How to taste tea
Start With A Flavor Wheel
A flavor wheel is an extremely useful tool, especially if you don't have experience tasting teas. This wheel is there to guide you from broad flavor identifications to much more specific ones.
The inside ring of the wheel has the most general categories of flavors like "fresh or candied fruit." Once you've identified that you are tasting something fruity, you can move to the next ring in the wheel. Is the fruit you're tasting tropical, citrus, berry, or a stone fruit? Next you can make your way to the third and last ring of the wheel to pinpoint what exactly you are tasting- strawberry for example.
When you are tasting a tea there will likely be many flavors layering over each other. The easiest way to identify them is to focus on one at a time and use this flavor wheel as a guide. Over time the flavors will become familiar and you will be able to identify them more easily.
This flavor wheel was created based off of the expert International Tea Master's Association (ITMA) flavor wheel.
Steps to Tea Tasting
Start by looking at the dry leaves and feeling them between your fingers. If a tea is good quality most of the leaves will look the same. If a tea is of poor quality you will have leaves of different shapes and sizes and there may be twigs mixed in with the leaves.
Once you've brewed the first cup, look at the color of the infusion- is it bright, pale, cloudy? The appearance of the brew can give you an idea of how light or heavy the tea is.
Smell the wet leaves and the tea infusion. This is your first hint at what the tea may taste like. Sometimes the smell of a tea is a good tell of how it will taste. Other times the tea tastes very different from what it smells like. Either way, the smell of a tea is part of its flavor profile so make sure to take a whiff!
If you've ever been wine tasting before you'll know that certain wines should be slurped to get a complete taste. The same is true for tea.
When you slurp a liquid you take in air at the same time, aerating it. This allows the drink to coat your entire palette and carries flavors from your mouth up through your nose. Slurping is an important step in a tasting to fully enjoy the taste and smell that compose the tea's overall flavor.
While the tea infusion is in your mouth, exhale through your nose. This will allow aromatic compounds to travel from your mouth up through your nose for a more complete taste of the tea.