While some tea-drinkers prefer the consistency of a blend, such as English Breakfast, others enjoy the fluctuations in character of a single origin tea, which is influenced by seasonal changes, early or late harvest, elevation and soil quality.
Regardless of our preference, the tea quality is very important and experienced tea tasters spent countless hours evaluating the leave style, aroma and taste of teas. What the â€œnoseâ€ is to the perfume industry, the â€œtea tasterâ€ is to the tea industry.
Tea tasting, or cupping, is a very structured process during which the quality of the dry and infused leaf is examined, as well as the color and aroma of the liquor and finally the taste of the infusion.
- For the cupping process, the leaves are placed in a container and lined up in a long row on the tasting bench. The taster weighs a specific amount of each tea and puts it in a special small brewing vessel. Sometimes this is a lidded mug (Gaiwan) or a small porcelain teapot. The brewing vessels are always white so that the color of the infusion is easier to assess.
- Boiling water for black teas, and slightly cooler water for green and white teas, is poured over the leaves which are than allowed to steep for 3-6 minutes depending on the varietal.
- After the steeping, the infusion is poured into tasting bowls and the infused leave is collected on the lid of the brewing mug.
- Like a wine taster, the tea taster slurps the tea into his mouth which is quite a noisy affair, but necessary because the tea needs to hit all taste buds to unfold its character.
Tea tasters taste hundreds of samples of different teas from different estates regions and seasons every day. In fact, it takes a long time to become a professional in this art. At least five years of training are needed before becoming a tea master, however even after many decades of tasting, these tea masters will tell you that they are still learning and honing their skills.