Tea Tasting Language : Texture

by Arina on September 30, 2010

in Tea Basics,Tea Language

Everything is ready for a Da Hong Pao

When you learn how to appreciate texture in food or beverage, it is akin to seeing a familiar Hollywood movie in 3D: texture can add an astonishing extra dimension to the familiar senses of color, taste and smell. This is particularly true for Chinese cuisine, where a special concept 口感 kǒugǎn, literally translated as mouth-feel, exists to describe our tactile sensations and pleasures when eating or drinking. The concept of texture is somehow overlooked in the West, and I eagerly invite you to consult the books by Fuchsia Dunlop. Her account of the importance of texture for the Chinese cuisine is the best I’ve ever come across in the books on the subject. But is texture really important for tea tasting?

The leaves of Jin Zhen black tea

The answer is yes. Because different teas can produce a completely different mouth-feel, and a tasting note would be incomplete without mentioning your tactile sensations.

The basic tactile sensations to capture are your sensations of hot and cold. Describing whether a tea was hot or warm is not the most important part of a tasting note, right ? You just need to remember that different teas require different temperatures to taste their best. But you already knew it anyway…

More interesting mouth-feel comes from the presence of tannins. Those guys are also the usual suspects for the bitter taste, but other things come into play to shape the body of a tea, so there is much more about the tea than just bitterness and astringency. To describe a possible range of tactile sensations, I have borrowed the texture terms from the Tea Drinker’s Handbook by Delmas et al., rearranging them according to the strength of the mouth-feel.

A freshly brewed Dan Cong

  • Watery: liquor without sense of texture.
  • Flowing: liquor without asperity. Corresponds to low tannic content.
  • Smooth: liquor lacking harsh tannins, without asperity
  • Powdery: very slight astringency on the palate, leaving an impression of a fine powder
  • Rounded: filling a mouth in a rounded way
  • Mouth-filling: giving a sensation of foolness in the mouth, similar to rounded
  • Structured: prominently tannic liquor
  • Robust: a very full bodies liquor
  • Rasping: very astringent teas due to poor quality or longer infusion

Another dimension to describe texture is somewhat elusive when seen on paper. I talk about oiliness or thickness. But it might be that you will need exactly those words to describe your mouth-feel:

  • Oily: you do not have to add a yak butter to achieve this, some teas will naturally remind you of oily texture.
  • Thick: texture reminiscent of oil or cream, rather than water.
  • Velvety: slightly thick liquor
  • Supple: more velvety than astringent
  • Silky: supple and slightly oily
  • Unctious: rounded in the mouth and slightly oily

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