To be able to brew a good pot of tea, we need to know what a good pot of tea tastes like
Imagine I’m pouring a fragrant, jade colored tea broth into your cup. You smell the surface, and immediately “flowers!”. Then, you have a moment to think, and the more precise olfactory memory comes to you : “honeysuckle”. After, you take a sip and the taste reminds you of citrus because of a slight tartness and bright high notes. You are able to narrow it down to grapefruit. There’s something else, just a bit lower… steamed vegetables? Zucchini? Maybe a hint of butter comes through which gives the broth a melty, oily quality.
You might be able to take it further, identifying more distinctive notes. It’s exciting to wheedle down tasting notes, record them, and especially compare with a friend. But what does that tell me? It’s a lightly oxidized oolong. There are thousands of those! And what if the farmer who made the tea never in his life tasted grapefruit or tasted butter. Maybe he hasn’t tried zucchini either. Does that mean he doesn’t know how to taste his own tea?
To drink a tea and describe it by its flavor notes is like looking at a painting and describing the colors. There may be a beautiful creamy lavender, and vibrant emerald green. They are delightful and pleasing, but they are merely the building blocks of the painting.
I like to think about flavor notes as musical notes. They fall on a staff from high, bright notes like citrus or flowers, to mid tones such as ripe fruit or cooked vegetables, to low, bassy tones like chocolate or nuts. You could say “green” (like a smashed young seed or grass), “floral”, “fruity” and “fermented” and that would pretty much cover all the ground, and also the life of a plant. But more importantly is how these notes fit together. A good farmer might not describe her tea as “grapefruit with hints of butter and cooked vegetables”, but she will know if the notes are in harmony.
But it’s not only aroma. For example, lavender is a wonderful smelling herb. If I were to brew a pot of lavender, it would be fragrant as all hell, but the soup would be thin and watery. A good tea not only smells good, but also feels good. That’s where we get into TEXTURE.