Courtesy of Annaliese Keller: www.malabartradingco.com
TASTING TEA: Getting Started
Tea tasting is similar to wine tasting: specific methodologies are used for tasting tea and an entire language exists for describing tea characteristics.
A good way to begin tea tasting is to line up your favorite teas in different categories and start comparing. Or, set up four black teas from different regions, such as Assam, Nigiri, Darjeeling and Sikkim.
As you begin your tasting journey, note how the flavors may differ depending upon origin, soil type (terroir), style of tea and steeping time. Like wine, differences in taste can be attributed to location, climate and how the tea is processed. Steeping times also attribute unique characteristics to tea. Try brewing one black tea at intervals of 30 seconds, ending at five minutes. Or, infuse the same oolong leaves four times, noting the unique flavor profiles from each subsequent steeping.
Try focusing first on the basic differences between blacks, oolongs, greens and white teas.
As you become more familiar with the nuances of various teas, challenge yourself by tasting teas that are more similar, such as Darjeeling. Remember, tasting is subjective – have fun.
TASTING GUIDE: Professional Tasting
Tea tasting focuses on the appearance of the leaf, the aroma, both before and after leaves are infused, the color of the infusion (or “liquor”) and the flavor of the tea.
Leaf: Examine the leaf: Is it twisted, rolled or a natural, flat leaf? Is it broken or whole? These characteristics affect the taste and body of the infusion.
Aroma: Smell the tea before steeping. Do the leaves smell grassy, smoky or sweet? Once infused, inhale the bouquet. Does the aroma appeal to you? Is it citrusy, flowery, toasty or fruity?
Liquor: The color of infused tea (or “liquor”) varies in color. Examine the appearance of the liquid in a white cup. What color do you see? Pale yellow? Green? Copper? Red? Amber?
Taste: After cooling slightly, slurp your tea (similar to tasting wine) to make sure the full flavor spreads out all over your tongue. Assess whether it has a full, medium, light or round body. Is it smooth? Does the flavor leave a long, lasting finish or dissipate after swallowing? Note elements of its flavor traits – is it sweet and malty, smoky, earthy, grassy or vegetal?
Mouth feel: How the tea feels in your mouth is important too. Some tea exhibits “briskness,” an astringent or dry tasting affect tea has on tongue. Some white teas have a velvety finish. Some teas leave a refreshing, lingering finish.