September 23, 2021 3 min read
For a true connoisseur, tea is more than just comfort in a cup. It’s also food for thought and small talk with friends. And if you’re willing to spend some time learning about it—and practicing your brewing skills—tea can be an incredible adventure for your palate, one that will allow you to fully appreciate its complex aromas and flavors.
When you fully enjoy tea, it can be as much about how you drink it as what’s in the cup. And eventually, over time, you’ll learn how to better appreciate the subtle notes that make each cup unique.
Let's start by walking you through a few general guidelines on how you can fully appreciate tea.
Once you have a freshly brewed cup in front of you, go ahead and take a deep whiff of it—the closer to your nose, the better. What do you smell? Are there any obvious differences between this particular variety and what you might expect from such a tea?
The fragrance of the tea says a lot about its age. If you notice a strong and fragrant aroma, chances are that it's fresh and will have more flavor. Over time, you'll be able to detect subtle variations in the aroma, an indication of how it was processed and prepared. Smoky or "tarry" and even "biscuity" for a well-fired Assam, for example, might be easy for you to distinguish from the aroma of green tea.
Tea-drinkers call this "liquor," although it really has nothing to do with alcohol. Instead, it speaks more of the clarity, color, and general appearance of the tea.
The color of the liquor is no less important than its aroma; in fact, it may be even more telling. For example, if you see a dark brown or blackish brew with little to no transparency, chances are that your tea has been oxidized for too long—a sign of poor quality.
"Coppery" or "bright" colors are more favored in the tea-drinking community for fine black teas. Herbal teas come in many varieties and the strength of the color may point to the quality of the herbs used to brew the cup.
After you've spent time examining the leaf, looking at the tea, and smelling it, you should be ready to start drinking it. Depending on what kind of tea it is, there are a few different ways to approach this next step.
About 70°C (158 F) is considered ideal for most kinds of tea. It's hot enough to draw out the full flavors and body of your leaves, but cool enough that it won't burn them in the process.
Brewing time depends on how you will be drinking your tea—some teas are meant to be consumed immediately, while others are best enjoyed over time. For black teas, you can go with about three to five minutes of brewing time; for herbal teas, two to three minutes should do the trick. White and yellow teas tend to be on the fragile side, so try not to brew them any longer than 30 seconds or so.
With that said, go ahead and take a sip. Notice the tea's flavor in your mouth—is it strong or weak? Sweet or bitter? Does it have any off-tasting flavors?
Take extra care to distinguish between different tea flavors, since each one will have a distinctive aftertaste.
As you drink the tea, notice how it changes over time—how long does it take for its aroma or flavor to develop? Does one particular taste dominate while others recede into the background? How does your palate change throughout the course of just one cup of tea?
Different teas offer different experiences. Some are heavy and bold, while others are light and delicate; some taste of berries or fruits, while still others have a slightly bitter flavor; some take time to develop their flavors in your mouth but give off an excellent aftertaste. Each variety has its own unique character—and, like wine, can take a little time and practice to fully appreciate.
In truth, there are really no hard and fast rules when it comes to tea drinking. It's not about following instructions religiously, but rather finding the right fit for your own preferences—and this takes some trial and error along the way.
So now you’re ready! Go out there, find a nice cup, and savor every sip.
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