There are hundreds of different teas, all with unique qualities and flavor characteristics. Try as many as you can to develop your tasting skills, taking notes on their flavors, appearance, and the way they were brewed. Understanding these fundamental categories and terms may help enhance your experience. Tasting the all might take a lifetime, so savor the journey. When you’ve soaked in what's here, join us for a free tasting event offered at your local Peet's to learn more.
Looks are Important
Before you brew, examine the dry leaves carefully. Are they broken or whole? Flat, twisted, or balled up? These shapes have a lot to do with how they taste. Take in the aroma of the dry leaves, and compare it to the way they smell after brewing to pick up on any subtle nuances. Then pour the tea in a white cup so the color of the liquor is vivid — does it look green, yellow, gold, red, or almost black?
Taste with Purpose
When you think of tea, you usually imagine people sipping it quietly and politely. But tasting tea is about slurping, and it's totally acceptable to make a loud noise. Draw the liquid in evenly across the whole surface of your tongue so it reaches every taste bud at once, letting you experience the flavor at its fullest. As you're tasting, think about the flavor characteristics common to that region and type of tea.
India and Sri Lanka Black teas are known for their brisk and pungent flavors. They are relatively lively and astringent, and usually take milk well. Some teas from these countries exhibit malty flavors, while others are citrusy and floral.
China Black teas are typically sweet, smooth, and slightly smoky. In some, the smoky or toasty note is a subtle aromatic hint, while in others it is strongly assertive.
China Green teas are typically vegetal and light-bodied, with flavors ranging from nutty to earthy to floral. They are distinguished by their golden-green liquor and unique leaf styles.
Japan Green teas are fresh and vegetal-tasting, with notes of newly cut grass and a hint of the sea. They typically have a bright green color.
Oolong teas are the mildest in flavor, yet can be quite complex. Usually fruity and sweet, these teas from China and Taiwan yield a golden-colored cup in between the hues of black and green teas.
Scented teas are brought into contact with a scenting agent such as jasmine flowers or pine smoke, and the aroma is transferred onto the tea.
Herbal "teas" are not truly tea, but are made up of botanical herbs, flowers, or spices. Herbal teas are also known as tisanes.
Speak the Language
The world of tea involves a complex variety of flavors, and everyone perceives them differently. But having a common language for the tasting experience bridges that gap, so it's easier to share thoughts and impressions. When tea buyers and tasters talk shop, they often use the following terms to describe what they observe.
A live, pungent sensation on the tongue and gums. Astringency is not to be confused with bitterness, which is undesirable. Astringency gives tea its refreshing quality.
The tactile impression of thickness or viscosity in the mouth. Teas may feel light-, medium-, or full-bodied.
A complex flowery or perfumy aroma.
Lively flavor found in high quality tea; the opposite of flat.
The aroma and flavor that can be associated with a tea's country, region, district, or even garden of origin.
A lemon, grapefruit, or orange rind flavor.
A multi-faceted flavor or aroma, in which a single component is not more pronounced than others.
A sweet flavor reminiscent of peaches, apricots, grapes or currants.
The sweet flavor of malted barley.
Astringent with a good combination of briskness, brightness, and strength.
Tea that has good quality and flavor balance, and does not need blending.
Flavor that ranges from subtle aromas of wood smoke or ash to a very strong scent of smoke.
A pleasant baked or biscuity aroma.
This general characteristic of green teas ranges from grassy and herbaceous to a fragrance more like seaweed.