Learn the art of Tea Tasting with Dinesh Deheragoda
Tea tasting is an art as well as a science. It is a process by which a professional tea taster decides the quality of a given tea. Tea quality depends on the region it is grown ie. Altitude, weather conditions, exposure to Sun, wind and finally the manufacturing process.
As a professional tea taster, I recognises these subtle differences between the multiple varieties and grade/sort them accordingly. Tea tasting is done prior to blending of tea, which is a method of placing together different types of tea to produce a new product or the process of maintaining constant quality of an existing product.
It is regulated by the International Organisation for Standardisation under ISO3103. The procedure states how to brew tea in a standardised method and then test each variety separately to determine the quality. However, this is only a guideline and it could vary in different countries where tea is manufactured.
The process involves each tea sample is infused in boiling water. The usual weight is 2g. (about 1/2 a teaspoonful) of tea to 150ml (½ cup) of boiling water. The tea tasting cup is covered and left to stand for 5 minutes (where in-between it is stirred at 2 ½ minutes). The infused infusion is then poured into special white porcelain tasting cup and the infused leaf is displayed on a white porcelain saucer or lid. This infused leaf is again inspected visually. At this juncture, I also evaluate the aroma and colour consistency of the leaf.
I then inspect the infusion and its brightness, after which to the cup colour, clarity, aroma and thickness which are the key factors to check. Further, I categorize it in terms such as “Dark”, “Coppery” to “Dull” and “Bright”. These are the qualities by which tea is identified before the tea is physically tasted.
The physical process of tasting the tea makes a loud sucking sound. This is to mix the tea with plenty of oxygen and let it travel over all parts of the tongue and palate. Upon identifying the tea quality, the tea that is left in the mouth would be spat to a spittoon before moving to the next sample.
This above process will determine a wide variety of characteristics, such as freshness, harshness, fullness and so on. The terminology of tea-tasting includes a long list of such characteristics, though not all tasters use the terms consistently.
Prior to the weekly tea auctions, we receive about 10,000-11,000 samples of tea from which we choose what needs to be tasted and then eventually evaluated according to our current orders in hand. This is an ongoing process every week.
The taste of each sample will depend upon the size of the leaf, its color, shape and processing methods. All these are used to come to a conclusion about the quality. Technical jargons are used to grade the teas explaining their quality. Some words used for this are “body” which means full and strong tea, “brisk” which denotes the tea has very much live characteristics and “burnt” to mean that it has been extremely over-fired.
Tea is not only tested in liquid form. It can be visually tested, smelled and touched for the quality to be determined. The touch is examined by simply pressing dry tea leaves in your hand. If it is fresh, the tea leaves are less likely to crumble & crispy. This “feel test” explains its findings via technical terms such as “flaky” to mean the tea is open, flat, and light textured, “Gray” to signify that there has been over-abrasion while sorting and “Leafy” to imply the leaves and long and large.
Tea tasting is has gained a center stage where the price will be decided and in some cases the dry leaf touch as realistically it is not possible to taste over 10,000 samples every week.
In conclusion as a professional tea taster, it is my responsibility to find the suitable teas and to maintain consistent quality of the product irrespective of weather changes and or short supply of tea. It also noteworthy to mention about the different tea cultures in the world which info could be found here.
Ceylon Tea Guide