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The Connoisseur’s Tea Tasting Guide

So you feel like you’re somewhat familiar with the differences in tea by region and you have a grasp on more advanced tea tasting guidelines, but now you’re wondering how you can improve your tea tasting experience even more? Or maybe you already fancy yourself a connoisseur and you’re looking for ideas for tasting flights? If so, this is the tea tasting guide for you.

In the final entry in this series, I want to suggest other ways to arrange tea flights other than by type or region.

Tea Tasting Flight Suggestion One: Exploring a Region

Each region where tea grows has dozens, if not, hundreds of different kinds of teas. There are even teas of the same type. Have you ever wondered if tea from Fujian has a “Fujian character” to it? Maybe you will conclude that it doesn’t, but it is worth arranging a tasting to explore whether you can identify some kind of similarity that persists across different teas from the same region. 

If this interests you, consider trying to arrange a flight by comparing the same kind of tea within the same region

As an example, I would recommend something like a Green Anhui Tasting Flight, which would look something like this:

Personally, I find that Anhui green teas tend to have some kind of orchid characteristic to their flavor profile. Sometimes, this is more pronounced, as with the Tai Ping Hou Kui, while other times, it is a little more subtle (but still noticeable), as in the Huang Shan Mao Feng.

Side Note: Orchid is often confused with “smokiness,” but it is, in fact, a floral note. Tasting it against something like Lapsang Souchong can help you learn the difference.

For another example, you might want to try the Sichuan Legendary Green Tea Sampler, which gives you the opportunity to taste four different teas from the Sichuan Province: Meng Ding Yellow Buds, Meng Ding Gan Lu, Zhu Ye Qing, and Bi Tan Piao Xue.

What do you think defines a “Sichuan” tea?

Arranging a flight to explore a region is always a great idea and proves illuminating.

Tea Tasting Flight Suggestion Two: Exploring a Varietal

Have you ever wondered what makes Dragonwell what it is? What about Darjeeling?

Another option for the connoisseur is to try to discover what characteristics make a specific kind of tea what it is. For example, did you know that there is not only Anxi Tie Guan Yin, but there is also a Formosa Tie Guan Yin? Why do we call both Tie Guan Yin? Obviously, we believe that they ultimately come from the same cultivar somewhere along the line, but do they have any similarities beyond that?

Likewise, does Dragonwell from Lion’s Peak taste anything like Longjing Dragonwell or Pan’an Dragonwell? What about the Japanese green tea Sencha? Is it any different if it is from Shizuoka as opposed to Uji?

      

Beyond just comparing to see how a growing region affects a particular kind of tea, how a tea is roasted and by whom it is roasted can affect the tea’s quality and flavor as well. A connoisseur might want to consider exploring a particular tea at the hands of different masters, or perhaps even what happens to the same tea when it is roasted in different ways.

Here is a sample of a tasting flight that explores Tie Guan Yin according to the different ways it can be roasted:

How do the different levels of roasting affect the flavor and appearance?

Pay attention to not only what is different between them, but also try to figure out what is the same. That sameness is the “heart” of the tea and makes it what it is; it is the tea’s “essence.”

One other way to explore a varietal is to arrange a tea tasting flight according to harvest times. How did a tea change from one year to another, or from one season to another?

I performed a side-by-side tasting of a Tung Ting tea recently, the same exact tea with the exception that one sample was harvested in Autumn 2015 and the other in Spring 2016. The difference was astonishing and it was well worth coordinating the tea tasting to experience this.

Hopefully I was able to encourage and inspire you with some ideas for tasting flights. If you have any tasting flight ideas or suggestions of your own, please don’t hesitate to share some by dropping a comment below!


Derek Elliott
Derek Elliott

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August 23, 2016

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