The first things that influence our tea-drinking experiences are our eyes and our ears. The look of a tea will influence our opinion – does this tea look like it’s of a high quality? Are there lots of buds of a uniform shape? Are these leaves the right colour?
Once we begin to brew and pour, our eyes and ears continue to influence our experience. What colour is the brewed liquid tea? Is it cloudy or clear? How does it pour and roll out into the cup? Is it thick or not?
A thicker liquid is usually a sign of a good tea, as it usually has more of the good stuff in it. Our ears also play a part. The sound of liquid pouring into a cup can give an indication of whether the tea is the right temperature, as we can hear the difference between a hot and cold liquid being poured.
But our experience isn’t limited to the tea – your surroundings are very important as well.
How beautiful is the teacup?
How does the room you are in look?
Have you enjoyed quality tea in such a room before? Have you sipped from such a teacup?
Or is this all new, and exciting, and different?
Is the person serving the tea dressed elegantly or casually?
Are you in a authentic tea room in Kyoko, or one of the best, most sophisticated tea houses of Paris?
Are your surroundings serene, quiet and calm? Or are you surrounded by the hustle and noise of a busy cafe, or the rumbling of an engine as you sip from a mug on your way to your next appointment?
All of these sights, these sounds, and more will greatly influence the taste of your tea and the experience you have. They add to, or take from, or otherwise subtly influence your thoughts and feelings reflecting in the tea.
Taking the steps to ensure a calm, welcoming environment can help you to unlock all of the taste and aroma of a good tea.
This is why professional tasters use the exact same tasting cups when testing a new tea. Each tea is brewed in the same way, served in the same way, and delivered in a random order, ensuring that
no external factors can negatively affect their experience.
While you can probably never eliminate all negative factors, you’ll find that a comfortable seat, a quiet room and your favourite cup will all help you to enjoy your tea that much more.
With sight and sound covered, you can be forgiven that we’ll move on to tasting and smelling the tea. We could, but one more sense needs to be taken into account first. The sense of touch, of feel.
That’s right, part of the art of tea drinking is touching the leaves you are about to brew.
In China, they always feel the tea leaves before brewing. You should do the same, asking how flexible or rigid they are – as younger teas are often much softer and more pliable. You’ll also need to feel whether the leaves are dry, or whether they still contain the amount of moisture you’d expect for a certain type of tea? And so on and forth, until you’re happy that the tea you have chosen feels right..
Then, after brewing, you should take the cup in your hands and feel the heath and the quality of the cup, the warmth of the tea contained within. Then, there’s one last time to feel the tea as you take that first sip
Once the liquid is on your lips you will know the temperature exactly. Make sure it is not too hot before you continue! Then, slowly, roll the tea on your tongue, and feel how thick the liquid is how it spreads out through your mouth.
Now it’s time for the two most important senses in the art of tea drinking.
Smell and Taste
Tasting a fine tea isn’t just down to your tongue and your tastebuds. Your sense of smell has just as much
– if not more – of an impact on your enjoyment. This is the reason that food tastes different, or bland, when you have a cold.
So before you taste the tea make sure to fully embrace the fragrance of it, preparing yourself for what is to come. Inhale deeply and enjoy the rich aroma. Focus on the scents – do they remind you of herbs? Fruits?
Perhaps even rich woodsmoke?
Then put the cup on your lips and taste
Roll the liquid over your tongue multiple times.
Here is where the fullness of a tea (or the lack thereof) comes into play, and the song of the tea becomes clear. Usually it has one main chorus or aroma with subtle notes coming into play now and then. The good teas have multiple notes or a rich aroma, but the very good ones have layers of flavours where one by one a different flavour appears on your palate, leading to an incredible, deep experience.
Often a fine tea reminds me of rich fruit or grassy vegetables, but the very best always remind me of some events of the past.
After that, feel the minerality on the tongue, the soothing effect on the throat, and the lasting sweetness in the mouth. This is often called Hui Gan or the rich aftertaste of a tea. A tea rich in Hui gan will have a long period of time after your cup is empty where you still feel a part of the flavour on the tongue, or the soft sweet coating of the throat.
If you experience these things, it a sure sign of a quality tea.