When David and I started to really build Dominion Tea, we sampled a lot of different teas with experienced and inexperienced tea drinkers alike and found out how little we knew about what it means to adequately describe the experience of drinking one tea versus another. Taste is so much more than just the five senses that our tongue gets (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami). It also includes touch, smell, and sight. To say that you taste something ignores that fact that it really does require all five senses to register what is in your mouth. To savor tea acknowledges that it requires more than taste to truly enjoy a cup.
It is a testament to the complexity of the human body that all five senses can so quickly execute when we consume beverages or food that it often leaves us lost for words about what we just experienced. To help me figure out how to better describe tea, I went hunting through books on food, brain neurology and what scientists have learned about our mouths. Below are five tips on how to better understand what you are experiencing with your next cup of tea. These take time, patience and practice, but are well worth it.
- Play when you drink the tea. Smell the tea before you put it in your mouth and try to describe the smell. Then slurp the tea when you drink it. Yes, slurp. It allows the aroma to travel up the back of your mouth into your nose again. Smell is actually what gives you the complexities of what you taste, not your tongue. Then try to describe what you just drank. How is your second description different from the first? Then sip the same tea while you pinch your nose closed and you will realize what you are missing when your sense of smell is taken out of the process.
- Drink with others. No two people have the same tasting experience. Our genetics effect how strongly we taste bitter, salty and sour. There is no wrong way to describe what you taste but having someone else around to compare your experience with helps you get better in finding the right words for what you are experiencing.
- Swish the tea around in your mouth. After you have had fun slurping, try swishing. As you swish the tea around in your mouth, what do you feel? Does your tongue feel dry around the sides or does the tea feel creamy down the middle of your tongue?
- Know your biases around taste. Our experiences with food are written back into our brains, so if you associate a smell or taste with something bad, even unconsciously, it will affect your future experience. The same holds true for good experiences. Knowing your biases helps to guide you on what to try and may also help you explain why something doesn’t work for you.
- Practice describing the what, how, where and when around the cup of tea. What refers to the five tastes. How refers to the intensity of the taste – low, medium or high. Where refers to where in your mouth you taste the tea and when refers usually to the start, middle or end (finish). Practice being precise as possible with these as that will ultimately help you understand what types of teas are pleasing. Often a tea can be pleasing not for its smell or taste but for how it feels in your mouth (think smooth).
Practice these five tips and you will become better on describing your tea experience and learn to appreciate the flavor of more than just your favorite cup of tea.