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Last Updated on August 23, 2022 by Scott
I’m often asked about how I detect certain tasting notes in tea, and if there is a proper way taste tea. Tis article is meant to answer that question and provide some additional things to consider.
Tasting tea is more than just drinking it to see if you like the flavor. There’s an art to the experience which involves not only taste but smell, sight and feel as well. A proper tea tasting will help develop your palate so you can appreciate all the wonderful flavors of tea.
In this article, you’ll learn why it’s important to develop your palate for tea and what steps are involved in a proper tea tasting, including observations of the leaves, aroma detection, and the right way to taste your tea.
Why Is It Important to Develop Your Palate for Tea?
Tea comes in all different tea flavors, and it’s important to refine your palate for tea drinking, especially to appreciate high-quality teas. Brewing and drinking tea is as much of an art as the processing of leaves for consumption.
The range of characteristics from texture to aroma to color to flavor is as broad as the different areas of the world where tea leaves are grown and processed. To develop your palate, you should conduct a proper tea tasting as you would with wine, involving all the senses. Your tongue, eyes, and nose are essential to determining the character of a tea.
What Are the Steps Involved in a Proper Tea Tasting?
There are multiple steps involved in a proper tea tasting which can be broken down into the following procedure:
- Observe the dry leaves by noting what they look like and how they smell.
- Brew the leaves using the appropriate temperature water and let steep for the recommended amount of time, observing how the leaves change in shape, size, and color.
- Pour out your tea into a clear glass vessel.
- Smell the wet leaves, noting the aroma and appearance.
- Note the aroma and color of your brewed tea and allow it to cool for a moment so you don’t burn your taste buds.
- Sip your tea, swirling it around your mouth before swallowing, and note the flavors during and after swallowing.
This process may seem very involved, but it’s worth investing the time to observe all of the delicate qualities and subtle hints of flavor your tea can offer in order to fully enjoy your tea drinking experience.
What Observations Are Involved in Tea Tasting?
Your eyes will be the first to discover the distinctive characteristics of the tea which you’re tasting. It’s important to first note how the leaves look before they are steeped. Some leaves can be curled and twisted, while others are rolled into a ball. Still, others may be large, flat, and open.
The color of the leaves is important to note too as they can range from light olive green to black. Once the leaves begin to steep, observe how they change. Some will open up into full-bodied leaves when brewing.
Color of the tea itself is another distinctive quality to observe. Brewed teas can be light yellow or green, red or deep brown, to almost black in color.
How Do You Properly Smell Tea in a Tea Tasting?
It’s important to use your nose when tea tasting. Tea leaves should be smelled before and after brewing to note any subtle changes in the aroma. Inhaling the scent of your tea before drinking will help aid your palate in distinguishing certain flavors.
Tea leaves can accommodate a variety of different aromas from the sweet, grassy scents of green teas to the smokey accents or hints of bergamot from certain black teas. Some teas may have a floral scent such as jasmine or rose while others have a fruitier aroma like citrus or raspberry.
There are different techniques to smelling tea and tea leaves that will help gain the full body of aroma they have to offer. Hold the tea close to your nose and then farther away to note how the scent changes not only in strength but quality.
Try closing your eyes in order to pick up more subtle hints of scent that may be hidden by the bombardment of stimuli from your other senses. Waft the aroma of the brewed tea towards you with your hand to isolate the stronger scents that linger in the air.
What Is the Right Way to Taste Tea?
After you’ve made your visual and olfactory observations of the dry tea leaves, brewed tea leaves, and your liquid tea itself, it’s time to taste your tea. Make sure that it has been given time to cool a bit, especially black teas which are usually brewed using boiling water, so you don’t burn your taste buds.
Slurp – yes, slurp – a mouthful of tea to allow for oxygen to enter with the liquid and enhance the tea’s flavors. Swirl it around your mouth and over your tongue before swallowing to fully absorb your taste buds in the tea’s flavor.
Note the tastes you experience while you’re drinking the tea, as well as the ones that may linger or appear at the back of the palate as you swallow.
Teas can have a plethora of different flavors including floral, fruity, nutty, spicy, or smoky. Hints of vanilla, coffee, almond, hazelnut, rose, and peach are commonly associated with different teas. Just like a fine wine, each tea has its own unique taste, and everyone may pick up something different from their experience.
Video Highlighting How to Taste Tea
This video from Red Blossom Tea Company provides a visual overview of the proper way to taste traditional Chinese-style teas “in order to fully appreciate their flavor and complexity.”
Tea tasting is a unique and enjoyable experience for anyone who appreciates the art of high-quality tea. Taking the time to conduct a proper tea tasting by observing and smelling all steps of the brewing process from dry leaves, to steeped leaves, to the tea itself before tasting is essential for properly developing your palate for tea.
Over time, you’ll be able to detect subtle hints of flavor and distinguish properties that will allow you fully partake in the tea’s fullest flavor and experience. Take the time to enjoy your tea and you will not be disappointed! And, also be careful not to over-indulge in your tea tasting and run the risk of getting tea drunk!
Scott is the founder of TeaMinded. He enjoys tasting and discovering teas from across the globe, with green teas and ceremonial matcha from Japan being among his favorites. He’s grateful to be immersed in the tea community, always learning and sharing along the journey.