If you were to read a connoisseur’s review full of descriptions such as “strong body”, “delicious bouquet” and “lingering aroma”, what would you first thoughts be? And if the review included “superbly aged” or “delicately matured aftertaste”, what would your conclusion likely be?
Possibly the words of an expert wine taster? One who is sampling the biggest and best selection of red wine from the world’s finest vineyard? Maybe so. These are certainly the types of descriptions that we commonly associate with the marketing and judging of expensive bottles of wine.
But wait. These words could also be taken from the tasting notes of an aficionado of the finest Scottish single malt whisky.
Or maybe uttered by an enthusiast from the cellars of a renowned port producer from the historic and famous regions of Portugal?
Then, you just might be mistaken. Although without doubt, the description of wines and alcoholic beverages has become almost as marketable as the beverages themselves. I have to say I am a little sceptical about the marketing and promotion of alcohol. In these days of over indulgence, it could be considered unethical.
A bouquet of flowers and a touch of velvet might sound nice. But I think is just a little hyperbolic, don’t you? Surely if I want an aftertaste of chocolate with a hint of roast chestnuts, I can eat chocolate and roast chestnuts? Without the red wine and the alcohol. But anyway, I digress.
The Tea Master
In fact, these words do not exclusively come from the world of wine tasting. They are actually part of the records of the master tea maker. Uttered as he adds the finishing touches to the delicate and exacting science of tea making.
Yes, the science of tea making is equally precise as in alcoholic beverage making and indeed, coffee making. In terms of balance of flavours, the release of the bouquet from the leaves of the tea plant, and the keen application of the senses, these are a unique skill of the master tea maker. These unique and valuable abilities belong only to the tea master. They cannot simply be learned. Rather, they are a skill handed down from the master to his apprentice over many years of learning and experience.
And that is why our tea tastes so nice!
The tea master’s skill is an incredible balance between the various steps in the transition of tea leaves. From the spring shoots of Camellia Sinensis (aka the tea bush) to the bamboo drying racks, to the fermentation process, and to the heating and curing stages. All of these steps are intensively managed and overseen by the master.
I say a delicate balance for a reason. Each of the individual steps in the process of creating the perfect tea is part of the secret of the Tea Master. Each of the individual processes can fundamentally change the taste, smell and consistency of the finished product. For example, the gentle heating and curing of the tea leaves is intended to gently release the tannins from the leaf. This can introduce bitterness into the tea if not simultaneously carefully balanced with the subtle roasting and maturation.
How does the Tea Master know when the balance is just right?
With amazing skill and using the combined senses of touch, taste and smell, the Tea Master crafts the tea. The Tea Master controls the transition of the tea leaves literally. As the leave arrive from the plantation, and begin the drying and curing process, the Tea Master is involved. The Tea Master gets his hands on the tea – literally.
Using years of experience, the Tea Master senses the moisture content of the leaves, the suppleness of the shoots, and the length of time needed to transition from one stage to the next. Especially during the heating and roasting process, the Tea Master literally has his fingers in the fire!
Using bare hands to toss the leaves over the hot pan, the Tea Master keeps intimate control over his tea leaves. Judging precisely the moment when the leaves have cured and the delicate balance of chemicals have been released from the leaf, and when the tea is at the optimum flavour.
How do we get different blends of tea?
Believe it or not, all of our traditional teas are made from exactly the same raw leaves. With the exception of Assam tea, which is made from Camellia sinensis var. assamica for Indian Assam teas, all of the various tea varieties such as green tea, black tea and many other varieties are all made from the same crop. This is the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis for Chinese teas.
So this is the skill of the Tea Master. By knowing when to vary each of the curing processes in the making of the tea, and by subtler variations, each of the tea varieties are carefully managed through the Tea Master’s process. The end result is a range of tea flavours. From the purest of delicate white teas, through the deepening flavours of green teas, through to the more roasted and fermented black teas, that many tea lovers are familiar with.
So why the tasting notes?
Back to the very beginning of this article! Remember when we discussed the descriptions about strong body, delicious bouquet, lingering aroma, and superbly aged or delicately matured aftertaste? No it wasn’t wine!
- “Strong body” refers to the underlying tea flavours and colours
- “Delicious bouquet” refers to the stunning aromatics of high quality tea
- “Lingering Aroma” can be appreciated as a combination of the senses of tasting the complex flavours of the tea. This occurs right at the back of your palate, and mingles with the aforementioned aromas for a heightening taste sensation
- “Superbly aged” or “delicately matured” refers to the skill of the Tea Master. The Tea Master manages the curing of the tea leaves to make sure the perfect balance of the release of exactly the right flavours and tannins in the tea.
In a strange parallel, these descriptions could apply to the tasting notes of many totally different products. They could equally apply to red wine, chocolate, cheese, and even honey!
How does tea taste smoother, or bitter?
The reason for these rather grandiose descriptions is based around the fact that these products all rely on the skills of the makers. The makers must manage their precious commodities in a careful manner throughout the production process. Generally speaking, the finer and more carefully these processes are controlled, the better controlled the chemical processes that occur during curation.
The more careful the maker is with the chemical reactions, the longer the chemical molecules are formed within. And when we consume the products we taste the larger and longer chemical molecules further back on our tongues. Shorter and sweeter molecules at the front of our palate. Longer, smoother tasting flavours towards the back of our palate.
Generally speaking the more refined the product, the more mature tastes are recognised further back on our tongue and palate.
So next time you are enjoying that really superb cup of quality green tea, be sure to let the intense flavours roll right around the back of your tongue, because that is exactly what the Tea Master intended you to do!
Guest Blogger : Tony Matthews
As a staunch supporter of those who choose not to consume alcohol, Tony is a strong advocate for those seeking healthier alternatives to their daily eating, drinking and lifestyle habits. As such, Tony supports the producers of TeaPartyGirl.com, and their ongoing efforts to promote healthy lifestyles. He promotes the joy-filled alternatives for those who appreciate the finer things in life – like tea! If you would like to explore the benefits of living and loving life without alcohol, come and visit at LoveBeingAlcoholFree.com. If you enjoyed this article, you may appreciate our Blog post http://lovebeingalcoholfree.com/is-drinking-alcohol-good-for-you/