Have you ever experienced something so simple yet so profound that you wanted to shout it from the rooftops?! I know you can feel my excitement…
As a tea connoisseur yourself, I’m sure your palate knows if you like a tea or not. This is not what we will be discussing here. It’s about learning a simple trick to see if that tea you appreciate is a genuinely high-quality tea.
Before I reveal the tip, there is a warning! I have yet to find any research on this little wonder…so how did I learn it?
Flash back to 2006 in Guangzhou, where I was working with the Chinese Tea Agency. It was a time when I was meeting literally hundreds of tea producers who lavished China’s best (and worst) teas upon me. Gaiwan after gaiwan, sniffer cup after sniffer cup, I was getting high on drinking so much tea that flavor distinctions and quality testing flew out the window. How could I tell if a tea was the real deal by drinking it?
Enter a lovely tea merchant in Fujian who performed the most beautiful gong-fu ceremony for me after the 10-hour, one-pit-stop overnight bus ride organized by my government colleagues.
Along with smelling the teapot lid — and not the pot itself — to reveal the tea’s deep fragrance, then continuing to savor the fragrance in the sniffer cups; this gal still held the ultimate quality test up her sleeve.
After tasting the beautiful Ti Kwan Yin for its full life cycle of 5 steepings, the delightful young master smiled brightly following a 30-minute chat about China, life, tea, and my family. She suddenly got extremely animated and pulled out thimble-sized cups — which were even smaller than the walnut-sized cups used for our tea. She proceeded to gracefully pour water into the thimbles; and not hot water: Room-temperature water.
“Please. Now just close your eyes and sip one drop of pure, fresh water to experience the symphony’s encore on your tongue!” And just as explained, a roaring encore of an intense sweetness came cascading over my tongue. I had never experienced such a comeback after 30 minutes of chatting. We were tasting the tea’s heightened sweetness, which was far more pronounced than the sips tasted during the gong-fu ceremony.
“A very high quality tea comes back sweeter on your tongue when you drink a drop of water. Don’t put anything into your mouth after tasting the tea, because that would ruin the encore. Even after one hour, you can still taste it. The highest quality teas will have the sweetest taste after the longest time. This is the true test of a quality tea.”
Chinese teas and Japanese teas offer wonderful encore performances. It’s a great way to wow your tea-sipping friends to see if they can taste the sweetness! This trick works best for real foodies rather than for junk-foodies where the palate is in need of a good detox. Just saying.
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That works especially well with young sheng pu’er. I’ve never tried it a half an hour after drinking a tea but for more limited time-frame after trying a round the sweetness (hui gan) can be even stronger than when you actually drink the tea. I also use water to clear my palate between rounds of comparison tasting, since drinking a few swallows of water will work for that.