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Guide to Tea Tasting - Part 1

Guide to Tea Tasting

With hundreds of varieties of teas, professional tea tasters play an invaluable part in ensuring consistency and quality in the crafting of quality blends.  Here’s a short guide to tasting tea like an expert:

tea tasting

Preparing your tea to taste

If you are planning to compare a number of teas, a standard approach is recommended:

Use the same weight of tea – generally a heaped teaspoon (around 3 grams)

Use the water you normally drink  and always use freshly boiled water, water left in the kettle looses vitality and can make the tea taste dull.

Crockery – plain white crockery is the best so you can really see the appearance and colour of the tea or ‘liquor’.

Brew time – ideally 3-4 minutes to enable all of the characteristics of the tea to emerge properly.  The final result will depend on the temperature of the water, the length of brewing time and the type of tea, which in turn is influenced by where the tea is grown and how it is processed.  The kettle itself can have an impact –we use a copper kettle as copper has good conductivity so it boils the water more consistently ensuring an even temperature. 

copper kettle

Tasting your tea:

It is possible to taste with or without milk, although tasting without milk is preferable.

Take a spoonful of tea – ideally using a soup spoon

Place the spoon on the edge of your lower lip.

Take an inward short and powerful breath so the tea is sprayed into your mouth – the objective is to spray the tea so it will hit the back of your palette. Slurping the tea mixes the liquor with oxygen which gives you the maximum flavour.

Once the tea is in your mouth, move it around sucking in short bursts of air to release the more delicate characteristics.

Once you’ve tasted the tea, spit it out  – or just drink it. Professional tea tasters use a spittoon.

Whittard tea tasting

There are four key elements to consider when tasting tea: appearance, aroma, flavour and mouth feel.

Appearance – this includes the appearance of the leaves prior to and after making your tea and also the colour of the tea once brewed – the liquid should be clear and bright.

Aroma – up to 90% of taste is actually perceived through smell. Our sense of taste is the weakest of all of our senses. The tongue itself detects only five key tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (a Japanese word meaning ‘delicious savoury’) so have a good sniff of the tea prior to and after brewing.

Flavour – with the first slurp you’ll get the main flavour and then by sucking air through the tea whilst in your mouth, you’ll experience the secondary and more delicate flavours.

Mouth feel – this is simply the way the tea feels in your mouth. Is it thin/rich, is it oily/creamy and after you have drunk the tea, does your mouth feel dry, moist or coated?

fruit and herbal teas

The more teas you taste, the more you will develop your tea palate and enjoy the more subtle differences for example good Assam tea has a sweet, smooth, maltiness and Yunnan teas have a rich, oily woodiness. In Part 2, we'll explore some more of the key characteristics of specific teas. 

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