Tea tasting

The act of tasting is a far more complex mecanism than we might imagine. To taste something we need our five senses, to different degrees. When we taste a tea, several small events take place, each associated with a different sense.

During the tasting process our perception of the different sensations happens in three stages.

  • The first contact with the tea is olfactory, through the nose: one begins by smelling the tea, deliberately or not, as soon as the cup is lifted towards the mouth. This type of olfaction, known as direct olfaction, provides only limited information about what we are about to drink. Indeed, when we inhale, only 10% of the molecules that have a smell reach our olfactory nervous cells. This percentage can be raised by a shorter, sharper intake of breath, which tea-tasting specialists refer to as "sniffing".

 

  • The following stage takes place in the mouth, by taking a sip. Two senses are involved: taste and touch. As far as taste is concerned there are three possible flavours with tea: bitter, sour and sweet, each one being more or less discernible in different parts of the mouth. Our sense of touch is activated by contact with the mucous membrane and the teeth; it allows us to enjoy the texture and the temperature of the liqueur. It is at this moment that we can feel the astringency, the body and the smoothness of the tea. There has still been no perception of aroma though and from the point of view of taste, the information provided by this second step is still very limited.
        Tea tasting
  • At the moment of swallowing retro-olfaction takes place, in other words an exhalation of air through the nose provokes a simultaneous inhalation of air through the mouth. This "draught of air" completely cleans out the sensitive area of our olfactory apparatus and we can then smell 100% of the aroma molecules. To understand the importance of this step, one only has to hold one's nose at the moment of swallowing: in this way retro-olfaction does not happen and perception will be limited to the three flavour sensations described above.


It is indeed through smell that we perceive the essence of what we "taste" and through smell that the aromatic complexity of a drink like tea is revealed.

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