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Tasting tea: flavor
Flavor is experienced as aroma. Whereas taste is experienced on the tongue, flavor is experienced in the nose. Whereas we can detect only six tastes, we can detect thousands of aromas.
At the broadest level, we detect floral, herbaceous, earthy, mineral, marine, fruity, spicy, fire, animal, sweet (like vanilla or caramel), nutty, and milky aromas. These immediately divide into many, many subcategories, and these are characterized by a huge number of examples. As you can imagine, flavor is an exceedingly complex topic. Do you need to know a lot about flavor to be able to appreciate tea? No, you do not.
Even so, it helps to know a little about flavor when you are trying to decide which of 150 teas you want to try. Do you prefer teas with herbaceous flavors? Perhaps something that reminds you of fresh cut grass? Or do you like something more floral? A little rose or jasmine note maybe? How about a hint of fruit? Something citrusy or berry-like? Maybe a fire aroma: smokiness, or toastiness? The way to learn what you like is through trying lots of kinds of teas.
Many people like different flavors in different seasons. You might like a little jasmine blended into your tea in the summer but something deeper and smokier in the winter.
Also, note that you might like different flavors in hot tea than in cold tea. Perhaps you will like a citrusy bergamot flavored Earl Grey in an iced tea blend, but not in hot tea, for example. It is entirely a matter of personal preference.
A very common defect one might find in brewed tea arises from contamination of flavor resulting from storing or brewing tea in vessels that have been previously used with other materials. For example, when tea is served from a vacuum carafe that was previously used to serve coffee, the tea is very likely to be contaminated with the odors of coffee. It is nearly impossible to clean a vacuum carafe once used for coffee well enough to then use with tea. Another example, if a plain tea is stored in a canister that once held flavored tea, it is very likely that the plain tea will pick up scents and flavors from the flavored tea.
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