(I’m making article with caption “How to judge tea” for my work and I decide to share with you four steps that I found on sevencups.com!)
1) By the look
The shape of the leaf, and the color. The shape varies for different kinds of tea. The unbroken tea leaf is always preferable, whether it is leaf or bud. Bitterness comes from broken leaves. Broken leaves are also a sign of machine-harvested tea. Keep in mind, however, that some tea, especially black tea, is purposefully cut to provide for stronger tasting tea. Also, many oolongs are deliberately ‘bruised’ or abraded to give flavor and improve appearance.
The dry leaves and wet leaves should be examined – wet leaves when they are fully opened. There is a lot to be learned from the wet leaf. How the leaf was oxidized is evident. There are many colors of dry green tea and the way it has been processed can be seen in the color. For example, hand fried leaves will be a little bit yellow, steamed tea has the look of a leafy green vegetable, like spinach, and baked green tea will be a very dark green.
Upon brewing the tea it should become close to the color it was when it was picked. Age will affect the color of the tea water, causing it to be brown or very murky green. The color of black tea water should be bright reddish gold and should leave a ring in the cup. The dry tea leaves from dark fermented oolong, like Wu Yi Mountain and Dan Cong/Phoenix Mountain oolongs are a dark green or brown color. It is said that Tie Guan Yin oolongs appear like ‘a dragonfly’s head’ – the color is a bright to dark green. Anxi oolongs are lighter than Taiwan oolongs. Good green teas in general are smaller, more delicate buds and leaf, and oolongs are a bigger leaf where the ‘serrated’ edge is obvious.
2) By the smell
Generally, there are two smells to consider, the dry smell and the wet smell. The dry smell should be obvious. If there is no smell to the dry leaves, they are very suspect. Green tea should have a light, fresh, soothing fragrance, from a light orchid to a chestnutty smell. Black tea should have a sweet, floral fragrance, and the smell should not be easily lost. The aroma of dry oolongs can range from peach to osmanthus flowers, whilst the smell of Tie Guan Yin should remind you of sweet corn. In judging scented tea (such as Jasmine), the smell should be maintained over multiple infusions. If a scented tea loses it’s smell quickly, the quality is poor. It should be remembered that the fragrance of a tea is just as important in judging a tea as its taste.
3) By touch
Through touch you can determine if the tea leaves are smooth or coarse, whether or not it crumbles easily, and whether it is heavy or light. A good green tea feels smooth, not coarse, and the wet leaves should be tender. Tie Guan Yin should be heavy and dense. Wet tea leaves from the true Tie Guan Yin bush should also be tender, almost like silk, but also sturdy. Whatever the tea, it should not crumble easily; if it does, it has been baked too long or is too old.
4) By the taste
The best way to judge a tea, of course, is by the taste. Green tea should taste fresh, not stale, and should not be too astringent. Black tea should be full bodied and fresh. In general, good tea has a sweet aftertaste and should feel very slippery going down the throat. The aftertaste should linger for a noticeably long time, like the feeling you have after listening to music, when a good tune lingers. Some teas can provide a very interesting taste by sipping some water while the aftertaste is present, the effect being quite dramatic. Remember that tasting tea is like tasting wine: slurp it to aerate it (unlike in Western countries, in China slurping your tea is a sign of appreciation and knowledge and not considered bad manners!), let it slide down the middle of the tongue in one sip, and down the sides of the tongue in the next, followed by the whole tongue with big slurping. Pay attention to the subtleties and the complexity of the tea. A large part of learning to appreciate tea is learning to slow down and pay attention to the subtleties.