to discern delicate notes. In tasting tea, we utilize our acute senses to fully comprehend and take in the complexity and craftsmanship of the brew. In Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land, he creates a word that goes beyond simply tasting or consuming. To fully comprehend, to take the information in, is to “grok.” Let’s discuss how we can go beyond simply tasting the teas and fully grok them.
Examine The Dried Leaves
Before steeping, swirling, and sniffing the brewed tea, it is important to appreciate the dried leaf. Have a small plate of the leaves available for you and your fellow tasters to touch, smell, and examine. Notice how the leaves are shaped and how that affects the subsequent brew. Oolong teas are usually rolled tightly and unfurl as they steep. This impacts the way the tea brews, unveiling pockets of flavor as the leaves open up and expand. In contrast, a Dragonwell Lung Ching tea leaf is flat and the entire steeping area is exposed. This tea can be burned quite easily, and should only steep for 45 seconds to prevent bitterness.
Utilize All Five Senses
Although tasting is the primary objective (and the name of the game), we can employ our other senses to get a more well-rounded experience and a better read on the leaves. We’ve already sniffed the leaves while they were dry. Now, we can compare that to the smell of the brewed tea! Smell and taste are closely related to each other, and smelling hot tea is relaxing and aromatherapeutic. Close your eyes while smelling the brew, and try to pick out the different aromas and separate them from one another. There will be layers of fragrances. In wine tasting, the layers are known as “primary,” “secondary,” and “tertiary.”
The Part We’ve All Been Waiting For… Sipping!
Now that we’ve prepared the tea, examined the leaves, and mentally prepared ourselves to embark on the sensory journey, it is time to sip the tea. We recommend that you sip slowly. There are different methods with which you can fully immerse the tongue in the liquor. First, slurp the tea! It may seem odd and rude, but aerating the tea by slurping is a great way to cool it off. The oxygen highlights and separates the different flavors. You can then swish to move the tea across the palate as necessary before swallowing. Closing the eyes and focusing the attention inward can decrease distraction and increase flavor comprehension.
Tea terminology is the language of the sommelier. Below are some common tasting terms:
Descriptive terms allow us to explain the flavors and feelings that we’re experiencing. When discussing a flavor profile, we can place them into categories. We can explain the intensity of the flavors and even the texture of the liquor. Some teas have what can be described as a buttery mouthfeel, a little heaviness, and creaminess on the tongue. Others will be much lighter. Some teas may linger on the palate, while others only stay for a moment. By familiarizing yourself with terminology, you can begin to isolate flavors.
Have Fun With It!
Tea tasting doesn’t have to be so serious! Sensory exploration is one of the joys of life. Don’t worry if your experience is different from someone else’s. Our enjoyment of sensations, flavors, and scents is personal and uniquely ours. Although neuroscience is getting closer to discovering similarity in individual experiences, we can't hop into another brain to explore through their mind. However, through language, we can share in our common interpretation of the experience, and that’s pretty cool. Until next time… stay sippin’.