Want to impress your friends, co-workers or the Queen with your tea knowledge. Consider this to be your introductory course on how to talk like a tea sommelier.
Much like how in the world of wine sommeliers there are hundreds—if not thousands—of ways to describe the taste and character of wines, in the world of tea sommeliers, there’s an established vocabulary and accepted amount of improvisation that goes along with describing what it is we’re experiencing when we drink tea.
Before even bringing that cup to your lips there’s lots you can learn about tea just by looking at the leaves.
Tip: The very end of the baby young buds that give golden flecks to the processed leaf.
Wiry: Twisted leaves, as opposed to open pieces.
Even: Leaf pieces of roughly the same size.
Irregular or Ragged: Uneven and non uniform pieces of leaf.
Choppy: Tea leaf that has been chopped or cut up, instead of rolled.
Now, as we begin to sip the tea, we can think about the aroma, body, and character.
Aroma: the odour of the tea, also called the nose or fragrance. If the aroma is complex, it’s sometimes called a ‘bouquet.’ Think of it in terms of smelling a bunch of flowers compared to a single rose.
Body: This refers to the weight and substance of the tea in your mouth. Is it light, viscous, thick? Sometimes people describe tea as being round—that is referring to having a full body that hugs your cheeks. It might be full—indicating a tea of good quality with colour, strength, and substance.
Character: A tea’s hallmark attributes, often depending on the country or region of origin, unique to its very own tea story.
Once again we draw back to wine as their roots in how each drink is described does have many parallels. Much like with wine, astringency is an important characteristic of tea. ‘Astringency is that mouth-drying effect on the tongue—not to be confused with bitter. Astringency is a clean and refreshing quality, caused by a reaction between the tannins in tea and the protein in our saliva. Some teas are very astringent, and others—not so much. Astringency isn’t good or bad, but it’s important to take note of.’
After the initial sip and first impression of taste there is still more to learn about tea. The finish of the tea- the lasting taste that is left on your tongue- is it smooth? Does it leave an aftertaste? Take a moment to really take note of that moment after you’ve had a sip- enjoy the complete journey of tea drinking.
How your tea is processed has plays a large role on its characteristics. For example, green teas from China are often pan-fried, while green teas from Japan are steamed.This means green teas from Japan (sencha, gyokuro, genmaicha, etc.) are often described similar to steamed greens. Green teas from China are more often described with a sweet, toasty words, think chestnuts over a fire, or roasted corn.
As you can see from above, the best way to describe tea is using other foods! Therefore, the best way to learn how to taste tea is by trying other flavour sensations. Really pay attention when you put food in your mouth, notice the smells, textures and everything all together.
Now, do you feel ready for your tea party and to sound like a tea sommelier? Pinkey’s up!