Part 5 – Tasting Tea
Slurp, swirl and spit. Slurp – you are taking in lots of oxygen along with the tea, which releases more of the tea’s flavours. Swirl – moving tea around your mouth gives you the chance to get to know its complexity.
Watch a master blender and taster do this:
Even before we get to taste the different kinds of tea, there is a ritual that I love to partake of. I have now been into quite a lot of tea tasting rooms and they all have similarities. In that they are airy, light and have neutral coloured surroundings. The table is as plain as possible and most of the crockery is white, standard sizes and of course the customary spittoon.
The tasting cups, lids, bowls, spoons are all set up by a junior taster. The tea leaves are meticulously measured and placed into the brewing cups. The kettle is boiled; hot water poured in, lids closed, timer on and this is all done is such a synchronised way. When the timer goes off, depending on how many teas are to be tasted, 1 or 2 junior tasters will strain the teas into the tasting bowls.
The strained tea leaves are kept covered as these too are used for ‘tasting tea’. The tea leaves’ fragrance, shape, size and colour once the tea is brewed is as useful as the brew itself.
With the spittoon for a companion, the chief taster will go around the table and slurp, swirl, taste and spit out the tea. The tea taster would have studied the leaves (dry) before it was brewed. S/he will also examine:
- The aroma of the brew.
- The body of the brewed liquid. How it moves around the tea tasting cup.
- Colour and hue of the brew.
- The fragrance, look and feel of the tea leaves after its brewed.
- An experienced tea taster will look for residue in the cup, any changes in leaf size, paying particular note to any foreign or unexpected note while tasting the tea.
An experienced tea taster will have a memory bank to draw on and will use this to categorise the teas, tastes and its value.
If it passes this test by the tea taster, then it may get to your tea cup.