How should tea taste? How do you know if your tea tastes “right”?
Although I’ve been drinking tea since I was 10 (mom started me on the hard stuff young), I started learning what quality tea was about 7 years ago. That’s right, it took me 20 years to start drinking the good stuff.
But I never thought, “How should tea taste?”
Maybe I should have…
My tea journey’s been like being introduced Kindle only after years of translating books from stone tablets.
But if you don’t know the difference, you don’t know there’s a difference.
I became interested in quality tea after a health scare. Learning I had breast cancer motivated me to tweak my routines to make them healthier.
One habit I tweaked was my tea drinking.
I’d been drinking it for years, but I didn’t realize that the tea I drank was gross.
At the time, I didn’t think it was gross. I figured plopping a tea bag full of tea dust into hot water was the way you were supposed to drink it. That’s how everyone around me — including my loving mom — brewed tea. She wouldn’t steer me wrong.
Then I discovered a better way.
Let’s start on the same page. We’re talking about true tea, not herbal infusions or tea blends.
What’s the difference?
First, true tea comes from the plant Camellia sinensis. Herbal infusions are herbs and spices that are blended. Tea blends combine herbs, spices, and teas.
Second, tea has caffeine, while most herbal infusions don’t. The only herbs that have caffeine are yerba mate and guarana.
Tea blends have caffeine since they have tea in them too.
Third, tea has six types.
The ones you’ve likely heard of are white, green, oolong, and black. Two you may not have heard of are yellow and dark. Within each type are dozens, if not hundreds, of varieties; no two green teas are alike.b
Their natural oils create flavors that can be sweet like honey and raisins or richer like cacao or malt.
Herbal infusions and tea blends are practically limitless in their combinations, and they add sweeteners (sometimes natural and sometimes artificial) to create flavors.
Ever wish you could think of the word to describe what you’re tasting?
We may call herbal infusions “teas,” but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Why it’s important to know if your tea tastes right.
If you’re doing something that’s not as healthy or as enjoyable as it could be, wouldn’t you want to know what others already do?
If you’re not interested, there’s no judgment. Personally, I was fascinated to learn that all those years I was drinking sub-par tea.
I had no clue that I was missing the…
- complex flavors loose leaf teas have,
- healthy oils that are sapped from leaves when ground into tea dust,
- satisfaction of creating a tea ritual that’s more than plopping a tea bag in a cup.
I also didn’t realize that…
- tea wasn’t supposed to taste bitter
- I was adding sugar in my tea to compensate for that bitter flavor.
You don’t know what you don’t know though. And I didn’t ask myself the question, “How should tea taste?”
Once you know there’s a better way, there’s a few things you can look out for to ensure that your tea tastes the way it was meant to taste.
That brings me to…
6 Questions to Ask Next Time You Sip
1. Are you brewing loose leaf tea or tea dust?
Tea dust, aka fannings, are the tiny particles of tea inside most tea bags.
Tea bags were created by accident.
About 100 years ago, a tea merchant sent tea samples to potential customers in silk bags. Those potential customers dunked their silk bags in hot water not knowing that wasn’t part of the product. Then the merchant received orders for tea in silk bags.
Tea dust was used because tea producers didn’t want to waste the tea that crumbled onto their warehouse floors. So they swept it up and put it into the newly developed tea bags.
Moral of the story: Just because something’s been around a while doesn’t mean it’s necessarily worth continuing to do.
Tiny tea particles lose a lot of the healthy oils in the tea leaf. We hear detox this, and healthy that, but are you drinking tea dust or the real deal?
It’s easy to over-brew these tea bags with tea dust too.
When I was a bagged tea drinker, I’d leave the tea bag in the cup as I sipped. Sometimes that meant it’d be in the cup 10-15 minutes!
I didn’t realize leaving it in the cup was making the tea more bitter, and was also leading me to have, what I affectionately call, tea tummy – a stomach ache.
Loose leaf tea is the real deal.
