Tasting notes are something I normally avoid. This is because I have mild synaesthesia and, if I see a picture of something or think about it, then I can smell and taste it. General descriptions, such as light, refreshing, complex or strong, are fine but, as soon as individual flavours are described, it’s impossible for me to tell which of the characteristics I’m looking for is actually present and which are just wires crossing in my brain. The only way for me to proceed is to taste first and then compare notes.
Even though I can’t use tasting notes in the same way as most people, I still find them fascinating reads. The different characteristics you find in your brew vary hugely depending on the type of tea, and there are a wonderful array of sometimes surprising flavours to appreciate. Here are some of the interesting things you can look out for in your next cup:
Heavier black teas can have malty, biscuit or woody flavours; there is often a smooth hint of vanilla and a fruity tang as the flavour develops. Medium bodied teas can be nutty, jammy and sweet; and lighter ones can have intriguing floral notes. Other flavours to look out for are smoke, spice, leather, tobacco, grass, earth, licorice and bitter chocolate. The high levels of tannins and other compounds in black tea mean that bitterness is often the most dominant flavour at first, and you will have to take your time to let other notes develop.
If you’re drinking Darjeeling, it will sometime have a muscatel grape like flavour if it is of high quality. Sadly, knowing this fact has ruined one of the most delicately nuanced black teas for me, if I think too hard about the flavour of Darjeeling all I can taste is grape juice!
Green teas are often described as actually tasting green. Grassy, vegetal, and sweet, they conjure up verdant plantations wreathed in mist. With less bitterness to overwhelm your palate, it is easier to appreciate the complexity of green tea. Pay close attention and you will find toasty, nutty and biscuit flavours alongside the fresh cut grass. Floral tastes are quite common as are savoury flavours such as seaweed, which can make the tea surprisingly salty in a pleasant way. You can also encounter melon, vanilla, mushroom, chicken, bamboo and pine. White teas are extremely delicate, but you can pick out a lot of the same flavours as green tea with the addition of lovely things like honey and apricots.
If you’re wanting a really complex tea to tease apart, then you won’t go far wrong with Oolong in which the gifted can discern almost everything you’d find in the other teas as well as moss, caramel, butter, minerals and fresh bread.
This is by no means a complete list, and I wouldn’t want to provide one. I just wanted to give you a quick peek at some of the great things you can find in your everyday cup of tea if you’re willing to look for them. Don’t read tasting notes as if they were a list of flavours to tick off. I think it is better to explore the wonderful world of tea on your own, enjoy getting lost with no map to guide you, and see what you find before you see what you should have expected. I guarantee you’ll be in for a surprise or two.
More articles by “our woman in Scotland” Jessica Hodges abound on this blog.
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