Monday, August 18, 2008

Tea Tasting 101

Tea Tasting

Tea tasting, like wine tasting, pays attention to similar factors: sight, smell, taste and touch.

Usually, a tea tester works for a large tea factory or is involved in buying. They test several teas of the same type, such as Ceylon teas from the same estate. The tester looks at three things: the dry leaf (appearance and feel), the liquor (color, flavor and aroma), and the wet, freshly brewed tea leaf. At home, you can simplify tea tasting by comparing two Darjeelings. Or for fun, invite a friend or two and hold your own tasting.

1) Dry Leaf
You can tell a lot about a tea by first examining the dry leaves. Gently press some dry leaves in your hand. Most new teas are a little springier and less likely to crumble than an older teas. Look for fibers, dust or stalks and note the leaf size. With some experience, you will notice whether the leaf appears shiny and fresh, or dull and stale. Buy a good quality tea and pay attention to its dry appearance as well as its smell. Remember your impression.

2) Infuse & Examine Leaf
Measure a level teaspoon of each sample into infuser. Use white or clear cups to view the truest color. Begin your analysis of the infused leaves as the cups are filled. Smaller flat leaves will show more body than larger twisted leaves, which take longer to steep. Steep the teas for a fixed time, generally three to five minutes.

3) Color of Liquor
After steeping, take in the aroma of the tea and examine the infused leaves for color and evenness. Color does not necessarily indicate the strength or body of the liquor, but every tea has a unique look, taste, and feel peculiar to that tea.

4) Tasting
Now you’re ready to taste the tea. Take a spoonful of the liquid to your lower lip and slurp with force to ensure that the tea is sprayed over the entire tongue. Move the tea around in your mouth, sucking in more short bursts of air in order to release more delicate characteristics. This step is important since we taste bitterness at the back of the tongue, saltiness in the middle, sweetness in the front and sourness on the sides of the tongue. If you were working in a tea factory testing room, you would spit the tea into a waist-high spittoon and move on to the next tea.

It may be difficult to describe your findings at first, but after sampling many teas you will begin to notice similarities and differences in color, taste and smell. Many teas have a typical “character” or flavor profile. You may want to start a notebook to record your impressions.

Tea Vocabulary
Select a few words from the list below to expand your descriptive vocabulary of tea.

Dry Leaf (un-steeped tea)
Desirable characteristics: Curly, wiry, neat, blackish, bloom, clean, leafy, nose, tip, well twisted.

Undesirable characteristics: Mushy, ragged, grey, dull, light, uneven.

Infused Leaf
Desirable: bright, coppery, smooth, self drinking, full, rich, soothing, smokey.

Undesirable: dull, dark, tarry.

Desirable: body (light, medium, or full), bright, brisk, character, point, pungent, quality, strength, flavor, full, mature, self-drinking (does not need to be blended with other teas)

Undesirable: baggy, bakey, bitter, brassy, burned, coarse, common, dry, dull, musty, plain, raw, soft, stewed, tainted, weedy, thin, earthy, empty, hard, harsh, heavy, lacking, green (referring to black tea).

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