Appreciating aroma & taste in tea.
Everyone should appreciate tea in their own way, and I would normally be the last person to tell anyone how to enjoy their tea. However, understanding the concepts and language related to tea can sometimes help people appreciate their tea more and be able to more easily talk about tea with others.
This guide will cover a few basic concepts related to teaware and taste that should help you appreciate the nuances of flavor and aroma in your tea a little better. Keep in mind that special tea cups and fancy terms are not at all important to enjoying tea. No amount of purchases or vocabulary can give that to you.
The material your vessels and cups are made out of may have a noticeable effect on the texture, aroma or taste of the tea. There are, broadly speaking, two categories of materials: porous, and non-porous.
Porous teaware is usually made from some variety of clay (left two), and non-porous teaware is usually made from porcelain (right two) or glass.
Clay pots and cups will always change the flavor of your tea. Clay will usually dull bitterness and high notes within a tea, and strengthen deeper, richer notes. When you drink tea out of clay, you are not only tasting the tea itself, but you are “tasting” any clay your tea touched and interacted with before tasting it. That is why some people pay so much money for teaware made from special clay.
Porcelain or glass teaware, on the other hand, will not alter the taste of your tea. For this reason, I usually stick to non-porous materials. Whenever I try a new tea, I always use my porcelain gaiwan because then I will be tasting the tea in its purest form.
The shape of the cup you drink tea out of may also have an effect on what parts of the tea you notice more, and what parts you notice less. I typically think of the shape of cups as being on a spectrum: one end is shallow and rounded, while the other end is tall and cylindrical.
Shallow, rounded cups or bowls will have a greater surface area of tea liquor. They will cool off faster, and the aroma of the liquor will be more spread out, making it harder to notice. However, I usually find it easier to focus on the texture of tea when drinking from these.
Tall, cylindrical cups will retain heat better. They are also better at containing and directing the aroma of the tea liquor, making it easier to notice when drinking tea.
This chart breaks down some of the common flavors, sensations and aromas in tea. This chart is not universal, just my own understanding and what helps me appreciate tea better. Printable PDF Version.
Drinking tea is simple.
While one could spend all day discussing different cups and different materials and how they each affect the most minuscule aspects of tea, I usually don’t put that much thought into it. And while I do practice associating tea flavors with tasting notes, my favorite tea sessions are those where I don’t need to put words to what I’m experiencing and I can just enjoy it for myself.