On my tea path, I’ve found that the single hardest thing I have to learn is how to properly describe what I taste in the teas I am sampling. I mean, it is tough. While wine sommeliers are able to whip out a ‘brand X white is melony and expressive, with flora, buttery notes’ I was initially finding it hard to simply label a black ‘muscatel’ – not without twenty-second-guessing myself on the words being in line with what my tongue was tasting and my brain was acknowledging.
I realize that this is a life-long journey, but, what if you don’t have the words in the first place?
However, my lovely and extraordinary teacher came to the rescue. Sending me a copy of the Twinings Tasting Wheel it was like angel song…at least I had my starting stance. I could take a neophyte stab at what I thought I tasted, and then break it down further from there.
And trust me on this, the first time you can accurately put to word what you taste on your tongue is a sublime experience.
I knew (or thought, rather) that my short oolong tasted floral, but, was it really? Or was it something else? I couldn’t differentiate. My mind was thinking ‘floral’ but I knew that wasn’t quite right. And then I pulled out the wheel. Ta-da! It finally made sense to me – the floral and the fruity are next to one another, being very close on the palate. However, the moment I switched my brain from thinking ‘flowers’ to ‘fruits’ I had a blinding moment of clarity…peach!
I was tasting peach notes!
My short oolong was peachy and light and smooth. I could actually, for the first time, definitively describe a tea I was tasting and, although it might not be the same for everyone, I was accurately expressing what my brain was thinking.
Insert the aforementioned angel-song, rays of light from above, and perhaps a slight out-of-body experience.
Think I over-exaggerate? Maybe, but when things start to fall into place, start to make sense, then the journey opens up to being an even more provocative experience than previously imagined. Now, in a blind tasting, I am able to identify a short oolong immediately.
I am an infant on this trip though. I am becoming confident in the easy stuff…1st Flush Darjeelings, Lapsang (obvs) and my new fave Gunpowder. But I am able to describe, in a blind cupping, the difference between a Pai Mu Tan and a Silver Needle.
And while this is old news for you expert tea lovelies, it is an experience that I adore. Until next time, I am off to cozy up with a good book and an even better short oolong.