A beginners guide
- What you will need
- How to prepare
Tea tasting is the art of tasting the tea. It is a process of identifying various characters of different teas. A qualified tea taster makes his selection based on aroma, flavour, appearance of leaf and the appearance of the infused leaf.
What will you need?
Tea tasting mugs of 150 ml, bowls for the infused liquor to be poured.
Electronic weighing Scale, 0 ~ 20 g
Electric kettle of at least 1.5 Ltr
To start with, layout 5 – 8 cups, invite your friends for a tea tasting session. The aroma and taste of the tea is associated with the temperature of the water. Make sure you boil the water to the right temperature.
How to prepare?
Use a good electric kettle to boil the water.
Weigh 3 gms of each tea. Put the tea leaves into the mug
The mugs should be in a line. The tea leaves that you put into the mug can be placed behind the mug for easy identification.
Place an empty bowl in front of the mug for the liquor
Leave about 5 inches space between two mugs so that you have ample hand space.
Pour the boiled water into the mug, the level of water should be the same for all mugs
Put the lid immediately after pouring the water into the mug
Start the timer when you start pouring the water into the mug
Let the tea brew for 3 – 5 minutes depending upon what tea you are tasting
Once the timer goes off, pour out the liquor. Follow the same sequence of pouring out the tea.
Empty the mug by holding the lid tight while pouring out the liquor.
After emptying each mug, invert the mug so that the infused leaves fall into the lid. Place the lid upside down with the leaf showing. This is done to access the ‘nose’ / ‘aroma’ in the leaf.
Make sure your mouth is clean, don’t have strong flavoured foods or sweets before tasting.
Start tasting from the cup which you poured out first.
Take a spoonful of tea and slurp, make sure you get some air. Swirl the liquor on your tounge, let it rest for a second or two and then swirl again
Feel how the tea tastes. Stop for 10 seconds before going to the next bowl
If the taste lingers too long, sip water and gargle to clean your palate before you taste the next tea.
Smell the infused leaf once it cools down, compare the colour of the infused leaf and the smell.
Make a note of each tea.
How did the liquor taste?
What smell did the liquor have ?
Did the aroma linger? What was the duration of the linger?
Did the aroma remind you of any taste / substance?
What taste did you get first and then later?
Did the taste remind you of anything?
Which part of the tongue gave you the sensation of the taste?
What is the colour of the liquor?
Did the liquor taste different in the throat?
What was the appearance of the infused leaf?
What was the smell of the infused leaf as compared to the liquor, did it taste the same or different?
Do you feel any other thing?
Professional tea tasters, spit out the liquor after every slurp so that they don’t drink the tea as they taste over a hundred cups during the season. It is crucial to observe how the tea feels in the throat.
After you have done a couple of sessions, you will start appreciating various kinds of tea. Your taste buds take time to adjust to fine tea and it comes with experience.
Always remember a highly-priced tea is not always the best tea. Once you get experience, put a serial number on the sample and hide all the information so that you do not have any bias towards a producer, grade or type of tea. This is important if you want to become a good tea taster.
Tea tasting terms
Here is a list of terms which are used extensively during tea tasting.
Terms used for evaluating Liquor
Autumnal: A seasonal term applied to teas grown during the period, possessing flavour
Bakey: Unpleasant taste usually caused by very high temperatures and driving out too much moisture during firing
Body: A liquor possessing fullness and strength
Bright: As opposed to dull
Brisk: A live taste in the liquor, as opposed to be flat or soft
Burn: Generally applicable to Darjeeling Tea
Burnt: Tea which has been subjected to extreme high temperature during firing. Undesirable
Character: A most desirable quality which also permits recognition of the origin of growth of the tea
Coarse: Opposed to brisk, Generally descriptive of secondary CTC dusts
Colour: Denoting depth of the colour. Different growth / grades possess varying hues of colour
Contamination: Taint, A taste foreign to tea, caused by contact or proximity to odours substances eg. Oil, spices, chemical, bacteria etc.
Creamy: Precipitate obtained on cooling of tea. A bright cream indicates a good tea.
Dry: Slightly bakey or high fired
Dull: A liquor that is neither clear or bright/brisk. Caused by several factors such as bacterial contamination, faulty firing of excessive moisture content
Flat: A liquor possessing strength and body
Fully Fired: Slightly over-fired. The term cautions for ensuring that future manufacture doe not become high fired.
Harsh: Usually the result of immature tea or tea made from coarse leaf. Inefficient fermenting/drying may cause harshness.
