Tea World

Lesson 25

Who is a Tea Taster?

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Tasting tea is different from eating a meal to satisfy hunger. A tea-taster is not taking tea out of thirst, but to taste and evaluate it.  For that he must go from a distracted, diffuse state of consciousness into one of concentration and awareness.  

The tea taster’s function is specialized, demands talent and developed over years of training and experience. He carries out a comprehensive examination of the samples and apart from the sense of taste, the sense of sight, smell and touch are also used simultaneously to judge the value of a tea. Tea tasting is a precise skill and one that can be performed only with a good natural palate and active olfactory nerve. Trained, sensitive taste buds and a keen nose are essential to judge the quality of a tea in so short a time. An excellent palate memory is a must as he should be able to compare it with the teas he has tasted over the years. Apart from tasting and describing tea, the ability to value a tea calls for long experience and knowledge.

Tea tasters are normally employed in Tea Auctioning firms (all auctioneers are tea tasters), blending and packing firms and some of the larger producing companies. They acquire their skills mostly by on-the-job training.

Role of a Tea Taster

The role of a tea-taster is to make comparative judgments that will guide professionals – tea-traders, blenders and retailers in downstream transactions. The taster is the first individual to taste   tea after it leaves the garden and it is the taster employed in a tea brokerage house who helps to determine value and set price.  

Further down the supply chain, hundreds of individuals will taste teas on offer to determine if they have the required quality and value in a variety of commercial contexts, in retail shops or teahouses, web stores, hotels or tea-bagging operations. The bottom line is that there is no perfection, no absolute good, only utility and price.

Tasters, who function as tea brokers  and auctioneers, should be able to relate both the positive and negative attributes of   tea to its manufacturer, as they are often required to guide the producers in making teas to suit the changing market requirements, e.g. a tea with greenish infusions and harsh liquors will not keep well, over-fired and smoky teas should be identified without delay so that corrective steps could be taken on time; during the quality season, harder withers should be able to monitor changes in demand patterns and production trends and his standing in the trade depends on how prompt and accurate he is in giving information to the buyers and producers. His most important function, of course, is to value the teas based on prevailing market conditions and the preferences and biases of the consumers.

The tea tasters, who work in blending and exporting companies, are fully familiar with the requirements of the various markets. The blender takes great care to promote the sale of the right type of blends to suit the local needs and also ensures that consistency is maintained in the quality to protect the brand image. The tasters should naturally be able to put these skills to commercial use by assessing the right time to purchase their requirements from the auctions. For this they should keep an eye on the climatic conditions and crop trends in the tea producing areas as well. There are also a few tasters employed in tea growing companies who perform the function of quality control and standardisation at the manufacturing stage.

Now you can easily imagine why the world of commerce, the fascinating, complex world of tea, needs tea-tasters.

Can we replace a tea taster?

Can we replace a tea taster and evaluate tea by chemical analysis?

It is unlikely that chemical analysis would replace the evaluation by a tea taster because the overall value of a tea as a beverage is much more than the sum total of its chemical ingredients. It is the taster who describes and values tea and his description of the liquor is based on taste. In its widest sense, which includes aroma, taste is a very complex property that has so far not been assessed chemically. 

Therefore, the tea taster continues to play a vital role in assessing the quality of   various types of teas produced, valuing them for market and creating the right blends for the common man, restaurant operator as well as the connoisseur.

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