How to Taste Tea
01 September 2012
We love to hear what you think of your Twinings cuppa, particularly when we have new teas coming out. So have a read, put the kettle on and tell us what you think.
Become a tea taster
'Tasting tea? I've been doing all my life - why do I
need you telling me how to taste my tea?' - we hear you
But, like a good wine, chocolate or coffee, tea is the product
of it's environment, how the tea is grown and then how it's
processed, these variables give the tea body, character and aroma
[and health properties] all of which are unique to each tea. Here
at Twinings our professional tea tasters who blend and craft your
favourite cuppa have had years of tasting to build their tasting
vocabulary - so for us mere "tea drinkers" it will take a while for
us to develop ours.
The following guide, is just that, it's designed to help you
study your teas taste, flavour and aroma. We are hoping by using
this guide that then you can tell us what you think of our new teas
as you discover them, with you becoming our trusted, valued friends
that we can then call on, in the future, during the development
process of creating new tea blends before they are fully
To the right there is a form you can use to give us your tea
review, however you are welcome to contact us through our facebook
as well should you prefer. We would love a picture of you, or your
tea or you and your tea - there will be prizes for the best ones
Currently we would love your tasting notes on our new range of
Whole Leaf Silky
Pyramid Teas, these are available at Waitrose or on the Twinings
So let's put the kettle on, grab a Twinings, grab your camera
and lets have a taste...
Appearance, aroma, flavour and mouth feel
When we're tasting tea we look for four key features:
appearance, aroma, flavour and mouth feel. You will learn about all
of these on this tea tasting journey… Interestingly, their roots
lie in the Chinese tea ceremony. Understanding the full picture of
what is happening around you is one of their key teachings.
1. first impressions count
As a tea taster, the first thing you do is inspect the dry
tea. Surprisingly, a large proportion of our overall
option is based on its look:
Shape - what are the bits of tea like? Small?
Colour - is it all the same colour? Is it jet
If it's all different colours then it might be a blend
Texture - is it finely ground like dust? Is it
Tea Buds - can you see any?
Signs of a good loose tea:
- In Black, White and Greem tea:
Gold or Bronze flecks - these are the young leaves called
- It should crunch between your
fingers - this means it hasn't absorbed any moisture (or
flavour) from the air around it
2. Making the perfect brew…
We've already started to talk about set standards - tea tasters
talk about them a lot. They're necessary to make sure that
every tasting is consistent.
So we'll always use the same
Standard Approach by Tea Tasters - this is
somebody who tastes tea the same way.
Weight of tea - between 2 and 3 grams in the UK
(a heaped teaspoon).
Water - Use what you would normally drink -
whether that's from the tap or a bottle.
Crockery - Every tea taster in the world will
use the same crockery - but you can just find the purest,
whitest crockery you can get your hands on. This will help you
to see the colours and depths.
Brew time - that's three and a half minutes.
It's the right amount of time for the colour, flavour and
goodness to come out.
Its best not to overly squeeze your tea bag because this could
release deep rooted tannins and they taste very bitter
3. Now what does the infused tea look like?
In the world of tea, we call the infusion 'liquor'. When
we're inspecting the liquor, we look for:
Colour - does it leap out at you? We are
looking for a bright, jewel-like colour.
Physical Appearance - we are looking for shiny,
slightly oily and bright? It's fine to have a little fragments
floating around the bottom of the cup.
Clarity - Once we've brewed the tea, we look at
the wet leaves. For Twinngs Whole Leaf Silky pyramids, why not
carefully break open the tea bag and take a closer look? What do
you see? What can you smell? We're looking for a great colour. And
to see that the leaves have become plump and whole again.
By now you're probably dying to try your tea, so let's move
onto the taste…
4. how do we taste? here's the science bit…
When we think of taste, we think of our tongue. Some studies
have suggested that up to 90% of flavour is perceived through
smell. Our tongues detect five essential tastes and these give us
our initial impression:
When we think of taste, we think of our tongue. But in fact up
to 90% of flavour is perceived through smell. Our tongues detect
five essential tastes and these give us our initial impression:
umami (a word from Japanese, meaning 'pleasant
savoury taste'). The initial perception of something can sometimes
throw you off the taste, so that's why it's important to first take
in the aroma.
Our taste buds help form part of an intricate system that
allows our brain to decide on a taste. The taste buds along with
gustatory receptors and the Olfactory gland allow our brain soon
makes a fast decision on if as an individual we recognise and
like the flavour of what we are about to ingest.
The Olfactory Gland is situated several centimetres behind
the back of our eyes and nose. With its fine hairs on its
surface it captures molecules of what we are smelling and in some
case putting in our mouth ( that's why it's important to slurp our
tea to mix with the air). A combination of the neural
messages from the tongue, olfactory gland and with some help from
the gustatory receptors we are quickly able to build a profile of
the tea we are drinking.
Now let's put our olfactory gland to the
5. Aroma - let's take a little sniff…
Because we mainly taste through our sense of smell, it's
important to deeply consider the aroma. There are two techniques
for sniffing, these are:
Deep inhalations - this is when you hold the
brew as close to your nose as possible and take a deep breath.
Dog action - this is when you take rapid,
shallow inhalations through the nose, rather like a panting
Use your taste wheel to help you consider some of the
At this point you will start to get the first
persception of the flavour.
6. How to taste and slurp…
Here's the fun bit. It's when we actually get to taste the tea.
So throwing all table manners out of the window - here's what you
Scoop up some of the liquor with your spoon.
Take deep breath (first).
Pucker up like you're about to give someone a kiss, then slurp
the liquid up into your mouth from the surface of the
spoon. The louder the slurp, the
better. You do this to mix oxygen with the liquor as
it helps to bring the flavours to life.
Now you need to breath out through your nose (whilst keeping
your mouth closed) - this is called retro-olfaction
perception. Then swallow the liquor.
Pay special attention to any sensations created on the tongue
for example sweetness or savoury. And remember that bitterness is
present in the majority of teas because of varying degrees of
Now that you've mastered the art of slurping, let's move on to
inspecting the taste.
7. What's the flavour like?
When you're tasting not all aromas and flavours are detectable
at the same time. There can be many complex layers of taste for us
we will just look for three different notes: head, body and tail.
You can use our flavour wheel for this part.
Head notes (First impressions) are the ones
that give you the initial impression, and they come thick and
Thinking about this first impression look at the inner ring of
your taste wheel and describe what you feel you taste, different
people may find different tastes, after a few years of tasting in
this way you will find that you start to taste in a standard way,
as we discussed before.
Then you feel the body notes (secondary ring).
These give you the overall lasting impression and character.
And finally, the tail notes (after taste) are
the ones that linger and stay with you after the liquid has passed
from your mouth - look at the outer ring. This final stage often
indicates the complexity and, in some cases, the quality.
Have a go at describing the flavour using your taste wheel.
Here's an example of how it might sound: "A spicy head, a nutty
body and a hazelnut tail"
8. What's the flavour like?
It's funny to talk about mouth feel, but it's important as it
Again, we can use the taste wheel for this but it's often better
to use what feels right.
Mouth feel is all about the sensations you feel in your mouth
when you taste tea. And of course, different teas trigger different
Some are smooth and round, some are drying and bite into the jaw
- but all of them help us to decide if the tea feels right.
Often this is the connection between taste and smell - it's what
makes us want to taste the tea again.