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How to Sniff, Slurp, & Taste Tea Like a Tea Sommelier
Sommeliers, the professional wine tasters who are typically responsible for the wine pairings in your favorite restaurant, have an expertly developed sense of taste and an unbelievable ability to parse and articulate whatever they are tasting. But they have been trained rigorously, and worked hard to develop those senses. Smelling and tasting whatever they come across, they take note of the substance, its state, and the circumstances that they were experienced They commit the story to their memory. Once there was a beautiful sunset, noted one wine sommelier, that he would climb up the pine tree as a child to see. One day, he found a tea would evoke just that exact memory. Being able to recall flavors is a practice, and having the ability to taste and recognize the flavors, is the first step. So take note of what you taste carefully and mindfully, and rewards may be quite unexpected.
For tea, the most prominent feature is its complex aromas. The often pervasive, high fragrance, could fill a room. What are the aromas evocative of? the fragrance of summer orange flowers? the aroma of ripe pineapples? The wet earth after a rain? The scent of a pine forest? There may be layers of lilac amongst vanilla with some spice notes in the intense fragrance of a Baochong Oolong, the most aromatic of very fragrant Taiwanese oolong teas. After the aroma, comes the taste of the tea in the palate. Aerate as you would with wine, slurp as you drink the tea and allow it pass through your palate, taking note of the flavors. The other day, I had a Sencha that tasted strangely like warm biscuits, along with its usual comforting marine umami. In our new collection of teas by tasting notes, we have organized many Japanese teas like sencha into ‘Marine‘, but far inland on top of a Taoist Mountain, our favorite Lu Shan Clouds and Mist strangely also tastes of sea vegetables, along with notes of avocado, spinach, and melted butter. If you pursed your lips and huff in through your nose, you will detect what we call the palate fragrance. In teas like Wuyi Big Red Robe, you might get strong toasted nuts and cinnamon in the palate fragrance. Further, tea boasts of a long lingering aftertaste. In the case of Tieguanyin, is it the sweetness of rose water and a hint of sandalwood in the throat long after it’s been consumed.
Tasting tea with some mindfulness and attention, with the intention to peel back its enormously complex flavors, will yield an enjoyment that no other beverage can match. BUt of course, this only applies to true teas whose complexities result from natural processing. Anything with perfume scented additives are just potpourri. So, next time you brew a cup, take some time to explore the complex flavors as they flow across your palate. Check out our “How to Taste Tea” page for more information on tasting, and be sure to explore all of our new tasting note categories on our site. Kanpai!