Tea Tasting: A Guide to Bellocq Teas
From their atelier in Brooklyn's Greenpoint, Bellocq founders Heidi Johannsen Stewart, Michael Shannon and Scott Stewart shared this introduction to their teas, along with tips for preparing them and best savoring the nuanced fragrances and flavors.
Different tea styles are created through oxidation. Oxidation is the aging of the leaf that naturally oc-curs, after picking. During production the oxidation process is controlled, accelerated, and halted by the grower through sun withering, steaming, roasting or frying. This influences the flavor and visual appearance of the leaf.
Black Teas: Fully oxidized
Oolong Teas: Semi-oxidized
Green Teas: Little-to-no oxidation
White Teas: Little-to-no oxidation
Pu-erh: Aged, post-fermented teas created from various levels of oxidation.
Other Teas: Herbal teas, including rooibos and yerba mate, are made from a vast number of plants, but not from the Camellia family.
(It is a common misconception that all black teas are high in caffeine, and all white teas low in caf¬feine. In fact, a mediocre black tea, light bodied with a dark liquor can be lower in caffeine than a high quality white tea that produces a complex aromatic pale brew.)
Tea should be stored away from direct light or heat, in an airtight container. Green teas will remain fresh longer if stored in an airtight container, in the refrigerator.
The first step in tea preparation is observing the leaf. Good tea leaves will appear fairly uniform, bright and clean with a certain vibrancy, and without a dull finish. Leaf color can vary be¬tween varietals from silvery-pale green and across the spectrum to black. By observing the quality of the leaf, you will get an idea of the tea’s potential.
Preparing the Tea
Water: Tea is a journey of water and relies upon it to release its beauty, and therefore, the quality of the water is essential. We suggest using spring water, or filtered water.
Water Temperature: Brewing tea at the proper water temperature is essential to releasing the full experience of the leaf. A temperature too high will scald a white or green tea and leave it bitter, while a low temperature will render a black tea ‘flat’ on the palate.
Amount of Tea: Generally, the rule is 1 teaspoon of loose tea per 8 ounces water.
Steeping Time: Steeping time varies between different styles of tea but should be followed in order to experience each tea to its fullest potential.
Observations to Note
Aromatic Evaluation: When tasting tea, one inhales the aroma first. The aromatic palette may include: animal, forest, woody, hay, vanilla, burned/smoky, spicy floral, citrus, oceanic, plant, and milky notes.
Tasting Evaluation: Next one tastes the tea, gently aerating the brew on the palate. Taste sensations can include: bitter, sweet, bittersweet, sour, umami, salty and sugary. Some notes of the aromatic palette are fleeting while others are persistent and linger.
Observing the Brewed Tea: Also known as the “liquor”. The brew may range in palette form clear, through shades of pale to golden yellow, jade, amber, mahogany, chestnut brown to black and may appear crystal clear, opaque, cloudy or even milky.
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