Sunday, March 23, 2008


When it comes to taste a cup of tea, what's obvious is the aroma, second is the flavor, the most invisible to our palate is the texture.

A good tea is anything has nice aroma and pleasant flavor or even the later 2. Superior teas is all 3 to the max.

The Kung Fu way is not the way to judge a tea in the tea industry, not even gaiwan kung fu. Using professional tasting method to judge a tea has its merits. When you steep a tea in boiling water for 5 minutes, everything unveils, the flaws and the strengths at a substantial strength for evaluation. Flavor and aroma aside, the texture is concentrated enough to reveal how much of a leaf is now in the water. Good quality spring tea from old trees will have a thicker consistency. This thick or lack of thickness consistency dictates the intensity of tea flavor. Each tea has its flavor/aroma profile naturally as it grows, then comes the work of process which transforms the nutrients/chemicals in a fresh leaf. Nutrient content is the base of good tea, skilled workmanship is the next important element of good tea, when climate permits, you have an outstanding tea.

Let say you have a meatloaf with 50% bread crumb, and an other one with 30% bread crumb. A good chef can spice them both up nicely with equal amount of flavorings, baked at the same temperature at the same time. It's easy to tell the second meatloaf have more flavor. Even though taste is a mater of personal preference, some might actually prefer the first loaf. But as a measure of flavors and quality, most people would agree the 2nd loaf exceed the 1st. Now, a chef can also alter the process of preparing and baking the 2 loafs, right amount of spice on the first, over cook the second. The out come would be drastically different. The first loaf would be tastier than the 2nd regardless of the substantial beef content. Skill masking the lack of content.

A lot of this is also applied in making tea. Roasted teas gives more flavor, but is it necessary made of rich leaves? The transformation of sugar and oxidation of chemical does mellow out a tea and increase flavor/sweetness. However the thickness of tea can not be altered through processing. Roundness, smoothness, flavor and aroma can be altered, but not thickness. Thickness dictates how durable a tea can be as well.

To detect the texture takes much more refined taste training. In order to taste many different teas, mental profiling the aroma and taste for comparison is already a daunting task, when it comes to profiling the texture of tea, it takes not only drinking and experiencing different types of tea, one must learn the hairline difference of sensitivity in your tongue. Sweetness in the back of the throat just won't do it. Tingling sensation is not a good way to measure texture. Full body, but how full. A Chao Zhou adjective to describe the thickness of tea is bony. This tea's got bones.

Why kung fu method will not fully reveal the true nature of the leaf quality, one may ask? When you compare tea with variations of parameters, is like comparing apples, apple sauce and apple juice. That's why I'm reluctant to write tasting notes nowadays. Commercial grading is base on exact same parameters for extended steeping time. Not an easy job to be a professional tea taster I tell you. You'll have to taste over steeped teas all the time. On the other hand, it might be fun to be a pretty girl demonstrating Kung Fu tea I imagine. :P

How do you develop a sensitive tongue if you don't want to drink lotsa over steeped teas and waste your precious leaves? HA there is a way. Drink only one types of tea for an extended period of time, build up a set standard for each type before moving on to another type. Say for the next 2 weeks, drink only Dan Congs, then Wuyi for 2 weeks, then pu-erh 2 weeks and so on. During each 2 weeks session, narrow down to the age of tree/tea or roast type consecutively instead of hopping from a young to an old, light to heavy. I found the best way to program your palate is start with young trees for a couple of days, then old trees, come back to a young for comparison. You may not notice the subtle difference going from young to old, but much more obvious when you go from old to young. When you can taste the difference between a 100 years old tree and a 200 years old tree regardless of the aroma or flavor, then mission is accomplished. After a while, your palate will tell you what type of tea you prefer when you crave for something or reject something.

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