The secret to becoming a tea taster rests on familiarising oneself with the fragrance, taste and texture of tea. In Sri Lanka this includes perfecting one’s knowledge on the 7 regions of Ceylon Tea.
Tea tasting is an art
The process of tea tasting is an elaborate exercise worth trying. It is almost like a ritualistic practise where white bowls and brewing lidded mugs with teeth on the edge are arranged in a row for the drill to begin. In separate cups, 2.5-3 grams of tea produced in the different regions of the country is brewed in 140ml of hot water at 98 °C. Therefore, making a cuppa for tea tasting has its established set of standards.
The water has to reach the mark of the ‘teeth’ in the mug, which is left covered. The timer is set for 5 minutes. The infused tea is filtered into another white bowl, which must be without any sediments to allow accurate tasting. The infused leaf is strained and pressed on the lid for inspection. Timing is everything here. Speed in brewing is key to achieving the right degree of infusion in all the cups.
It’s time for the tea taster to do the rounds
Tea tasting is not just about tasting the brew. It involves looking at the leaf appearance. A tea taster, therefore, evaluates a tea by examining the appearance of the leaf and that of the infused leaf, colour and taste.
The tasting begins by slurping a table spoon of the beverage. The slurped tea would hit the upper palate and then the liquid would roll on the tongue wrapping it up in the process. The liquid that rolls on the centre of the tongue, helps to assess the strength or body of the tea. Through the wrapping of the tongue, sensitive characters like sweet, burnt, or flavoury can be determined. There is an entire tea taster’s glossary of wordlists describing the various qualities of tealeaves and characters of a cuppa.
An exporter would categorise the teas according to taste or style of the grade or both. A tea broker, on the other hand, would comment on the leaf appearance for neatness, type and taste, irrespective of whether the cup has adequate colour and the level of flavour/aroma.
What a career! After all, it’s only a tea taster who has a unique ability in terms to christen the most mundane leaf ‘intense and attractive’ or ‘poor, dull and unattractive’, an expertise that rests on his palate. Take your taste buds on an adventure and try tea tasting yourself...