03 November 2008

My Tea language - the tea experience

    Beautiful Maokong Valley
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This is Part II of my tea terms, dealing mostly with how I describe the experience of tea tasting.

TEA TASTING

-Body: A tea has body when it feels substantial to the taste buds and has substantive flavor, vs. just fragrance and some taste.

-Round/roundness: A tea that is balanced and exhibits the characteristic flavors of that particular type of tea.

-Aromatic/Fragrant: It smells nice. Floral, fruity, smoky, roasted, nutty, grassy, and vegetal are common aromas. Delicate fragrances are good to have and would represent one aspect of a quality tea.

-Has a bite to it: This can mean the tea is astringent and/or is very full-bodied. Astringency can be a good or bad thing. Some excellent green puerhs are astringent and have quite a bite, but will soften over time. Some old teas that may not be very tasty can have quite a bitter bite.

-Mouth feel: This refers to how the liquid from a brew feels in your mouth. Some, like a bad cooked puerh, can have a malty and unsatisfyingly thick texture. A good Bi Luo Chun green tea, on the other hand, may feel light and smooth. A fine Tieguanyin can be round, full, deep, rich and feel weighty in the mouth because it has so much body.

-Incomplete: I usually use this when I refer to a roasted tea. The roasting process of an oolong, or the frying/drying process of a green tea, are vitally important for shaping the end-result of the tea's flavor. Sometimes the roasting isn't quite there and a great tea may not live up to its potential when brewed.

-Stale: Teas that have started to change - quite noticeably - in fragrance and taste: AKA, it's getting older. Improper storage can greatly affect the speed at which this happens. Stale oolongs may exhibit a very strong fruit/plum smell, but it's possible to save a stale tea with a proper re-roast.

-Goat milk taste: A taste that I experience with lighter-roasted teas that have (A) not been brewed by water that's at the right temperature or (B) has been brewed the full number of brews and has lost flavor. Goat milk is a bit sour and slightly gamy, like goat meat. This taste doesn't automatically mean that a tea is bad - I've experienced it with excellent Alishan teas that were brewed past their number of brews and lost flavor.

-Earthy: Usually used to describe puerh tea. It's a diplomatic way for me to say that it tastes like dirt. Not necessarily a bad thing, as good puerhs are deep and rich. Many good mushrooms taste earthy too, and I love mushrooms.

-Aged (Chinese medicinal, aged "sour"): Many aged oolong teas have a woody, earthy smell and taste, reminiscent of Chinese medicine. I have in fact bought tea several years ago from a retailer that doubles as a Chinese herbal shop and thought that he may have mixed his prized oolongs with some herbs by accident. He was gracious enough to enlighten me about the process and I have subsequently found that many aged oolongs do indeed have this particular flavor profile. Some aged oolongs also have a slightly sour taste to them as well. Not sour like lemons, though, more like a preserved fruit rind.

-More: The tea tastes good and I like it. More, please!

Pretty simple, just tell it like it is. If you've got some useful terms for tea too, feel free to comment. I'll mostly be using English descriptions when I describe tea, but I'll occassionally use Chinese words when I can't think of an appropriate translation. Do ask if I don't make my thoughts clear.

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