Tea, next to water, is the most popular beverage around the globe and there is a lot that goes on before a packet of tea reaches your home. A unique feature of tea is that everybody wants it to suit their specific taste. Like all good things, tea is the product of its environment. Its uniqueness arises from how the tea is grown and processed. This is where tea tasting comes in.
Tea tasting is a skill, which requires years of focussed training and this is how a tea taster determines the quality of tea. Only by tasting can you understand the goodness of the product and eventually differentiate between the suitable requirements for the appropriate blend in a consistent manner. Tea tasting is quite unlike having a drink when you are thirsty or eating a meal when you are hungry. A Tea taster does not drink tea to satisfy his thirst. What they do is taste and evaluate every cup of tea and this needs lot of concentration.
The dry leaf appearance, the liquor combination of briskness, body (strength) and aroma of the Camellia sinensis plant, that is the Botanical name for a Tea plant, will vary due to the growing conditions, change in seasons as well as the implemented manufacturing processes, but the Tea Taster’s (Blender’s) skill lies in unfailingly selecting and offering the same cup of tea round the year despite the vagaries.
A tea taster is the first person to taste and approve the tea after it leaves the tea gardens and therefore, his evaluation matters for the consumer and the trade. It is the Tea Taster who compares and judges the tea that will later guide the buyers, retailers, blenders etc. and ultimately helps determine the value of that particular batch of tea.
At Ripple, we have professionals who manufacture and also taste teas at their individual factories. However, the final selection of the appropriate tea for the pack is done by the panel of tasters who select the teas based on their expertise.
Prior to understanding the Art of Tea Tasting it is important to brew the tea in the right manner.
The 3 “T’s” play a major role in Tea preparation – Temperature, Time and Tea pot material for brewing.
Temperature in preparation of good tea is very critical. The general conception that boiling water can be used on any kind of tea is actually incorrect. In fact, each variety of tea, from green to black, needs to be prepared at a different range of temperature. Because of its more delicate processing, green tea often needs a cooler temperature to bring out the right flavour. Conversely, black tea, which has been fully oxidized, needs much hotter water to bring out its characteristic baked sweetness.
Similar to water temperature, different kinds of tea also require different duration of time to brew. Generally, delicate teas such as green tea need to be brewed for shorter times, while energetic black teas benefit from longer brewing and the general trend is depending on the type of tea brewing time is between 2 to 5 minutes.
The following 10 steps will help you in making a decent cup of any kind of tea.
- Take freshly drawn, cold water and boil in a kettle.
- Once water reaches ideal boiled conditions (A per type of tea), dislodge the kettle from the heating apparatus.
- Pour hot water into teapot and teacups and pour off. By warming the cups in this way, the water temperature will be more consistent.
- Add the recommended amount of tea leaves per person to the pot.
- If you like strong tea, don’t steep longer –add more tea instead. (This is where many people err.)
- Allow water to cool to the proper temperature, if necessary, and pour over the tea leaves.
- Brew for the proper length of time.
- Strain completely into another teapot or directly into the serving cups.
- Add sugar or milk in black tea based on your preference of sweetness and milk requirement.
- In green Tea add two drops of lime juice or honey for taste.
Here are the standard suggestions for a 120 ml serving:
|Type of Tea||Quantity in teaspoons / gms||Time of Brewing||TEMPERATURE|
|WHITE||1-2 tsps. (1.5 gm.)||2-3 mins||90° C (first boil or when bubbles start forming)|
|GREEN||1-2 tsps. (1.5 gm.)||2-3 mins||90° C (first boil or when bubbles start forming)|
|OOLONG||1-2 tsps. (1.5 gm.)||3 mins||90° – 95° C (first boil or when bubbles start forming)|
|BLACK – CTC / Orthodox||1-2 tsps. (2.5 gm.)||5 mins||100-110° C (stream of bubbles are noticeable in the water)|
This is the third T and while it has not been given much importance, the material of the teapot being used also impacts the quality of the brew. When considering a teapot, it is important to consider the variety of tea and the temperature at which it is prepared. Materials like iron are excellent at retaining heat over long periods of time, while glass or porcelain are more likely to release that heat. Therefore, iron and similarly heavy materials are better for teas that need to be prepared at high temperatures, such as black tea. A teapot made from iron would keep the water hot enough to extract the teas full flavour. Green and white teas, on the other hand, needs a vessel that stays cooler, such as porcelain.
Every tea lover is aligned to their taste preference of tea, but it is not necessary that they are also aware of the art of tea tasting. What if you are given tea to taste and determine the quality? What do you do with it? How do you know what is missing or what needs to be toned down? A taster also needs to be able to describe these properties properly in their own tasting language.
The art of Tea Tasting provides you an opportunity to engage with your sensory organs comprising of seeing, smelling and tasting and is unique to each individuals taste.
The Dry leaf appearance of tea is important for initial selection and identification of your choice of tea. Some prefer the CTC leaf tea or Dust tea and some may prefer Orthodox leafy, wiry or smaller broken teas. Similarly, there would be the individual preference for a green tea, White tea or Oolong tea. Whatever be your choice, the dry leaf has to be dry and free of moisture content. The tea should not be moist and sticking onto each other. Many tasters do identify the quality of tea from the size, make and aroma of the tea itself.
During screening of the teas, a taster would place part of dry tea on a clean white screening paper and observe for the leaf colour, size and consistency in shape, style, and manufacture.
The first sense that is evoked in tasting is the smell as it is the nose that tells us whether we like what we are about to taste. Tasters either use deep inhalations or the dog actions to determine the aroma of tea.
Firstly, a deep breath is taken and a large spoon is used by the taster and the brewed tea is slurped into the mouth to give the right taste of tea. While it may sound and look funny, what the taster is doing is allowing the tea as well as ample oxygen to pass over all the taste receptors on the tongue as this will give an even profile of the tea. Tea tasters seldom drink the teas they taste, instead it is spat out into a spittoon before moving onto the next sample.
While tasting you need to look at different aspects to be able to judge the tea. The initial impression that you have is the head note and this is what you first felt while tasting. This moves to the secondary ring or the body note, which is the lasting impression. Finally, you get an after taste or the tail note and that is what will linger. All the three notes help you in determining the quality of tea.
Once you get a hang of tasting, you’ll begin to appreciate which are the finer teas and teas that you personally prefer.
Mr. Yezdi Mistry is the Head of Quality Control from Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Company Private Ltd., Munnar, the largest tea company of South India, the parent Company of Ripple Tea, which produces a wide variety of teas. He has two decades of Experience in the Tea Industry.