Every so often, it’s instructive to take a look in your tea cupboard with an eye to doing a vertical tea tasting, comparing teas from a given region or garden. For this exercise, I chose to bring out several teas grown in the same region, weigh them, brew them in good quality water at the same temperature and for the same length of time, and taste them, with neither a sweetener nor a dairy product in sight. I find that tasting them hot, warm, cool, and even iced changes my impressions of the teas markedly as they go through a full range of temperatures. I’ll admit that being a pastry chef with a penchant for comparing chocolates produced by one company – hard work, but someone has to do it – has certainly influenced my approach to tasting tea.
Recently, I brought out three Assams to taste side by side – a first-flush Amgoorie, a Banaspaty, and a second-flush Marangi, all produced in that region of many micro-climates in northeast India, where the first commercial production of tea began in the early to mid-Nineteenth Century and has flourished ever since. It never ceases to amaze me how different three teas from the same region can taste. My first impressions were:
- The Amgoorie comes across as sweet, but stands up nicely to milk.
- The Banaspaty, a standby for me, has a honeyed, almost cherry fruit-like personality.
- The Marangi shows the characteristic maltiness of the region’s teas, particularly after the tea cools a bit from its original brewing temperature. Spicy, earthy notes also come through for this one.
Do I have a favorite? It’s hard to say, as each has its own special charms and any one of them could be paired beautifully with foods, either sweet (chocolate desserts) or savory (dark poultry, such as duck, squab, or even turkey). Drinking each of them on their own, though, is a daily pleasure.
Other than the obvious enjoyment (not to mention a bit of buzz) that tasting three teas in succession yields, what else came to mind during this planned adventure? I was struck by the multiplicity of possibilities that tea drinking offers. Taking into account so many tea-growing regions and the kaleidoscopic range of tastes characteristic of those areas boggles the mind and the palate. What’s more, the torrent of adjectives that tea-tasting unleashes only adds to the pleasure of the whole adventure.