When I do a tea tasting and I happen to discover exceptional teas, I cannot resist asking someone to participate in the pleasure with me. It’s as though I was looking at a beautiful painting… (R. Scala)
From tea tasting in Paris to tea tasting in Calcutta, Shizuoka or Colombo or even on the corner of a table in Wu Li, Li Shan or Darjeeling, Olivier Scala and his son, Augustin Scala, buyers and tea tasters, select the best harvests from tea producing countries (India, China, Japan…). The fascinating art of tea tasting is revealed here.
Tea tasting context
Tasting a tea is always an effervescent moment during which the same ritual and same vocabulary is employed over and over. It is a moment of complicity, which unites the actors around a product which has become the most consumed beverage in the world, after water. Other than the valuable input of the tea taster, the environment in which a tea tasting takes place is also very important.
The place: A tea tasting must be done in a calm, simple and neutral environment and the actors must be concentrated. The tea tasting area often resembles a laboratory with white table-tops and white tiles. The white colour, an indication of cleanliness, helps highlight the colours of the tea leaves and the infusion. The tea is always tasted in white recipients.Tea tasting takes place in an area where there is no direct sunlight (northern exposure is the best) and in natural light when possible. When natural light is not possible neon light is acceptable.
The time needed: A tea tasting can be very quick; several seconds might suffice. But tasting the tea hot, warm and then cold will give the most sensations! Therefore, your tea tasting can take from several seconds to an entire day.
The actors: Foreign odors such as tobacco, perfume or badly washed recipients are strictly prohibited. Tea tasting in the morning is always preferable. A clean and neutral pallet is necessary and will make the tea tasting easier, pleasant and more reliable.
Tea tasting material
Tea tasting material is standard, universal and simple: a serrated edge or rounded edge recipient (pot) with a lid, a cup, water, a tea kettle, a spoon, a timer and a scale.
Stimulation of the senses
George Cannon taste-tests all of its teas: first the sample, then upon arrival at the factory to verify the quality. All of the senses of the expert tea taster are awakened during degustation:
Hearing - Listen to the leaves tell their story while passing between the fingers. Their age is revealed by the sound they produce... silky, smooth or already aged.
Touch - By caressing the leaves while putting them on the scale, or letting them fall freely, you can appreciate their lightness and resistance: silky, smooth, rough or other notes are revealed.
Sight - Before becoming interested in the « liqueur », observing the dry and infused tea leaves reveals the quality of the harvest: the general aspect of the leaves, their shape, their size, their texture, their colour, and the presence of external objects (such as twigs, pebbles or other). The visual quality of the leaves is the first indication of the quality of a harvest.
Taste and Smell - Even if these two senses are easy to differentiate, they are intimately related and complementary in tea tasting. In the search, qualification and appreciation of the taste during a taste testing, the taste can be revealed by both senses: taste (the tongue and the pallet) and smell (the nose).
Strictly simulates speaking, tea tasting takes place in three steps. The first spoonful may be insufficient and only awakens the senses. This fleeting sensation is called the « mind notes ». The second spoonful allows for a full examination in the mouth: the tea is fully spread on the pallet and has been oxygenized while leaving the cup. The sensations produced by this second spoonful, called the « notes of the heart », can be analyzed: structure, make up, the sensation of the smells. The third spoonful installs the tea in the mouth. This third spoonful allows judging the quality of the tea and its finish in the mouth: the aromatic notes persist, evolve and sometimes transform. These notes are called the « tail or base notes ». Regular and intense degustation allows the tea taster to find a harmony between these three notes. No tea taster, no matter how experienced, is exempt from having an « off » day: mood, health or fatigue can all play a role. In this case, the tea taster will do the best possible using his memory to classify and evaluate the tea.
The 10 main flavour families
The vocabulary used in tea tasting is not original; the words are essentially borrowed from the generic vocabulary of tasting. Concerning the 10 principal flavour families they are similar to those used in oenology.