Learning how to “taste” tea seems silly. Tasting is an ability we’re born with. Our taste buds do it for us, right? Not completely. To fully taste a tea, you’ll need to use your taste buds and your olfactory senses. To start tasting teas like a pro, you can follow these simple steps.
You’d think that a tea that’s associated with emperors and royalty would never be slurped. You’d be assuming incorrectly. Slurping is key to properly tasting tea. And when slurping your tea, don’t be afraid to be loud! A loud slurp is a good slurp.
You want the tea to pass over your entire tongue so your taste buds can experience all five flavors you can find in tea: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. While the idea of the “tongue map” is often debated, we firmly believe that you still want to get as many taste buds involved in the tea tasting experience as you can. That way, you’ll feel a sour pucker towards your molars or abitterness at the back of your mouth. Slurping allows for this distribution. (The added aeration of slurping will help you cool down and taste the tea, too!)
Your first few times trying to slurp tea might not go as well as you’d hope. It’s normal to cough a little or focus so much on the slurp that you forget to taste the tea. That’s okay. You can always take another slurp!
After you slurp and swallow the tea, keep your mouth closed. Exhale through your nose. This will send aromatic steam through your nose, engaging your olfactory senses. Tea is almost completely water. In fact, a cup of tea is 98% water and 2% tea. That 2% packs quite the punch, but a lot of that taste is actually smell. Teas each have an amazing aroma that greatly contributes to the taste. By finishing each slurp of tea with a closed-mouth exhale through the nose, you get that olfactory experience.
While we’re on the subject of smelling, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t neglect your tea leaves, either. Dry and wet tea leaves will give off aromas of their own. Be sure to smell the leaves before brewing and after you’ve steeped to really capture the smells and enhance your tea tasting.
3. Take Your Time
Imagine quickly drinking something unpleasant, like cough syrup or another medicine, versus eating a piece of cake. You want to get the medicine over with, but, of course, you want cake to linger and be tasted as much as possible. Do the same for your tea! Take time to taste your tea. Note what flavors you’re tasting. Try thinking of what the flavors remind you of. Your memory has a space for flavors, so use it! Does the tea taste like lemons? Fruits? Spices? Anchoring down a flavor using something you’ve tasted before will help you remember the taste of the tea.
Slowing down and focusing on your tea tasting can also help you mentally focus and relax. By treating tea tasting like a ritual, you can make a pleasant and positive moment for yourself. If you tea taste often, you’re also likely to discover new teas that you love.
You don’t have to tea taste alone! If you really enjoy tea tasting, you can even host your own tea tasting party. All you’ll need is friends and tea.