A Time Tested Method!

January 2, 2017
comments comment comments

Since its early days, the tea industry experienced many phases of development that progressively required new machinery, tools and techniques. The rapid and impressive deployment of the plantations in India under the supervision of the British in the mid 19th century imposed, from the outset, a method of rapid, on-site analysis and quality control. A daily taste test, both rigorous and systematic, to compare each days transformed leaf, was an essential exercise for correcting and re-calibrating each step of manufacture. Comparative tasting was also used to rate each lot before their sale at auction. Buyers today still have the opportunity to visit a tasting room and taste the teas before buying. This technique has spread internationally and this equipment can now also be found in the research centres of China, Taiwan and Japan.

Though there are some subtle variations in manipulation the principal objective is to quickly analyze a large number of teas by regulating a series of controlled infusion parameters. Here is a basic summary of the method:

1. Place the teas in the order you wish to taste them and measure equal amounts of leaf for each sample into their respective cups (between 2g and 4 g depending on the style of tea) add a sample of each tea on the respective dish for visual analysis.

2. Add water at the desired temperature, moving methodically from one cup to another in sequence, taking care to replace the lids on the cups.  Then start the timer.

3. After the desired infusion time, ( 3-5 minutes as specified), turn and angle each cup on top of its bowl to completely drain the liquor off the leaf and into the bowl.

4. Present the hot infused leaves of the inverted lid and place the cup holding the lid behind the bowl - for a 3 stage olfactory and visual analysis of the dry leaf, infusion (wet leaf) and liquor.

Voilà! Careful preparation allows us to observe the size, shape, uniformity and color of dry leaves, the fragrances and the color of the infusion. Then the third essential phase, allows us to inhale vapours of the liquor, to appreciate its texture, strength and aroma before we taste.

With this method the liquors are often intense due to the 3 fold water/leaf ratio, that's three times the usual dose. This must be taken into account when tasting in order not be put off by their strength or bitterness. This approach has the advantage of extracting everything from the leaves of the teas tasted, giving us access to both the qualities and faults.

A discerning palate knowing this can therefore benefit from the technique and taste hundreds of teas daily.  This is fairly standard in the tea industry.

On a more humble and accessible tasting table 4-10 teas is a good start. This tasting method gives us access to subtle variations and nuances of similar teas, of neighboring terroirs or of completely different regions.

Enjoy!

Add a comment