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Tea Tasting With A Tea Sommelier

Just like taking a course at college with a knowledgable professor or talking with your next neighbor who has canned tomatoes for the past 25 years as you put up your own produce, mindfully being guided through an experience, increases its pleasure.  A Tea Sommelier is a professional who has completed training on tea: history, growing, grading, blending and pairing.  

 Today it’s a joy to share with you how we can increase the pleasure of teatime by training our palates, as we continue our weekly blog series, The Signature Joy Of Tea.  Our time together is a way to welcome beauty and grace into our days through the culture and hospitality of tea.  Empowering you to live the life of your tea dreams.


March 7th: Camellia Sinensis
March 14th: Tea Cultivation
March 21st: Tea Harvesting
March 28th: Tea Processing
April 4th: How To Brew The Perfect Cup Of Tea
April 11th: Blending Herbal Infusions
April 18th: Tea Tasting With A Tea Sommelier
April 25th: Teatime Hospitality


1.  Experience New Flavors

Take a mindful moment to absorb and imprint unfamiliar scents and flavors in your memory.  Identify which of the five basic flavors you’re experiencing - is it sweet, salty, sour, bitter or savory?  Tasting notes are based in association, so the easiest way to increase your understanding is to experience new flavors by trying new foods.  The broader your pool of reference, the easier it is to pick up on familiar notes in a complex cacophony of taste.


2.  Smell & Aerate When Tasting

When tasting tea, the aroma should be considered from the dry leaves, then again the warmed or moistened leaves and finally the brewed leaves - along with the tea itself.  In most teas, each stage of aroma will be different from the last, revealing nuances with each step.

Once the tea is in your mouth, the intensity of flavor can be amplified by aerating, or slurping your tea.  To try this, take a small sip and draw it in through your lips to spread the tea over the whole palate.  This can take practice to get just right, but is an important part of tea tasting, as it serves to cool the tea in your mouth and remove the distraction of heat from the flavor.


3.  Practice Describing Flavors

At each stage of the tea tasting, try to name the flavors you’re experiencing.  This may be a straightforward description of a food you’ve tried or an aroma you’ve smelled.  Remember there are no wrong answers! A tea may be fruity or bold or clear.  Whether those characteristics are good or bad or indeed there at all is purely a personal judgement.

Oftentimes, tea is described by aroma, body and character.  Think of it like the ABCs of tea.  Aroma is the odor of the tea liquor, also called the nose of fragrance.  If the aroma is complex, it's sometime called a "bouquet."  Think of it like smelling a bunch of flowers vs. a single rose.  Body is the weight and substance of the tea in your mouth.  It is light, viscous, thick?  Sometime people describe tea as being round - that is, having a full body that hugs your cheeks.  It might be full- indicting a tea of good quality with color, strength and substance.  The character is teas's hallmark attribute, which often depends on the country or region of origin.

4.  Experiment with Context

While it can illuminating to explore the vast array of flavor opportunities across wildly varying styles, nuances are often more easily understood when familiar teas are brewed in unfamiliar context.  Try cold brewing a tea for a truly different perspective or infuse your tea leaves multiple times, to explore the change in flavor.


Training your taste buds is mostly an effort of experience.  Take a moment to fully appreciate the complexity of flavor and each cup of tea will improve your understanding.


Before we even let that tea touch the tip of our tongues, let’s look at how we can describe how the tea leaves look:

Bold: Has big pieces of tea leaf.

Tip: The very end of the baby young buds that give golden flecks to the processed leaf.

Wiry: Twisted leaves, as opposed to open pieces.

Even: Leaf pieces of roughly the same size.

Irregular or Ragged: Uneven and non uniform pieces of leaf.

Choppy: Tea leaf that has been chopped or cut up, instead of rolled.


As we experience the brewed leaves and sip the tea, we can categorize the flavors:

Vegetal: Earthy, herby, vegetable, and marine qualities: Tastes like sea air, sea weed, garden peas, green peppers, asparagus, wet rocks, musty, compost, old wet wood, leather, turning over a log, peat moss, bark, resin, camphor, sawdust, cherry wood, mahogany, pine, fresh cut grass.

Smokey: Like a cigar: Ash, tar, smoke, smoked wood, burning leaves, beef jerky, bonfire, whiskey. 

Spicy: Like your spice drawer: Cloves, cinnamon, cocoa, thyme, parsley, oregano, black pepper, vanilla, coriander, liquorice, eucalyptus, saffron, fennel.

Sweet: Nuances of sweetness: Honey, maple syrup, malt, nectar, caramel, molasses, burnt sugar, cotton candy, bubble gum.

Nutty: That chewy, often toasty taste: Almond, peanut, chestnut, hazelnut, roasted nuts, nougat, peanut butter.

Floral: When your nose feels like it’s walking into a greenhouse, or mountain meadow: Hints of jasmine, lilac, orchid, honeysuckle, wildflowers, cherry blossoms, orange blossoms, rose, dandelion, violet, geranium, hops, perfume.


Interested in learning more learning more about being a Tea Sommelier?  Here are some of my favorite resources:

Tea Documentaries:

What Does A Tea Sommelier Do?    

He Tastes 600 Cups Of Tea A Day

How To Taste Tea Like A Pro 

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  • Debbie on

    There is something magical about slowing down and describing the flavors I taste in my tea.

  • Anne on

    What fun to “practice” aerating, like a true tea sommelier! :)

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