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 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."
In tasting tea, we use our acute senses to fully comprehend and take in the complexity and craftsmanship of the brew. 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's essential to appreciate the dried leaf. Notice the shape of the leaves and how that affects the subsequent brew. Have a small plate of the leaves available for you and your fellow tasters to touch, smell, and examine.
Oolong teas are usually rolled tightly and unfurl as they steep. This impacts tea brew, 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.
Use All Five Senses
We've already sniffed the leaves while they were dry. Now, we can compare that to the smell of the brewed tea! Although tasting is the primary objective, we can employ our other senses to get a more well-rounded experience and a better read on the leaves.
Smell and taste are closely related, and smelling hot tea is relaxing and aromatherapeutic. Close your eyes while smelling the brew, and recognize the different aromas. There are layers of fragrance. In wine tasting, the layers are known as "primary," "secondary," and "tertiary."
The Part We've All Been Waiting For: Sipping!
Now that we have 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 to immerse the tongue in the liquor fully. 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 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. Check out our Non-Pretentious Tea-Tasting Guide to learn the lingo.
Descriptive terms allow us to explain the flavors and feelings that we are experiencing. We can describe the flavors' intensity and even the liquor's texture. When discussing a flavor profile, we can place them into categories.
Some teas have a buttery mouthfeel, a slight 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 similarities in individual experiences, we can't hop into another brain to explore through their mind. However, through language, we can share our common interpretation of the experience, which is pretty cool. Until next time: stay sippin'.