TEA101 – Tea & Texture. Part 2
Tactile sensations in the mouth start with temperature. My first visit to a hospital as a three y/o girl in Russia was because, when no one was watching, I slurped black tea directly from the teapot’s spout. It turned out to be so hot that it burnt my throat all the way to the ass. Do I remember the taste? Hell, no. The heat? Hell, yes. This taught me good tea manners once and for all. Temperature is key ?
Assuming the temperature is palatable, what makes us feel the texture of tea or wine? It’s TANNINS – polyphenols naturally present in plants.
Tannins come into WINE from two sources: grape skin and seeds, as well as new oak barrels. As only red wines ferment with skins, we typically talk about tannins in relation to red wines. Not all reds are the same: gamay and pinot noir are the least tannic, and cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and nebbiolo – the most tannic (see chart). Tannins, along with acidity, give wine structure.
Tannins that govern the texture of TEA belong to the same family as the wine polyphenols: some are common for tea and wine, some are specific to tea. The closer the leaves are to the buds the more polyphenols they contain.
Tannins add to the wine depth of color. Polyphenols in tea influence color too: during oxidation, some of the polyphenols are transformed into further compounds, responsible for the dark red-brown color of heavily oxidized teas.
Tannins are powerful antioxidants – hence the talk about health benefits of tea or red wine. More tannic wines typically live longer than less tannic.
Interestingly, tannins do not attack tactile receptors of the mouth directly. They have a love affair with the proteins contained in our saliva. Bound up by tannins, saliva can no longer lubricate our palate well – hence the sensation of dryness, astringency or even abrasiveness, depending on tannin amount.
Tannins are also responsible for the bitterness, so bitterness and astringency usually go hand in hand: bringing the structure when in right amount and killing the pleasure when in excess due to the length of exposure to high water temperature. Another argument to use gaiwan or small teapot when brewing your tea.