Getting started with tasting teas: tips on how to become a connoisseur

How does one taste all the depth and nuances of tea like a pro without going through any extensive training? In the connoisseurship of wine, many folks become certified wine sommeliers only to learn its appreciation at a professional level. Tea is more complex on the palate than wine. Yet few of us have the luxury of training in tea tasting to fully appreciate what tea has to offer. However, you can follow these guidelines below to getting acquainted with the process of how to taste tea like a pro:

  1. Preparation is important. In the beginning of your taste journey, be sure to set aside the space and time to devote to tasting and learning, without partaking in food or other drinks that might skew your palate. Developing a palate means you have to start fresh. Avoid garlic, spices, curries, and other pungent herbs at least a few hours prior to  drinking tea. Tea judges, in fact, do not eat pungent herbs or spices for a week or more sometimes to preserve their palates, even with their level of expertise.
  2. Mindfulness is paramount.  We are so used to multitasking nowadays — just take one look around a cafe and see everyone on phones or laptops. The only way to develop your senses is to pay undivided attention to smelling and tasting the tea. If you were going to a Michelin star restaurant, it is doubtful you would be working on your laptop while eating. You should be savoring every bite. Connoisseur teas ask that you pay equal attention, and more so in the beginning as you are training to develop your taste buds.
  3. First, sniff. Wine professionals call this the PVT — Perfume Vapor Trail.First take a few seconds to smell the tea, but not from dry tea leaves. In tea, the trail of aroma is more intense due to the hot steam lifting and making it pervasive. Splash the leaves inside the teapot or Gaiwan with hot water,decant, and cover the lid for about 10 seconds. Then, lift and smell the lid — it will have captured the multiple layers of flowers, herbs, and all kinds of complex aromas that tea offers. The Taiwanese have invented a narrow, cylindrical shaped cup just to capture the vapors of the aroma. It is simple, and effective.
  4. Second, slurp. Just like tasting wine, slurping as you allow the tea to enter your palate aerates and allows the tea molecules to activate.  You will taste more texture in the body and the soluble substances in the tea through this process. Feel the richness, or butteriness, smoothness, or silkiness that’s present — or not. By slurping, you will allow rich taste aromas to dance across your palate.
  5. Third, savor. Tea, unlike other beverages, provides some of the longest finishes in the aftertaste. Lingering, refreshing and aromatic notes continue on for hours. After you have allowed your tea to slowly run through your palate into your throat, note the long aftertaste by closing your mouth and breathing through your nose. That secondary aroma will come up to the surface. That aftertaste is sometimes more valued than the initial topical aroma.
  6. Taste through every steep. Whole leaf teas offer five, eight, 10, or sometimes more than 20 steepings. Each time you apply hot water and let the leaves unfurl some more, new flavors reveal themselves. It is important to taste through each unfurling, like appreciating every inch of a painting, bit by bit. Floral qualities give way to an earthy body, which then gives way to a woody finish, for example. You don’t want to miss any part of the symphony that is the tasting of tea!

There are many more aspects to tea tasting, but if you follow these initial guidelines, you will be well on your way.

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