HOW TEA EXPERTS TASTE TEA
Page 1 | 2 | 3


The presence or absence of fiber, dust and stalk is noted, as well as the care that has been taken in sorting and grading; whether the leaf choppy, flaky and uneven, or bold (big for the grade size) will affect the quality of the tea. None of the experts tend to be unduly impressed with ‘STYLISH' teas, particularly those containing a high proportion of white or golden ‘TIPS' (buds). Whether or not a tea has ‘tip' has nothing to do with cup quality. The presence of tip usually – but not invariably – indicates careful handling of the leaf during manufacture. It is primarily a cosmetic attraction. Some of the best second flush Darjeelings – the ones with the highest cup quality are entirely black in appearance.

A rough test of the freshness of the tea is made by gently pressing some in the hand; new teas are somewhat springier than old teas and less likely to crumble easily. Finally, the dry leaves may be smelled, usually by warming some in the hand, exhaling into them to moisten them, and then inhaling. By appearance Oolong, Ceylon's, Java's, Africans, Indians, and in fact most black teas are difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish, but the aroma detected from them in the hand is sufficiently distinct to permit the expert to tell them apart and even to give a reasonably accurate assessment of their probable quality.

This entire dry-leaf analysis, it should be understood, in practice takes only a few seconds while the taster mentally compares his impression of the leaf with his knowledge and experience with that type of tea and that particular garden.

Next, a small amount of each tea (Usually thirty-five grains, one-tenth to one-quarter ounce, or two to three grams – about the weight of a well-worn dime) is carefully weighed out and put in a cup. (Thirty – five grains is considered the standard measure for a cup, and also a tea bag; on this basis one pound of tea yields a standard two hundred cups) The sample tray with the corresponding tea is placed behind it to allow comparison of the dry leaf with its infusion. The cups hold five to six ounces when filled to just below the brim. When all the samples are in the cups, water is brought to a rolling boil and the cups are filled in order. The taster pulls up a stool, positions a tall spittoon between his legs, and hovers over each cup in turn with his tasting spoon.

The analysis of the infused leaf begins shortly after all the cups are filled, since the open cups permit the taster to watch “The agony of the leaves” – as the unfolding of the tea leaves in boiling water is called. Open, flat leaves infuse quickly; well-twisted leaves take longer to yield their full flavor. (Generally speaking, smaller leaves will yield more body in the brew than the larger leaves from the same plant.).

In practice, the taster may wait a few minutes for the cups to cool and the teas to release their color and aroma. Then he scoops up a large portion of the infused leaf from the bottom of the cup for a close look and sniff. The aroma released by the infused leaf is as powerful and revealing, if not more so, than that released by the liquor. Along with the all-revealing sniff, the taster looks at the infused leaf for color, evenness, and brightness. Quality black teas (Congoes are an exception) have a bright, penny-coppery-colored infused leaf; a dull-brown color warns of poor liquor, mixed, uneven, and green color in the infused leaf of black teas indicates that the liquor is apt to be raw or thin in taste.

Previous Next