Friday, January 22, 2010

How to evaluate a tea?

Tea is a hobby drink, every one enjoys it differently. However, to be a tea professional, one is required to be disciplined in cupping.
Usually, we will examine the dry leaf, looking for the properties that are characteristic of teas from that origin, checking the density and dryness of the leaf. The aroma and color of the brewed leaf is also important and adds its own hints to the wider understanding of the tea. Then, when the liquor is sucked into the mouth, the aroma hits the nasal cavities and the feel and taste of the liquid fill the mouth and enable to really feel and get to know about the tea. We are trying to determine the visual factors, aroma, flavor, quality, character, value and suitability…as thorough as possible.

Step 1: Examine the appearance of the leaf
We will check the visual properties of the tea leaf to find out whether the tea leaf size even? Is there plenty of tip if relevant? Does the tea leaf have the character of teas from the particular origin? Does the appearance good or acceptable? To check the leaf’s density (weight in g over 100 ml) and the moisture contents…
Good tea leaves must be thoroughly dry and the shape should be smooth and even. They should not have too many broken edges, and there should not be many stems, yellowed leaves, or other odd elements. The shape of the leaves depends on the type of tea. For ball-shaped tea, the tighter the leaves are rolled, the better; the size of the balls should be consistent as well. Wenshan Pouchong leaves are long and slightly twisted, not rolled. Tungting tea is rolled into a half-ball shape. Iron Goddess is a tight, ball shape. White Tip Oolong is naturally curly. Dragon Well tea leaves look like tiny swords, and black tea leaves are small, thin, and wiry. In addition to shape, look at the color of the dry leaf to distinguish quality. Fresh, non-baked tea leaves are bright and glossy. Baked and aged teas are dark and smooth.

Step 2: Check the smell of the dry leaf
Does it have the expected aroma? Dose it smell fresh? Does it have the unexpected smells?
Learn to recognize the quality of the fragrance. Good quality green and Pouchong teas should not smell baked. White Tip Oolong should have a fruity fragrance; black tea should be slightly malty. Tea should never have a stinky, burnt, smoky, oily, or other strange smell.

Step 3: Assess the appearance of the liquor
Is the color of the tea liquor what we would expect?
Is the liquor clear and bright? How about the cloudiness? Is the surface clear?

Step 4: Assess the aroma and the flavor of the liquor
Does it have a characteristic aroma or any hint?
Does the tea have the expected flavor profile?
Detect any astringency or smooth? Is there any bitterness and unpleasant harshness? Is the tea thin or doest it have body and substance in the mouth?
Does it have flat or lingering finish? (Finish in Oolong is highly concerned.)
The color, fragrance, and aroma of tea are mutually connected. Wenshan Pouchong tea is greenish-yellow with a natural floral aroma, and a fresh, flavorful taste. Tungting Oolong is a deep, golden brown color, with a floral scent, sweet aroma, and long-lasting sweet finish. Iron Goddess has a brownish liquor and a hearty fragrance, rich and fruitlike; it is smooth and soothing to the throat. White Tip Oolong is reddish-orange, with a ripe fruity flavor, honey-like fragrance, and soothing, smooth taste. Dragon Well is yellowish green, with a slightly vegetal or grassy aroma, and a lively, fresh flavor. Black tea is a deep reddish-black color, with rich layers of fragrance; sugar and milk can be added to enhance the flavor.

Step 5: Examine the brewed leaf
After you taste the tea, remove the leaves from the vessel. Look at the color: do they appear tender or mature? Look at the condition of the leaves: are they oxidized, rolled, and baked properly?
For example, Dragon Well leaves consist of young buds and tender whole leaves, yellowish-green in color. Wenshan Pouchong leaves are also whole but more mature than Dragon Well; the leaves should be slightly red around the edges and a lively green in the middle. Basically, any tea made from the buds of a tea tree, like White Tip Oolong or Dragon Well, should contain many small, tightly shaped buds. By contrast, Wenshan Pouchong, Tungting, Iron Goddess, and High Mountain teas are picked after the buds open, so it is not a sign of quality if these teas contain too many small leaves and buds. Also, if the color of the leaves is very green, the oxidation may be too low. Evidence of oxidation should appear around the tips and edges of the leaves, outlining them with a red color. The darker the leaves, the heavier the oxidation processed. The darker the color and the harder to the touch, the heavier the baking has gone through. On the contrary, the brighter the color and the softer the leaf, the lighter the baking has gone through. Handpicked leaves are more regular in shape; machine cut leaves tend to be irregular. You can also identify the type of tea cultivar and whether it is a hybrid or not by examining the brewed leaves. In short, by spending a little quality effort examining the brewed leaves, you can really enhance your tea experience!
(For more tools of tea cupping, review this link: )