Why mindlessly gulp when you can have a transformative experience? A tea expert explains how to savor a cup.

By Lynn Andriani
January 08, 2020
Burcu Avsar

As with wine, coffee, or chocolate, there are so many different kinds of tea. And even if you're not painstakingly making yourself a perfectly brewed pot—with a specific weight of tea leaves and an exact degree of water—there's still so much to be gained by knowing how to truly taste the tea. Heidi Johannsen Stewart, co-owner of Bellocq Tea in Brooklyn, says the same tasting principles apply no matter what type of tea you're drinking.

In fact, simply paying attention to the details can help you get in the mindset of slowing down, Stewart says, so you're ready to taste and appreciate the tea. Watch the water stream out of the faucet as you fill the kettle, or take the extra moment to pick your favorite mug out of the cupboard. There's no need to go crazy, but casually just being aware of actions like this can help set you up for a great tea-drinking experience. Stewart calls it "Not being on autopilot."

Before you pour the hot water over the tea, take in its aroma. Green tea may smell grassy, light, and fresh; black tea could be floral, sweet, or earthy. Smell the tea again once you've steeped it—you'll probably notice the flavors have changed. Maybe they've intensified or mellowed. Next, says Stewart, notice the color of the brew. Green teas can be a golden hay color; others may hardly have any color at all, while many are quite dark, almost coffee-like in appearance.

Related: How to Use Tea in Cooking and Baking

Once the tea is cool enough to drink, take a sip. How does it feel on your mouth? Just like wine and coffee, teas have body. They may be medium- or full-bodied; Stewart says there can almost be a thickness to them. Others are light, with clarity. After you've considered the mouthfeel, there's the flavor itself. A Japanese green tea may have an oceanic or fruity taste. A Chinese black tea may taste robust with a lot of malt on the palate. Everything from grape to pecan shell may be present. Where are you experiencing the flavor on your palate? In the front of the mouth, the sides of the mouth, the throat? It may be hard to pinpoint, but with practice, you'll start to be able to identify the different elements.

Stewart also likes to consider how the tea makes her feel. Is it uplifting? Some teas are dynamic, so after you take a sip, the sensation may go up to your head and then sink down to your abdomen. Many teas make you feel warm; others can taste refreshing and cooling. "Have a sip, wait a moment, and ask yourself if you feel good or not," suggests Stewart. After a sip, consider the finish. Does it linger, or does it fade quickly? You'll probably also detect a change in the taste and aroma as the tea cools. Different notes may rise up or fade—see if you can notice any shifts in flavor as the temperature of the tea decreases.

And when the cup is empty? Take a sniff of the empty vessel, says Stewart. You may notice the lingering aroma of stone fruit or burnt sugar. Especially with oolong teas, an aroma may stick around. "The ghost of it in the cup is profound and incredibly pleasurable," says Stewart. With all of this being said, it's important to remember that even Stewart, who spends her days brewing, discussing, and drinking tea, acknowledges that sometimes you're just too busy to savor—and that's fine! But when you can, give it a try. You may find yourself amazed at how much enjoyment a simple cup of tea can bring.

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