Tasting tea isn’t the same as drinking tea. The latter is done for your own enjoyment and/or health. The former is done to evaluate a tea, often one you’re trying for the first time. The method of intake is therefore different and yields different results in your perceptions of the tea (aroma and flavor). There are 5 steps involved in officially tasting a tea that I consider essential. They will help you get the most out of that new tea or even out of a tea you’ve tried before and didn’t quite get the best experience from.
|2000 Yong Pin Hao “Yi Wu Zheng Shan” Stone-Pressed Raw tea|
1 Appreciating the Dry Tea
Know what you’re steeping. Is it low quality twig tea or top quality downy buds? Is the maocha composed of mainly whole leaves that have been carefully harvested, sorted, and processed? If this is a tea where the leaves are shaped in certain shapes (pellets, nuggets, pearls, spirals, etc.), are they well-formed and fairly consistent? And what about the aroma? Sure you can detect things like floral and fruity aromas, but is there a real freshness to them? Taking a moment to observe and inhale can get you ready for the steeping and tasting.
2 Preparing the Tea with Care
Giving the tea leaves a chance to shine only happens by careful preparation. That starts with the selection of teawares, the purity of the water, and your knowledge of what to do (so take a moment to look up the tea on the vendor’s site or find some information online, if the tea doesn’t come with this information). One note on water: some teas steep better in hard water and some in soft water; distilled water is never recommended since the tea will steep up fairly flat tasting.
3 Appreciating the Tea Liquid
The visual side of tea should not be ignored. Just as you appreciated the appearance and aroma of the dry tea leaves, so you should appreciate the tea liquid. Some are more cloudy while others are clear. Some have lots of leaf bits in them and can be consumed with the liquid. Color can range from so light and clear that it looks almost like water all the way to dark brown that looks more like a cup of coffee than tea. What we call “black tea” is often a ruby color in the cup and in many parts of the world is therefore called “red tea.” Many pu-erhs are a reddish brown in the cup. A lot of oolongs steep up a golden color.
4 Slurping to Get the Full Tea Experience
Combining aroma and flavor is best when you slurp in the tea instead of sipping it. This draws in air with the liquid and also sends the aroma of the tea further back in your mouth to where it can be picked up by your nose. While polite society might frown on such a practice, we tea lovers treasure it.
5 Pausing After Swallowing
Aftertaste is like an echo. Listening to the echo can complete your experience of a sound. Taking a pause so that you get that aftertaste (that residual flavor that impacts your tongue after you have swallowed) will complete your experience of the tea’s flavor. Otherwise, you only get half the sensation.
Get the most out of your tea experience with these five steps, and happy tea tasting!