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How To Taste Tea
How To Taste Tea

How To Taste Tea

Discover the art of tea tasting. From selecting the perfect cup to savouring the aroma and flavour notes, elevate your tea experience with our tea-tasting guide.

Like a good wine, chocolate or coffee, tea is the product of its environment. How the tea is grown and where, and how it is processed are just some of the qualities that make each tea unique and give it body, character, aroma (and health properties).

Tea tasting is a skill. Something our professional tea tasters, who blend and craft your favourite cuppa - have spent years building their tasting vocabulary. But for us mere ‘tea drinkers’ there are a few things you can learn to understand your brew better.

From how to recognise the key flavour notes and identify different tea blends to get the most from your Twinings tea.

The following guide is just that; designed to help you study your tea's taste, flavour and aroma. Not only broadening your knowledge, but also enhancing your tea-drinking experience.

Appearance, Aroma, Flavour and Mouth Feel

When we're tasting tea, we look for four key features: appearance, aroma, flavour, and mouth feel. You’ll learn more as we go along our 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 opinion is based on appearance. Here are a few things to look out for:

Shape - what are the bits of tea like? Small? Large?

Colour - is it all the same colour? Is it jet black? If it's all different colours then it might be a blend.

Texture - is it finely ground like dust? Is it crumbly? Sticky?

Tea Buds - can you see any?

Signs of a Good Loose Tea:

  • In black, white and green tea, look for gold or bronze flecks - these are the young leaves called tippy.
  • Feel the tea between your fingers. It should crunch. This sound means it hasn't absorbed any moisture (or flavour) from the air around it.
  • Buds.
Signs of a good loose tea
Making the perfect tea brew

2) Making the Perfect Brew…

Set standards are something tea tasters talk about them a lot. They're necessary to make sure that every tasting is consistent so that every cup you enjoy as a customer tastes the same every time.

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.

Word of advice - It's best not to over-squeeze your tea bag because this can 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 - is it vibrant? We’re looking for a bright, jewel-like colour.

Physical Appearance - Is it oily or bright? We’re looking for a shiny, slightly oily and bright? It's fine to have little fragments floating around the bottom of the cup.

Clarity - once we've brewed the tea, we look at the wet leaves. For Twinings 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 great colour. And to see that the leaves have become plump and whole again.

Infused Tea
How Do We Taste?

4) How Do We Taste? Here's the Science Bit

When we think of taste, we think of our tongue. But up to 90% of flavour is perceived through smell. Our tongues detect five essential tastes, giving us our initial impression of sweet, salty, acidic, bitter, and umami (a Japanese word meaning 'pleasant savoury taste'). The initial perception of something can sometimes throw you off the taste, so it's important first to take in the aroma.

Our taste buds form part of an intricate system that allows our brains to decide how something tastes. The taste buds, along with gustatory receptors and the olfactory gland, allow our brain to make a quick decision on whether or not 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 cases 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, and 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 test…

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 dog.

Use your taste wheel to help you consider some of the aromas.

At this point you will start to get the first perception of the flavour.

Tea Aroma
How to taste tea

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 do:

Scoop up some of the liquor with your spoon.

1. First, take deep breath. 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.

2. And breathe out

Now you need to breathe out through your nose (whilst keeping your mouth closed) - this is called retro-olfaction perception. Then swallow the liquor.

3. Pay attention

Tune in 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 tannins.

Now that you've mastered the art of slurping you can now inspect 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.

Flavour wheel

First impressions - Known as head notes, are the ones that give you the initial impression, and they come thick and fast.

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, and 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.

Secondary ring - Next up, you’ll feel the body notes. These give you an overall lasting impression and character.

After taste - And finally, the tail notes 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.

Try 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".

Mouth feel

8. How Does It Feel?

It's funny to talk about mouth feel, but it's important as it indicates strength.

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 sensations.

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.

Immerse yourself in this sensory experience and get so much more from every last drop. By learning the art of tea tasting, you can better appreciate the unique characteristics of each tea and discover new favourites that will enrich your tea-drinking journey. So take your time, savour each sip, and enjoy our wonderful world of Twinings tea.

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