When you hear the term “tea tasting,” what comes to mind? It could be receiving your #sipsbybox and selecting which tea to sample, or brewing a cup of a new tea you just bought and tasting it for the first time. It could be trying small amounts of a few different tea types in a specialty store, learning more about each one, and determining a favorite to buy. There are a variety of approaches to tea tasting, but with this lesson we'll focus on a beginner's approach to tasting tea. The approach we outline for beginners can be simply stated in 5 words: be mindful with your tea. If you're interested to learn how Tea Masters and Tea Sommeliers taste tea, read more about professional tea tasting here. If you're starting out, and want to set a solid foundation for your tea tasting journey, read below.
A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO TASTING TEA - THE MINDFUL APPROACH
A mindful approach to tasting tea allows you to notice the subtleties and nuances of a tea's characteristics and flavor. Tea geeks say you should respect the leaf (and, well ... we agree)! Tea is a historically rich, living, and evolving crop, and there are many moving parts, people, and heart that go into delivering tea leaves to you. Tea farmers, buyers, blenders, and masters with decades (and generations!) of experience all work to bring your leaves from the farm to your cup. This lesson intends to orient you to be able to observe and appreciate the leaves which centuries of culture and experience have led you to try.
Mindfully tasting and observing your tea can be done every day (admittedly, we enjoy taking in a mindful cuppa in place of morning meditation). The real answer here is whenever it feels right for you - and ideally you're able to be conscious of some of these aspects each time you make a cup.
See how you can taste tea from a beginner's perspective below. We're hardly scratching the tip of the iceburg here, but this lesson is intended to prep you to go deeper with your tea tasting experience - to give you a place to start from.
HOW TO TASTE TEA
What You'll Need
- White Cup or Mug
- Filter or Disposable tea bag
- Water (ideally filtered or spring)
- Method to heat water to a particular temperature
- THE DRY LEAF
- INSPECT Inspect the dry leaf – note if there are stems, twigs, broken leaf pieces, or if the leaves are uniform in size. Note leaf style (twisted, rolled, flat, curled) and aroma of the dry leaf.
- MEASURE The tea leaves are weighed out and placed into the filter or disposable bag. An accurate measurement makes a difference in the flavor of your brew.
- THE WATER + STEEP
- POUR Water is heated to the correct temperature and poured into the cup, a lid is placed onto the cup to keep the water temperature consistent throughout the steep. Water that's too hot can leave you with an unfavorable end result.
- TIME A timer is set for the correct steep time. Steeping for too long can lead to a bitter (i.e. astringent) cup.
- THE AROMA
- SMELL When the time is up, crack the lid open and smell the aromas that have been trapped inside of the cup. Common parent aromas for tea are Floral, Fruity, Nutty, Earthy, Sweet, Vegetal, and Smokey.
- FILTER Remove your filter or bag and place to the side for observing the wet leaf and resteeping.
- THE LIQUOR
- OBSERVE Note the color of the wet leaf, how much the leaf has expanded, if there are many broken leaf pieces or full, intact leaves. For rolled oolongs, for example, the leaf will generally unfurl a lot and you may be able to see groups of two leaves and a bud, still connected together. Also, observe the color of the infusion (known as the “liquor”) in the bowl. Is it consistent? Clear or foggy? Bright or dull? This is why we recommend having a white cup - to have a consistent background for the liquor.
- TASTE Take a deep breath and exhale. Then take a large sip of the tea. Try to quiet your mind and be fully present with the brew. What do you taste? Take another sip and spread the flavor of the tea across your tongue. Pay attention to how different parts of your tongue perceive different flavors. Repeat. Enjoy! Here's an interesting look at a flavor wheel used by tea sommeliers and tea masters to describe flavor they're perceiving in their brew.
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