Early in my tea drinking journey I wondered, “how can someone describe tea so well?” I’d heard wine experts discussing the minute differences in profiles and mouthfeel, and I sought out ways in which to expand both my vocabulary and knowledge of tea. I’m always thinking of 1,000 ways to explain or approach a particular concept or experience, in hope that one reaches the desired person(s). Throughout my time drinking tea, I found that there are a number of practices and aspects I make a frequent part of my life, in order to continue growing and learning.
Taste! Taste! Taste!: I find myself going to interesting lengths to physically taste foods or preparation styles that are foreign to me, i.e unripened fruits, nut shells or visiting a supermarket that has larger sections that cater to global regions. It expands my ability to internalize flavors and aromas while allowing me to cook up some pretty cool stuff for meal prep!
The Power of Tea Blends: This is where I believe tea blends can really take the spotlight in tea tasting and education. Real ingredients (when blended well) present flavor profiles right then and there. There’s the visual aspect when we look at the blend that can directly link the experience. Pair that with resources like the ITMA aroma wheel or even the SCAA coffee wheel and confidence and attention builds. Wheels allow us to focus in on a particular area of taste and assist us in exploring the nuances. Feel free to view the PDF below for a downloadable copy.
Horizontal Tastings: Tasting 2 or 3 of the same type of tea in comparison, or three similar but contrasting teas can help build not only tasting notes, but gives context to each as I move from one to the next and back again. It leads to more fun and experimentation, not to mention lots of tea drinking! Take my photo of two different pickings of Dianhong for example. Tasting the buds on the left compared to the mixed picking on the right allows me to isolate attributes in flavors and textures, equipping me with a deeper understanding the next time I look to purchase a similar tea or want to alter my experience.
Tasting with a sense of the Self: Because I feel so much of our experiences with aroma and flavor link to our memory and feelings, I believe there aren’t any incorrect tasting notes and that the more we spend time with tea with a level of self-awareness, the more we allow ourselves to explore notes and the experience of tea. This relationship created is powerful and intimate. That’s the special part of sharing tasting notes because it’s specific to the tea drinker – and that’s worth sharing! Take other’s notes with a grain of salt, or find value in them, it’s all in the perspective to appreciate and utilize! Taste, journal, and share notes with no expectation.
“But Marco, why bother with tasting notes?”
I enjoy tasting notes because it builds imagery and paints pictures and memories. Backed by general knowledge of how those flavors and aromas can make it into the leaf are a part of the rabbit hole that tea passion yields, and it is curiosity that builds knowledge. Tea is much more than tasting notes. Our energy levels, changing seasons, light, sound, and tactile feedback are included in the construction of tea experiences. Below are additional practices I prefer in order to get into a tasting mindset:
Gong fu brewing: I favor this style when it comes to tasting because it allows control in brewing parameters, tests my intuition, and gives me the space to explore the leaf material in the best ways possible.
Tea-ware: The shape of a particular cup may allow aromatics to be easily drawn into the nose as common in a flute glass, or maybe it dissipates heat and aromas quickly when the lip is wide and curves outward. It made have a shape that easily allows the liquor to glide across my mouth, or force me to tilt my head far back to finish. All of this can be taken into consideration as I evaluate my session.
Starting palate: I try to begin tea tastings with a neutral mouth, void of recent spices, sugary sweets, or on a complete empty or full stomach. This is a different case when I specifically pair a food or spirit with tea.
Mindful of tea’s journey: Remaining mindful as to how the liquor changes over time and the fluidity of the leaf’s process keeps my level of self-awareness highly engaged.
So there you have it! Those are a few of my thoughts as to how I approach tasting tea and the practices I utilize to experiment and learn on a daily basis. Are there similarities or differences you’d like to share? Let me know, as I’m always excited to not only try something new, but discuss new ways to enjoy and view tea! Thank you for joining me on my reflection!