A Simple Trick to Test Tea Quality

  • Holly Helt

We went digging...

and digging through posts that we did a ways back from the award-winning T-Ching blog...simply because we thought you might have a bit of time on your hands with this global lockdown. Hope you enjoy this little tidbit from last year!


T-Ching, September 2019

By Holly Helt

tea quality test with water

Have you ever experienced something so simple yet so profound that you wanted to shout it from the rooftops?! I know you can feel my excitement…


As a tea connoisseur yourself, I’m sure your palate knows if you like a tea or not. This is not what we will be discussing here. It’s about learning a simple trick to see if that tea you appreciate is a genuinely high quality tea.


Before I reveal the tip, there is a warning! I have yet to find any research on this little wonder…so how did I learn it?


Flash back to 2006 Guangzhou, where I was working with the Chinese Tea Agency. It was a time when I was meeting literally hundreds of tea producers who lavished China’s best (and worst) teas upon me. Gaiwan after gaiwan, sniffer cup after sniffer cup, I was getting high on drinking so much tea that flavor distinctions and quality testing flew right out the window. How could I tell if a tea was the real deal by drinking it? I had thought I'd lost the plot...


Enter a lovely tea merchant in Fujian who performed the most beautiful gong-fu ceremony for me after the 10-hour, one pit-stop, overnight bus ride organized by my government colleagues.


Along with smelling the teapot lid, not the pot itself, to reveal the tea’s deep fragrance, and then continuing to savor the fragrance in the sniffer cups, this gal still held the ultimate quality test up her sleeve.


After tasting the beautiful hand rolled Ti Kwan Yin oolong for its full life cycle of 5 steepings, this delightful young master smiled brightly, making me think it was time to go. But no. After our tea session and a 30-minute chat about China, life, tea and my family, she suddenly got extremely animated and pulled out thimble-sized cups, which were even smaller than the walnut-sized cups used for our tea. She proceeded to gracefully pour water into the thimbles, and not hot water, just room temperature.


“Please," she motioned to me. "Now, close your eyes and sip just one drop of pure, fresh water to experience the symphony’s encore on your tongue!”


And just as explained, a roaring encore of an intense sweetness came cascading over my tongue. I had never experienced such a come back after 30 minutes of chatting. We were tasting the tea’s heightened sweetness which was far more pronounced than the sips tasted during the gong-fu ceremony.


“A very high quality tea comes back sweeter on your tongue when you drink a drop of water. Don’t put anything into your mouth after tasting the tea because that would ruin the encore. Even after one hour, you can still taste it! The highest quality teas will have the sweetest taste after the longest time. This is the true test of a quality tea.”


Chinese teas and Japanese teas offer wonderful encore performances. It’s a great way to wow your tea-sipping friends to see if they can taste the sweetness! This trick works best for real foodies rather than for junk-foodies where the palate is in need of a good detox. Just saying.


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About Holly Helt

Holly is American and grew up in Japan drinking Japanese tea from age-three. She has studied two methods of tea ceremony, Urasenke and the lesser-known Yabunouchi, which has a direct lineage to Sen-no Rikyu (known as the father of the tea ceremony) ; it's also the school of practice for samurai. In 2012 she founded Chiki Tea - an online retailer of Japanese green teas, all sourced directly from small farms in Japan. Splitting her time between Japan and her home in Texas, Holly strives to bring the best teas from Japan to as many people as she can find to share in her life's passion.

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