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How to Taste Tea

How, cold, or tepid - the choice is yours! (Photo source: The English Tea Store)
How, cold, or tepid – the choice is yours! (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Why do you drink tea? Ask a random group of people and I’m sure you’ll get a wide range of answers. If you live someplace like the United Kingdom, it might be as much for tradition as anything else – it’s something that you do and you’ve always done and ditto for your ancestors many branches down into the family tree. For others, tea drinking might be about the caffeine boost, and still others might be seeking to gain some of the health benefits we hear so much about.

Then there are those of us who drink tea primarily for the taste. In my own case, all of the aforementioned is fine but, if the tea doesn’t taste great, I don’t want to know about it. To prepare a cup of tea that tastes great is a fine art, but it consists mostly of starting with good tea and preparing it in a manner that will extract the best flavor.

There are also a few less tangible factors that in my opinion can affect the taste of a cup of tea. First of these is the temperature of the tea. As I mentioned in an article here some time back (much to the mild consternation of my esteemed editor), I’ve taken to drinking only homemade iced tea nowadays. I discuss this further in the article, but for my money the optimum temperature for tasting tea is cool but not cold and definitely not hot. I can’t pin down an exact number but I know it when I encounter it.

Another contributing factor I’ve noticed is my state of mind, which might seem like a vague and nebulous quality, but I’ve found that it’s best to be relaxed to truly appreciate a cup of tea. I notice that tea typically doesn’t taste as good when I’m drinking it during the hustle and bustle of the day as it does when I’ve taken time to unwind and can actually pay closer attention to what I’m drinking.

None of which counts for much if you’re tasting tea for a living, mind you. Which seems like a dream job for most avid tea lovers (and there are probably many worse things to do for a living), but when you’re drinking as many as hundreds of cups of tea a day, often in rapid succession, it seems like a good way to drain a lot of the fun out of the process.

If you’re curious about exactly how to prepare tea for purposes of evaluation, start with the standards listed here and here.

[Editor’s note: I wasn’t upset — honest! Bill can drink his tea any way he wants. I just don’t want to know about it. Har!]

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