Are you a tea lover? Do you think of tea as more than a hot beverage when you are under the weather? Does it excite you to get to know tea better like you’d a new lover? If you answered ‘yes’ to at least one of the above questions, perhaps you have it in you to become a tea taster. If not, a true-blue tea connoisseur.
Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, after water. Tea has its own rich history to boast of and belongs to a universe that is resplendent with knowledge for those who seek it. Let’s face it, tea is a complex beverage with different flavours and varieties owing to the varied cultivation regions and production methods. There are thousands of different types of teas ranging from the classic true tea varieties to endless herbal tisanes and spiced teas.
Having said that, tea-tasting is always going to be subjective. It can be informed but it has to be unsentimental, just like you’d take an important business decision. Think of tea tasting as a process that demands your concentration and awareness, which means it is going to be different from eating a meal to satisfy hunger! Tea tasting is a mindful practice.
There are 4 key features of tasting tea: Appearance, Aroma, Flavour and Mouth-feel.
Appearance helps to make us understand the quality of the leaves. You have to take into consideration the shape, colour, texture of the tea leaves. Are they small or large leaves? Are the tea leaves of the same colour? Does the texture feel like dust, or is it crumbly? Can you see tea buds? If the tea has a great amount of tips (tea buds), they tend to have a more delicate flavour and aroma. Tippy teas have higher caffeine content and are also more expensive.
You can also check if you can you feel a crunch between your fingers. If you cannot, it means it has not absorbed any moisture from the air around it. Another sign of a good tea is the opacity of the brewed tea. If it has a darker appearance, it means the tea has a fuller flavour. Now that brings us to the question of what teacup to use? Always go for a white interior teacup which will give you a proper view of the colour of the brew.
It goes without saying that it is the smell of the brew that first attracts you to it. A specific aroma can make you instantly like or dislike the brew. Try deep inhalations – hold the brew as close to your nose as possible and take a deep breath. Some seasoned tea tasters also prefer taking quick, shallow inhalations through the nose to judge the brew better. Another method is to smell the infusion which instantly gives a good idea about the quality.
Ah, the main aspect of tea tasting, and perhaps the only true way to judge whether you like a particular brew or not. There are multiple methods involved in tasting the tea.
Start with a slurp as it will help to spread the flavour of tea over the whole palate and back of the throat. This will help you taste the tea in the best possible way. Sometimes, what you taste initially may go against your own best judgement, which is why it is advised to take in the aroma first. Once you have taken the tea in your mouth, you can roll it over your tongue or you can introduce some air to it by sucking more air into your mouth and through the tea.
Now, what your heart says about the tea will come from what it feels like in the mouth! As poetic as it sounds, that’s the way to go about it! Try and think about what sensation are you feeling - does it feel smooth? crispy? dry? Or more importantly, does it feel ‘right’? Of course, your heart will know the answer.
An important thing to remember, it is important that you enjoy yourself. It is after all, a very individual experience; how one person feels about a tea might be vastly different from how others feel about it! Also, don’t forget to throw in a few words like ‘malty’, ‘muscatel’, ‘flowery’ to show off your tea tasting skills.