Tea Tasting – An Art That Matters

Tea Tasting - Zaira Tea

Tea tasting is not an enigmatic ritual that you cannot comprehend. It requires years of practice to develop the sense of taste and become a skilled tea taster. The professional taster slurps his way through endless cups of tea – from watery brew to sublime cups. This is done to achieve dexterity in not only identifying but also intensifying the subtle nuances and essences of a particular tea by comparing it to other teas.

 

From the early part of the 19th century, when tea arrived in the West, it was an unblended leaf, shipped from the tea estates and consumed irrespective of variations in taste or quality. One consignment varied from another and it was accepted by the tea drinker. Gradually, the habit of tea drinking attained maturity.

 

The growing sophistication resulted in a demand for uniformity. This evolved the practice of retailing a blend with a pre-set taste profile in order to offset seasonal variations. This benchmark had to be maintained throughout the year and this led to the creation of a new breed of professionals called Tea Tasters – masters in the art of tasting the tea. They had their senses of sight, taste and smell developed to the highest level. The job required not only a sharp eye but also an equally delicate and discriminating nose to smell the best.

 

Here’s how to pick the right cup for yourself : 

Pick the teas you wish to taste. Initially, avoid being very expansive in the range. Start with a few cups and gradually, as your palate begins to discriminate the nuances, increase the number of cups in one session.

FunTeaFact: Set up the teas in a progression of increasing intensity – Since each type of tea is very different from the other, try to avoid tasting different types of teas in one session. The size of the leaf is in inverse ratio to the strength of the cup. When you taste black, the larger sized leaf particle should be tasted first, followed by the smaller grades and finally the smallest sized grade#KnowYourTea.

 

Tea-tasting involves activating three senses: smell, sight, and taste.

  • Look at the color of the teas laid out. Notice the color of the teas can vary greatly – even within the same type of teas.
  • Move a step forward: aroma. Shake after the liquor has been poured out. Lift up the lid and inhale. While you may not be able to describe the smell, treat it as a non-issue. After going through the routine with many teas you will notice
    similarities and differences.
  • Taste: Experience the full taste of the tea. Concentrate on the initial taste – the taste, and the aftertaste. Take a sip of a tea and hold it in your mouth. Swirl or gargle so the liquid is distributed throughout. Notice the flavor and texture left coating your mouth. While tasting tea without adding milk to the cup is preferable to make a finer judgment, it is basically a subjective choice.

 

Allow the senses of sight, smell, and taste to extract the most out of each up. The more teas you try and the more attention you pay to each cup, the better you will become at appreciating the distinct characteristics of each tea.

 

Perception and appreciation of flavour and aroma, like most sensory cues, get easily swayed by the time of day, mood and even inconsequential environmental factors such as the lighting, cleanliness, and organization of the tasting room. A key element of professional tasting is consistency. Tasting sessions should occur at the same time each day while the tasting room should be kept clean, clear and free of obtrusive odours. The taster should avoid the consumption of strongly-flavoured foods prior to tea tasting.

 

The professional tea taster employs an amazing vocabulary to describe the leaf, the infusion, the liquor and the whole experience. The following flavour spectrum is usually used by tasters to describe the flavour of the tea.

 

Black Teas: The earthy, deep tones of black teas fall under the Wood and Mineral categories of the flavour wheel.

Green Teas:  The vegetal tasting profile of green tea means it comes under the Herbal section of the flavour spectrum.

Oolong Teas: Oolong’s flavour can be smoky, sweet, green or black. It occupies a middle ground in the realm of tea – between green and black teas. Its flavour profile can run the gamut of Spice, Sweet, Wood, and Mineral.

White Teas: Astoundingly subtle in flavour, white teas are light, bright, and have a little sweetness. Find pleasant floral aspects in white tea, along with flavours in the Sweet realm of the spectrum.

 

Being able to make such judgments requires mastery and the art of tea tasting, like any other form of art, is honed better with training and practice.

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