Larger leafs are the ones worth drinking.
They contain the healthy oils you’re looking for when you decide to sip tea for the antioxidants.
The flavors are more complex; you can taste notes of honey, caramel, cacao, dark chocolate, etc. I never tasted any of that with bagged tea dust. You don’t even want to add sugar when tea is this flavorful.
Also, you get more value out of loose leaf tea too because you can rested the tea usually 3 or 4 times. You definitely don’t want to do that with a tea bag; the tea gets watery after the second go-round.
Want help describing what you’re tasting? Grab your free guide to the tastes & aromas of teas here.
2. What’s your tea type?
There are 6 types of tea — white, green, yellow, oolong, black, and dark.
Each of them brew a bit differently.
Tea is a plant. Plants are cooked just like veggies or other plants. Cook it in hot water too long, and it takes on a flavor you may not enjoy.
An easy reference for water temperature:
If the tea leaf is black, it’s okay to use boiling or almost boiling water to brew.
If the tea leaf is lighter (colorful or green), boil water but let it sit about 5 minutes before pouring over your tea.
Once you know the temp of your water, brew your tea leaves for 1 to 2 minutes to start to see if you like the tea. The liquor should be aromatic, and the flavors should come out. Something other than bitter or strong are what you’re looking for.
How should tea taste? Here are some tasting guidelines.
Black teas often taste of: malt, nuts, cacao.
Oolongs may taste: floral, roasted, honey, of fresh hay.
Whites may taste: buttery, floral, nutty.
Greens may taste of: grass, seaweed, hay, flowers.
In my opinion, herbs and spices are often blended with bland tea dust because you can use ground herbs and spices to create flavors that the loose leaf tea may have already had by itself.
If you’ve ever wondered “How should tea taste,” then this is for you. Click here for your free guide to the Tastes & Aromas of teas.
3. Does your tea have an unexpected flavor?
Have you ever pulled out your tea to discover that it tasted like the spice that was placed beside it in your spice cabinet?
Tea takes on the flavor of herbs and spices that it’s next to.
Best practice is to store teas in their own area. I store mine in a cabinet with my teacups and mugs, so there’s no risk of flavor transferrence.
Also, if you place a strong tea (like a roasted tea) next to a floral tea (like a green, white, or oolong tea), the floral tea will take on the properties of the stronger tea. You may end up with a roasted white tea.
4. Is your tea stale?
When stored properly, tea lasts a long time. Some get better as they get older.
That’s not always the case.
Stale tea may taste a bit metallic or have a faded taste.
It won’t hurt you, but not as enjoyable as it was originally.
The solution to this is not buying large amounts of tea at one time. You can try smaller amounts then buy more if you decide you want to drink more of it.
I created the 14 Day Tea Tour with this problem in mind. Go here for more info.
5. Does your stomach hurt after you drink the tea?
Just because you have a stomach ache doesn’t mean the tea is bad.
Stale tea won’t hurt you.
Ask yourself a few questions. Did you:
- drink tea on an empty stomach?
- over-brew your tea, and it’s become bitter?
- take any medications before you drank your tea?
Chances are one of these things caused your stomach ache.
6. Did you store tea in the refrigerator?
Leaves absorb moisture just like baking soda.
Your leaves may take on moisture if they’re stored over a dish washer or where you cook your food. Moisture and heat play havoc on tea leaves.
You’ll know whether leaves have taken on too much moisture if the leaves clump together or smell moldy.
I’ll leave you with some tea storage tips to keep your tea fresher longer.
Keep in mind that the enemies of tea are humidity, heat, light, and air, so
- buy in small amounts
- store in a cool, dry, dark place
- store in a sealed container
- keep teas away from spices and strongly scented foods
If you’re learning about tea, I highly suggest the 14 Day Tea Tour. I’ve curated 14 single serving teas from around the world. They’re lovingly hand-packaged. I’ve curated these teas and created a booklet to answer the question, “How should tea taste?” Because we shouldn’t have to guess.