By A.C. Cargill
Tea scents wafting my way are one of life’s great pleasures, especially since I have a very “sensitive sniffer.” However, that can be an asset and a problem, as I explained in Part I. While I avoid perfumes (and the people wearing them) as much as possible, rather than risk getting a migraine, I get a fuller appreciation for things that are better enjoyed when one experiences their scents as well as their flavor. Fine teas are certainly in this category. Enjoying their scents is part of the whole tea experience.
I store my teas in air-tight containers to preserve their quality, so the first tea scent to waft my way is from those tiny leaf pieces upon opening the package. The second scent comes from the teapot once the tea has reached its perfect brewing state. That scent carries over into the teacup and enhances every sip. Smell and taste are closely related (anyone who has had a bad head cold and, therefore, can’t taste food will attest to this). The better the tea smells, the better — most assuredly — it will taste.
Tea has a natural fragrance, but some processors enhance this to make scented teas. Probably the most recognizable scented tea is Earl Grey. That distinctive aroma is due to the addition of oil of bergamot (a type of orange). It used to be one of my favorites, but as I’ve marched forward in time (my euphemism for growing older), the scent wafting to me seems too much. Even the taste overwhelms. As I get more familiar with the wide variety of teas available, my nose craves the more refined scents and tastes of fine Oolongs and Darjeelings, although lately I am tempted to try a nice Nilgiri tea, and of course green and white teas.
Some of the “yummier” scents to grace my pointy little nose are vanilla teas and spiced chai teas. They are “full” scents that fill both my nostrils and my mouth with pleasure. They can be so fulfilling, that I forego my teatime treat.
Lots of terms are used by tea experts to describe tea scents and tastes. Some of the common ones are:
- “Bakey” — unpleasant taste resulting from firing leaf at too high a temperature but not quite as bad as a burnt taste.
- “Biscuity” or “Malty” — subtle underlying flavor, often associated with Assam teas.
- “Bite” or “Pungency” — affect of the tannins found in black tea, also known as astringency.
- “Body” — strength of the tea “liquor” plus its weight on the tongue; may be full, light, etc.
- “Brassy” — unpleasant tang resulting from under-withering.
- “Bright” — attributes of cleanness, crispness, or sparkle in fine teas.
- “Brisk” — lively taste as opposed to a flat one.
- “Complex” — blending of flavors common in the finest teas.
- “Fruity” — piquancy found in most good Oolongs and some Keemuns (not to be confused with fruit-flavored teas)
- “Peak” — when the body, flavor, and astringency of the tea “liquor” has been fully felt.
- “Pointy” — tea “liquor” showing a property such as briskness or fine fragrance.
- “Tarry” — smoky flavor of Lapsang Souchong.
- “Weedy” — when referring to black teas, usually indicates poor quality; for green teas, can refer to vegetable aromas and flavors and indicate good quality.
- “Winey” — used to describe a mellow quality in fine Keemun and Darjeeling teas that have been aged six to 12 months; sometimes also used to describe a tea that has been over-fermented.
Whatever terms you use, don’t miss out on one of the best parts of the tea experience — the tea scents wafting your way. Enjoy!
You can find more great writing on A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!