An aspect of eating and drinking that is usually overlooked by those imbibing is “mouthfeel.” For tea, this aspect can be more important than the overall flavor and aroma of the tea. For many new to tea, this aspect can be a bit of a mystery and even overlooked. This can result in a less-than-full enjoyment of the tea. So, finding out what this is and how to detect it to get that full tea experience will go a long way toward you getting the most out of your premium teas.
Simply put, mouthfeel is the texture of a substance as it is perceived in the mouth. It is part of food rheology (the study of the consistency and flow of food under tightly specified conditions). The evaluation starts at the initial perception on the palate, then the first bite or sip, then the mastication of food or swishing of liquid, and finally swallowing and aftertaste. Mouthfeel for liquids is very different than for solids where how they feel during chewing and qualities released are paramount. Liquids don’t have these things, so other factors prevail. Mouthfeel is often described for teas (most often oolongs and pu-erhs) in various ways, such as these:
- Terms like “round,” “smooth,” “buttery,” “creamy,” “soft,” “silky,” and “full” get bandied about.
- For a Hai Lang Hao “Star of Bu Lang” Raw tea cake — “bitter taste that gradually changes into a thick plump feeling in the mouth and throat. It brings a mouthwatering feeling to the tongue and mouth and strong thick aftertaste.”
- For a Mengku “1974” Premium Raw Pu-eh tea cake — “a mouth-watering thick/full feeling”
An infusion of lemongrass was described as having a buttery quality. The real description is more akin to the liquid feeling a bit thick and also more full, like whole milk but not milky in taste. Compare it to taking a mouthful of water to see the real difference.
When enjoying your teas, be sure to take some time and pay attention to this important aspect of the liquid. The greater pleasure will be your reward.