Tea Tasting 101: The 5 S’s (borrowed from wine)

Tea tasting doesn’t have to be intimidating or snobbish. By using the 5 S’s (see, shake, sniff, sip, and savor), you’ll be able to get the most out of any cup of tea, especially J-TEA. Not only will you be able to enjoy the tea more, you’ll gain an appreciation for it.

SEE: What color is it?

Look at the tea leaves before they are brewed. Is the color of the leaves consistent or is there a high ratio or leaves that vary in color. We are looking for consistency here, but often there are a few that will have a lighter or darker color than the others. One or two off in a tablespoon isn’t so much of a big deal. What we are looking for is consistency.

Look at the tea soup after the leaves have steeped. Notice if the tea is clear and brilliant or cloudy and dull. A tea’s color is better judged by putting it against a white background. That is why we recommend white porcelain tea cups. Colors give the taster clues of the tea cultivar, processing style, and the degree of roast. Typically lighter oxidized teas are greener and more heavily oxidized teas are redder. Tea that has a light roast is more transparent, while teas that have a heavier roast are browner. Keep in mind that a roasted oolong is typically also oxidized so a roasted oolong will be both red and brown.

SHAKE: Give it air.

This step is if you want to make amazing iced tea. Brew the tea at triple to quadruple strength. Ice it at a one to one ratio, so for a cup (230ml) use 230g of ice. Once this ice is mostly melted, add another 230g of ice to a cocktail shaker and shake it like you are trying to break it. This airates the tea making it very lively and giving it a creamy texture that is both frosty and frothy.

SNIFF: What do you smell?

When evaluating the smell of high quality tea, we smell the scent that the tea leaves behind rather than smelling the actual tea soup. This can be done by dipping a porcelain spoon into the soup, or using a tall cylindrical cup known as an aroma cup. After dipping the spoon in the tea, smell the aroma. Is it floral? Is it fruity? How long does the aroma last before it fades away?

You can also smell the aroma left behind after finishing the tea from your cup.

SIP/SLURP: What do you taste?

Slurping the tea lets you both taste the tea when it is hot, but it also airates the tea and lets it reach deeper into your palate. It is here that the complex taste experience and characteristics of tea actually happen. Look for sweetness, fruitiness, umami, acidity, bitterness, and unique flavors. What is your overall impression? Does any component overpower the others or is the tea balanced?

And finally,

SAVOR: Does the taste linger?

The finish is the sensation you get after swallowing the tea and it can be different that the taste you get on your palate. What you want to look for is the length of time the tea taste stays with you. This length of time is called the finish and some teas can linger for as long as a few minutes. What are the sensations? Does it feel cool? Is there a sweet aftertaste? Is it smooth? How does it change? Does it transform your palate?

Now that you’ve learned the 5 S’s of tea tasting, why not throw a tea party and share your new knowledge with a friend!