Thursday, April 06, 2006

Tea tasting DYI

Above is the professional tea tasting set used during Taiwan's various tea competitions. The soup spoon is usually not included. Each taster has one that he rinses before trying a new tea. How do they use the spoon? First, the taster plunges the spoon in the tea and then smell its back. Second, the spoon also serves to fill a cup to drink the tea. (Like for wine, professionnal tasters will spit the tea, especially if they are tasting over 20 teas at a time.)

This competition tea ware is not often sold in Western tea shops. So, how can you perform a professional tasting to compare several teas without investing in this equipement? Imagine, for instance, that you want to compare 3 teas in a standardized way.

The solution is to use 3 same, glazed (rice) bowls, a Chinese tea spoon, one or three small cups and a bowl with hot water to rinse the spoon. As long as you are using the same bowls, you are OK. In a tea competition/tasting our goal is not to brew the best possible tea, but to give each tea the same treatment.

How to proceed?

1. If you use your bowls for food, rinse them with clear water again. You can also first rub them with open, wet tea leaves to wash the detergent away.

2. Preheat the bowls with hot water.

3. Put 1 or 2 grams of tea in each bowl. Again, important is to use the same quantity for each tea. It's best to use only a little. Ideally, someone else has helped you to prepare the samples (A, B, C) so that you don't know which tea is where. You wait after the tasting to ask which is which.

4. Add water that has just stopped boiling from the same height and at the same speed in each of the 3 bowls.

5. Count 5 minutes. (That's why it's preferrable to put only very few leaves. Otherwise the tea becomes too concentrated.) You can look at how the tea leaves open. Also compare the color and clarity of each brew.

6. As the water temperature drops (the bowls are not covered), the brew won't evolve too quickly anymore. This gives you now some time to compare each tea:
- compare the fragrance by smelling the spoon after taking it out of the tea,
- compare the tastes by drinking each tea (directly from the bow if you're alone), or from a small cup.

7. Also have a look at the wet, open leaves before you form your final judgement about each tea. Take them in your hand. Feel their strength.

8. Maybe you will even want to write down your feelings and findings.


Tom said...

I think I will try that. I've had a couple different teas that I've wanted to compare.

Anonymous said...

DYI stands for Comme Un Pro, or what ? sorry for my poor english acronymability !
Bonne idée, la cuillère à soupe chinoise... je m'en vais en quérir une pour les dégustations, avec le nez.

TeaMasters said...

DYI: Do It Yourself

Anonymous said...

Just wondering - are you talking about judging pu'er here? Or oolong? Five minutes seems to be an awfully long time to steep an oolong.

TeaMasters said...

I took puerh as an example, but we can use 5 minutes also with oolong, red tea, green tea... 5 minutes is a long time, I agree. The idea behind it is that when judging a tea with 1 brew only, you need to allow sufficient time for the tea to release most of its flavor.