Small Tasting Guide (part 1)
Intimately linked to our experiences and our eating habits, taste is one of the most fundamental cultural traits. It enables us to perceive, consciously or not, the entire range of flavors while creating direct links between our past and our present.
Tasting is first and foremost a quest for sensorial pleasure, but it is also a way of appreciating taste. Like any other skill it can be developed with effort and practice. In that spirit, it is important to know a few basic guidelines that can help us understand how the tasting mechanism works in order to appreciate the experience as a whole.
Our first contact with tea is usually made through sight. A close observation of a tea’s leaves can give us some idea of its taste. The presence of white tips formed by buds can be an indication of quality, as can a brilliant, shiny color, which is often a sign of freshness.
Taste is a combination of several complex sensations. It mainly involves two of our sensory systems: olfactory receptors (the nose) and gustatory receptors (the tongue). After visual analysis, the second critical step of tasting is to sniff the fragrances released by the tea
leaves. In addition to preparing the brain to receive tasting information, this step provides important information that the tongue alone cannot detect. Our olfactory system is far more complex than our gustatory system. Most of the information relating to taste is impossible to perceive without a sense of smell.
The Way of Tasting
If you wish to enhance the experience of drinking tea, the first thing to do, before even wetting your lips with the fresh infusion, is to sniff the leaves before and after infusion, inhaling the subtle fragrances they contain.
Next, study the color and texture of the liquid, then bring the bowl very close to your nose to smell the fragrances released by the liquor. You can use the “little dog” technique, involving repeated rapid sniffing.
Once you are ready to drink, take a small sip and then expel air through your nostrils to facilitate retro-olfactory perception. Pay special attention to the sensations the liquid creates throughout your mouth. Of the five essential tastes, salty is rarely found in tea. Bitterness, however, is present in varying degrees in almost all teas because of the tannins and the caffeine, which give structure to the liquid.
All the senses are involved in tasting. It is not just about the nose and the tongue. Hearing allows us to hear the “song of the water” and know that it is ready for infusion. Vision tells us how the tea looks. So the environment, the music, the lighting, the other people present, our own mood are all elements to take into account if you are to succeed in truly tasting.
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