It is a day filled with multiple tea infusions and tastings – doesn’t that sound absolutely heavenly? The process of tea tasting is much more than what it sounds. Cup after cup, tea after tea, you’re activating your five senses to create your own palate. After examining the dry and wet leaves and taking in the aroma, you’re tasting the liquid that will hopefully register with you. When tasting a tea, slurping is key. While that may seem impolite, slurping is necessary to experience the full flavour of the tea on all parts of your palette. By slurping, you are cooling the tea and allowing it to swish all over the parts of your tongue because you do not swallow it right away.
Don’t fret if the right words to describe a tea during your tasting doesn’t roll off your tongue (so to speak) right away. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time for the tea. Everyone has a difference experience – that’s what really counts. Think of it as it is, an art. As you refine your palate and practice through more tastings, the right words will come easily. How to taste tea is an entirely different subject on its own. You can learn great points in this article on Serious Eats.
Similar to wine tasting, or even smelling different scents of perfumes, a palate cleanser is sometimes necessary to be able to switch from one item to the other and not cross over the flavours or aromas. To palate cleanse simply means removing residuals in your mouth to enhance your tasting experience. I’ve learned that palate cleansing may not be for everyone though. Some tea tasters do not feel they need to cleanse their palate when moving from tea to tea to sip. However, for myself, I find it easier to distinguish complex flavours and other qualities after neutralizing my taste buds. Perhaps with a few more tastings under my belt, this may change. But for now, cleansing my palette is a simple act and here are a few of my favourite items to help with the process between teas.
1. Pumpkin Seeds
2. Unsalted Crackers
3. Unsalted Pretzels
These items are quite effective because neither have strong competing flavours. Their neutral flavour elements reset the palate perfectly when I’m jumping between teas and they don’t usually leave a lingering taste that mixes in with a tea. I also enjoy the convenience of being able to just throw them into my pocket or bag and carry around through tastings as they are typically in small packaging.
What I have used to cleanse my palate are definitely not the only options out there. In fact, the idea for this blog post first came from hearing about the use of bananas as a palate cleanser. It is said a banana’s mellow flavour can cancel out any lingering aftertaste from another tea. I always believe that it’s best to learn more about the subject of the Leaf through other tea enthusiasts. This one option had me curious and want to learn more about what others could possibly be using as a palate cleanser if they are at all.
Here’s what a few Tea Sommeliers had to say when asked if they cleanse their palates:
“Half of the time, I will taste back to back making it easier to determine if one tea is sweeter, brisker, light or bold, etc. then the other. When I do need to cleanse my palate completely I take a page from sushi chefs and chew on a very tiny piece of ginger for a few seconds. I find the spicy almost tangy taste counter balances the tea and refreshes the palate very quickly without dulling it like I find carbs can do.” – Heather Mulholland, Tea Sommelier Student and Tea Writer at Tea with Me Blog
“David and I have done multiple tea tastings across Asia and North America and have seldom seen any tea blenders or tea sommeliers cleanse their palates between sips. In our experience, the teas are arranged from light to dark (ie. white tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea and finally pu’er tea) during formal cupping sessions. The tea is slurped quickly to create an even spray throughout the mouth while allowing the tea to mix with oxygen. This helps brings the flavours of the tea to life.” – Sarah Wilcox, Certified Tea Sommelier and Co-Founder of Genuine Tea
“Apple slices, a piece of banana, or a lightly salted cracker or piece of hard white bread (like a baguette). Make sure there’s nothing too salty or sweet, just something to reset your palate. A little piece of ginger can also work well. Sometimes I sniff coffee beans like they do in perfume stores. I might also just like an excuse to sniff coffee.” – Mel Hattie, Tea Sommelier and Tea Writer at Mel Had Tea
In the end, it is most important to not overthink what you use to cleanse your palate, if you even do. As you may have noticed, results vary between individuals, and this entire experience is something you are in charge of. Finding what is right for you is part of the process to enjoy the beverage. If a tea makes you feel good, you’re on the right track.