Writing About Tea
Last Updated: Jan. 13, 2014
People who are not experienced writing tea reviews can often find it intimidating to write their first few reviews. This page offers a quick guide on how to write about tea, which can be helpful both for writing reviews on RateTea and for writing about tea on a blog or other website.
Learn to distinguish between flavor, aroma, and other characteristics:Flavor encompasses only taste sensations (sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and savory). Teas have all of these qualities, but the range of flavors in teas tends to be subdued relative to other foods. Teas tend not to be salty, and they range from having no sweetness to being mildly sweet. The bitterness of tea is the most variable aspect of flavor, and sourness follows closely behind. Savory qualities (often called umami) in tea are subtle but generally present, but are central to certain styles of tea such as gyokuro, and may appear in many other types of tea. Flavor can also be described in other, broader terms, such as smooth, bold, strong, weak, pleasing, or harsh.
Aroma encompasses the smell of a tea both while sipping or drinking it, as well as before and after. People often confuse smell with taste, as is evident in expressions like "tastes like an apple". Different fruits, for example, are characterized by aroma more than taste; to realize this, hold one type of aromatic fruit to your nose (a banana is a great example) while eating another type of fruit. You will find it "tastes" like the fruit you are smelling, not eating, showing that this sensation is really smell, not taste. Taste only involves the five sensations described above; all else that you seem to be "tasting" is part of the aroma.
The overall experience of drinking tea also encompasses other aspects, some of which are described as palate or mouthfeel--the sensations in the mouth when drinking. Astringency is a central characteristic in tea and varies widely; it refers to a rough, dry feeling in the mouth, which leads to puckering if it is strong enough. Too much astringency is unpleasant, but a small amount can be pleasing, and can make a tea seem more full-bodied. Teas are also described as being thin or full-bodied, or alternatively, heavy or light.
One common word that encompasses multiple facets of a tea is tannic. This word refers to the presence of tannins, chemicals common in many varieties of black tea. Tannins are bitter, highly astringent, and dark in color, and are incidentally some of the antioxidants in black tea.
Writing about aroma:Aroma is the most complex aspect of tea. Tea, in comparison to other beverages, tends to have a narrow range of flavor and yet a broad range of aroma.
Tip: Make analogies to familiar aromas:
Teas, especially green teas, are often described as having grassy, herbaceous (more like herbs) or vegetal (more like vegetables) qualities in the aroma; Japanese green teas like sencha are frequently described as being seaweed-like. Many teas, including pure, unscented teas, are described as floral, and these qualities can be made more specific by naming particular flowers that the tea resembles (like rose, jasmine, or orchid). Some teas are roasted, and the roast is also present in the aroma. Some black teas are described as malty, and many are said to suggest various dried fruits. Many teas, including greens, blacks, and oolongs, are dried or pan-fired over smoke and acquire a smoky aroma as a result.
You can further develop your reviewing skills by making your analogies as specific as possible. Instead of just saying "fruity", ask yourself: does this smell resemble apricots, grapes, citrus fruits, or is it truly a generic fruitiness? If a tea smells vegetal or herbaceous, think of specific vegetables or herbs that the tea reminds you of.
Tip: think about how you feel after drinking the tea:
Your experience with tea does not conclude with finishing the cup: tea contains caffeine, theanine, and a variety of other chemical compounds which influence mood, concentration, relaxation, and energy level, sometimes in subtle ways. Think carefully about how you feel after drinking the tea; although this step is often ignored, one could argue that it is the most important step because it involves assessing the effect that the tea has on your body! For many teas there might not be much to think or write about, but when you do observe something, it is certainly worth recording.
Does the tea make you feel more relaxed, more alert, or agitated? Does the tea help settle your stomach at all? Do you find the tea to be equally pleasing when you are sick and when you are well? You may find that as you drink a certain tea regularly over time, your preferences for its flavor and aroma change as a function of how the tea makes you feel. Caffeine has a sharp, bitter taste, and theanine has a savory or umami taste, and the relative concentrations of these chemicals also tend to correlate with certain aromas and other qualities. You can and will adjust your taste based on how you feel after eating or drinking something.