To truly enjoy gourmet teas, we must first learn how to spot them. There are several different tastes that you can look for or spot, just like you can with fine wine. First, there is Astringency. This should not be confused with bitterness. The dry refreshing and thirst quenching properties of some gourmet teas can be considered astringent. If tea has a biscuity taste, you may say that the tea tastes like it is fresh out of the oven or tainted with a malted flavor with texture. If the flavor resembles your favorite citrus or if it tastes fruity or like a flower, this would be classified as a flavorful tea. Some examples of these tastes includes orange, lemon, raspberry, mango or flowery flavors such as jasmine, rosebuds or lavender. If the gourmet tea has a multitude of tastes hitting you at different points of the sampling, this may be considered a complex or dramatic flavor. Perhaps it begins as sweet, finishes as tart and leaves an astringent aftertaste. The strength of the tea is self explanatory and can come from steeping times, methods or the type of tea used. It is unusual for tea bags to make it to the gourmet tea category, generally because loose leaf teas offer a stronger flavor. An acquired taste would be that of vegetal teas, ones that create a unique whisper of grassy herbal flavors.
True gourmet tea touches more than just the taste buds. Our sense of touch can be used to enhance the full benefit of gourmet teas. Different teas have a different perfect temperature for brewing. When touching the water, a good baseline is to think about our normal body temperature which is about 98F. Once we can touch a teapot and know that it is 98F, we can adjust the water temperature without our handy thermometer. Once we know about our gourmet teas and the ideal steeping temperature for each, we can adjust up or down based on the feel of the pot. Additionally, we can use our sense of touch to examine our gourmet tea leaves before and after brewing. Eventually, you will be able to discern between grades of teas by simply touching them. The end result will also be an enhanced experience overall once you involve all of your senses in your gourmet event.
There are over 2500 varieties of tea. The farmer, soil, and weather conditions alter the end result which winds up into five major categories. White, green, oolong, black and pu-erh teas is where all teas deriving from the tea plant will fall. Teas deriving from herbs and flowers other than the tea plant are considered tisanes and aren't usually considered tea by tea connoisseurs. With that said, these teas have strong health properties and medicinal uses that are widely used and enjoyed. These teas can still be placed in the gourmet realm. True tea however comes from the evergreen shrub, Camellia Sinensis, which generally grows in mountainous regions. It is from here that tea is divided into it's different categories. As a rule, it is the size of the tea leaf and method for curing that turns ordinary tea into a gourmet tea variety. While loose leaf teas are always of better quality and certainly falls into the gourmet tea category quicker than bagged tea, some manufacturers have recently produced a silky larger bag that holds larger tea leaves. Teas to avoid are bagged teas that contain a lot of small pieces or even tea dust.
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