In the previous entry, we looked at why we should be tasting tea and discussed how a beginner might want to proceed. I suggested that the best way for someone new to the world of artisanal tea is to taste by type.
But what if you already know what to expect from tea types?
This is exactly the problem that I sometimes have when I attend tea tasting sessions. I usually go to one, hoping to try a tea that I haven’t had yet, but more often than not, they almost always seem to be aimed at the beginners. And so there I find myself, tasting matcha, dragonwell, and tieguanyin…again.
The good news is that we can arrange tastings for those with more seasoned palates, even for the connoisseurs.
Dedicated to the Seasoned Tea Enthusiasts
So you understand the difference in flavor between your white tea, green tea, and black tea. What now?
You might want to consider trying to coordinate a tea tasting using the same type from a different region. When it comes to a tea’s flavor profile, like wine, it’s all about “terroir.”
Terroir is a fancy catch-all term for every environmental factor that influences the look and taste of the final tea product. This includes factors like overall temperature, changes in temperature, altitude, rain (or lack thereof), presence of other kinds of plants and trees, quality and kind of soil, etc.
We have expectations about the climate when we go to the beach and those expectations are different from when we visit the mountains. Similarly, teas “live” in wildly different environments, and so each tea has its own “personality” that is suited to that environment.
A tea tasting by region aims to help us appreciate the contributions of terroir in making each tea what it is.
Now, there are many different regions and there are many teas within those regions. So, the important goal of a tea tasting by region is simply to gather a handful of samples from a handful of regions.
The Enthusiast’s Tasting Flight
With that in mind, an Enthusiast’s Tasting Flight should focus on the same tea type, selecting a representative from three to five different regions. As an example, I would recommend something like the following for oolong tea:
- Guang Dong Province (China) - Phoenix Dan Cong Wu Ye (Single Grove Dark Leaf)
- Fujian Province - Anxi County (China) - Anxi Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy)
- Fujian Province - Wuyi Mountain Region (China) - Wuyi Yan Cha Shui Xian (Rock Oolong - Narcissus)
I like starting with oolongs because I believe there to be the greatest and most easily discernible differences in taste from region to region. Even though the Tie Guan Yin and the Shui Xian come from the same province, the terroir is very different between Anxi County and Wuyi Mountain, and Phoenix Mountain oolongs are in a world of their own as well.
Alternatively, there is also the Oolong Sampler, which comes with 12 grams of each of four oolongs: two from Phoenix Mountain (Dan Cong Wu Ye as well as Dan Cong Mi Lan Xiang or “Honey Orchid”), a different grade of the Anxi Tie Guan Yin, and a Wuyi tea known as Qi Lan (Rare Orchid).
But keep in mind that you can do this kind of tasting with any tea type!
Here is another example of a tasting by region with green teas:
- Hubei Province (China) - En Shi Yulu (Jade Dew)
- Sichuan Province (China) - Meng Ding Gan Lu (Sweet Dew)
- Anhui Province (China) - Liu An Gua Pian (Sunflower Seeds)
- Zhengjiang Province (China) - Anji Bai Cha (“White Tea” - just a translation; not a reference to tea type)
- Shizuoka Prefecture (Japan) - Organic Sencha
In general, Japanese green teas are very different from Chinese green teas, often accentuating more vegetal or grassy notes. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to include at least one when you are relatively new to Enthusiast Tasting Flights.
With the final post in this series, I want to explore flights that are best suited for the connoisseur and those ready to take their tasting to the next level. Before I discuss that, however, it will be important to talk a little about tea tasting in a more technical sense so that one can best appreciate the experience. Stay tuned!
Friendly Reminder: For those of you in the Washington, DC area, don’t forget to check out MeiMei Fine Teas’ newly announced tasting classes for August 2016 (or contact firstname.lastname@example.org)!