The tea tasting techniques you use to try a new tea are very important. They can make the difference between “Yum!” and “Bleh!” Don’t worry, though, you don’t have to be a scientist or a certified tea taster to get more enjoyment from your tea. The steps are fairly simple and will assure that you get the most out of a mouthful.
There are certain techniques that professionals use. They involve a lot of slurping and spitting. They also often involve special steeping cups, tasting bowls, and a spittoon. You don’t have to go to such lengths. Nor, as a tea drinker looking for a tasty, relaxing cuppa, would you want to. If you did want to learn these methods, though, there are plenty of lectures and courses you can attend for a nominal charge, and even a book or two that cost a bit more, but you’ll have something you can refer back to as needed.
Here’s what you, the everyday tea drinker, can do to increase your tea flavor and aroma awareness and thus your enjoyment:
- Take a good look at the tea leaves before steeping them. Observe the shape, color, and aroma of them. It’s all part of the tea drinking experience, just as smelling the roasted coffee beans are part of the experience of enjoying a good brew.
- Use a thermometer to test water temperature or an electric kettle that you can set to heat the water to the right temperature.
- Steep the tea for the right amount of time, which is tricky. If it’s your first go-round with a particular tea, use the vendor’s recommended time. Otherwise, play it by ear, steeping a short time and testing, then continuing to steep if needed until it tastes right for you.
- Strain the tea (also called “decanting”) into another teapot or other vessel so that it doesn’t oversteep. Keep the leaves available for additional tea steepings (oolongs can go for 6 or 7 steepings, pu-erhs for 8 or 9, etc.).
- Pour some tea into your cup and observe the color, from almost clear to bright yellow to green, amber, reddish-brown, and very dark brown.
- Take in the aroma by inhaling from the cup in a long, deep breath. I like to close my eyes, since it shuts off the parts of your brain processing visual information and lets the other senses have a more prominent position in that processing queue (a reason why blind people are said to have sharper hearing, smell, etc.).
- Sip a nice mouthful and let it spread out over your tongue fully, paying attention not only to the taste but how it feels — yes, “feels” — in your mouth. From smooth and buttery to thin and watery, how the tea feels is part of your tea tasting experience.
- Swallow smoothly and wait before taking another mouthful. Maybe even close your eyes again to let your brain focus on the tastes forming in your mouth now that the tea is not there. These are called “aftertastes.” It’s sort of like those color reversals you see if you stare at something long enough. For example, blue is the color wheel opposite of orange, so if you stare at a blue object and then look away suddenly, you will see the same shape but in orange. Aftertaste isn’t exactly like this, but it is a reaction of your tastebuds after being stimulated by the tea.
- The final step is to pay attention to how you feel after drinking the tea. Do you feel stimulated, calmed, jittery, soothed?
See, wasn’t that easy? Try it out on a tea that you’ve been drinking for years. You may just find that you are now experiencing it anew, discerning aromas and flavors that have been there all the time but have gone unnoticed. Gulp!
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