High-fired: A tea which received too much fire
Mouldy: Suspension of mould
Old: Having lost most original attributes through age
Pungent: Extremely brisk, most desirable
Quality: Essential characteristics of a good tea
Smokey: Self explanatory
Soft: Liquor characters reverse of brisk, lacking life
Stewy: Where fermentation has not been arrested in the dryer
Strength/Strong: Substance in liquor body
Sweaty : Undesirable taste due to storage in heaps on floor for long durations
Thin: Lacking in body – often due to under withering or inadequate fermentation
Wild: Liquor character found in end of season teas. Undesirable
Terms used for evaluating leaf
Bright : Alive, as opposed to a dull looking infusion
Coppery: Colour of infused leaf, usually denoting a good quality tea. Reference particularly to CTC
Dull: Opposed to bright.
Even: The term is usually combines with ‘bright’ or ‘coppery’, no irregularity in colour
Mixed / Uneven : Infused leaf which has more than one colour
Green: Generally undesirable. Typical of first flush
Terms used for evaluating dry leaf
Acceptable: A tea which in spite of a fault can be taken to the market
Attractive: Well made, uniform in colour and size
Black: Describing colour of dry leaf a desirable characteristic for orthodox teas
Blackish: Used for CTC tea. Desirable for internal market
Bloom: A live, rather than dull looking tea. Bloom is often lost to cutting / over handling during sorting
Bold: Pieces leaf that are too big for a grade
Brown: Undesirable leaf colour both for Orthodox and CTC
Case- hardened: Hardening of the outside case of the leaf, caused by too quick and hard fire. Such teas seldom keep well
Chesty: Taint caused by unseasoned chest panels
Chunky: Usually applied to large sized tip. Desirable
Clean: Free of stalk/fibre
Cut: Orthodox leaf cut in breaker rather than sized in the roller
Even: Grade consisting of roughly equal size pieces
Fiber: Shreds of stalks in CTC grade – indicating bad plucking
Flaky: A flat, open leaf as opposed to a well twisted leaf. Usually the result of poor withering / rolling
Golden Tip: Highly desirable feature in Orthodox teas, representative of pubescent buds
Grape nutty: CTC teas not having completely smooth appearance
Grainy: Hard cut CTC leaf, desirable for internal market
Grey: Most undesirable colour of dry leaf caused by faulty handling, over sorting
Gritty: CTC leaf that feels jagged to the touch
Green – leaf: The result of insufficient withering or under fermentation in CTC teas
Irregular: Describing size of a grade, implying it is too large for market requirements
Large: Describing size of a grade, implying its too large for market requirements
Make: A tea having ‘make’ has been carefully manufactured
Milled: Tea leaf put through a cutter and ground
Mixed: Denotes presence of other grades in a particular grade. Undesirable
Neat: Well made teas of even appearance
Pale tip: Denoting colour, in contrast to ‘golden’ generally less valuable
Ragged: Rough and uneven leaf
Reddish: Usually end of season leaf colour
Shotty: Well made and rolled, particularly of Orthodox BPS
Small: A grade of lesser size than is normal for it
Stalky: Indicating undue presence of stalk. The result of coarse plucking
Stylish: Neat and of superior leaf appearance
Twist: Well rolled, particular reference to whole leaf
Uneven: a grade composed of uneven pieces of leaf
Well-made: Uniform in colour, size and texture
Whiskery: Long fibre, Undesirable
Additional tea tasting terms used to describe Darjeeling Tea
Aroma: It is the aroma of the tea liquor also referred as nose or fragrance. A complex aroma is described as a bouquet.
Astringency: No bitterness, a clean refreshing quality. It also has a mouth drying effect on the tongue. Astringency is a reaction between polyphenols (tannins) and the protein in saliva.
Body: Usually used to describe the tea its fullness and strength. Usually described as light, medium of full. Also used to describe CTC tea – lively with bright / red liquor.
Bright: Describes a good quality fresh tea, also used to describe a cup of CTC liquor. A tea which is clean and refreshes the palate.
Brisk: Usually used to describe the a fresh lively taste in the liquor. It is fresh on the palate and has no additional taints.
Clean: explains that the liquor is pure and is absent of any off-tastes.
Character: Describes tea from a particular region, origin and type of tea.
Finish: The taste left on your tongue after you have swallowed the tea
Malty: The main characteristic of good Assam Black tea.
Flowery: Described by the nose, usually associated with Darjeeling and speciality teas
Full: A strong cup of tea, with good colour, strength and no bitterness
Muscatel: A flavour found in muscat grapes, also found in good second flush Darjeeling tea
Smooth: Fine round bodied tea
Soft: Lacks any life, best described as the opposite of briskness
Vegetal: A term used to describe green tea, the grassy feel