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Strength of color does not necessarily indicate strength of flavor. A light, bright greenish-yellow liquor is a sign of quality in a green tea, and the liquor will have body, strength, and pungency; a dull, dark or brownish-yellow color, on the other hand, often indicates old or poor leaf. Young green teas yield very light liquors. The finest oolongs have a much paler amber color than those of poorer quality, and some of the finest Darjeeling yield a light coloured liquor compared to the dark cups of many black blends, the amateur is often subconsciously tricked into thinking a dark, rich-looking cup of tea is more flavorful than in fact it is (Since it takes a minimum of three minutes for all the flavor and aroma characteristics to be infused from the leaf, the quality of the finished brew must be judged according to the length of infusion not by color.)
The taster is now ready to confirm or supplement his impressions so far by tasting the liquid. All the previous steps take very little time in actual practice, and so does the tasting. The taste is the final test and the final determiner of quality. All the other tests have been signs or portents of cup quality; the taste confirms or denies these signs. While the tea can be sampled directly from the cup, it is far faster and more efficient to use a spoon. The ideal temperature for tasting the liquor is said to be 106 degree to 110 degree Fahrenheit. Much above that temperature and the palate may be scalded and the taste buds desensitized. Many tasters examine the dry samples and infused leaves while waiting for the liquor to cool to around the temperature.
The taster sucks the liquid – about a tablespoonful – off the spoon with considerable force, enough, anyway, to make a loud sucking noise. The noise just accompanies the proper technique, which is to create enough suction with the mouth and lips to spray the liquor over the entire palate and carry its aroma into the nasal passages.
A swish around the mouth, and the liquid is spat into the gaboon. Often a taster will take at least two slurps from each cup, the purpose of the first slurp being to clear the palate of the impression of the previous cup tasted. The mechanics of the slurping method allow all the senses of the mouth and nose to experience the tea liquor. By sucking the liquor into the back of the mouth the olfactory nerves in the nasal passages are strongly stimulated and the entire tongue is bathed in the liquid.
Of the four dimensions of taste (Salt, sour, sweet, and bitter), sweetness and saltiness are tasted on the tip of the tongue, bitterness at the back, and sourness at the back edges. Astringency or pungency of tea is not a taste per so, but a sensation felt on the gums and cheeks. The body, or thickness, of the tea is the impression of weight or viscosity experienced when the liquor is swirled around in the mouth. A good deal of the sensation of taste is actually experienced by the nose, not the mouth, as anyone with a head cold can attest; for this reason, most of the tea taster's efforts are aimed at accentuating the olfactory sensations.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are considerable similarities among the descriptive terms tea tasters, wine tasters and coffee tasters employ. Each has its own particular and sometimes peculiar terminology, however and although the vocabulary used by tea tasters is close to that of coffee tasters, it is not identical. Certain key terms, such as ‘flavor' have meanings that only partially overlap. The following list covers most of the tea tasting terms in common use; it covers only terms used to describe the general characteristics of tea, the liquor, and some common tea terms. It does not include terms that apply only to the appearance of the dry leaf and the infused leaf. In compiling the list, we have been guided by contemporary usage in the U.S Tea trade and by the list given by Harler and, to some extent, Ukers. Some of the descriptions are not the technical ones used in the trade, but are our own attempt to explain terms in a non-technical fashion.