In the world of unseasoned tea drinkers, bitterness and astringency might be synonyms. But oh no, not when it comes to us, tea connoisseurs! In fact, bitterness and astringency are two totally different profiles on the spectrum concerning the taste of tea. We'll break down why.
The Taste Of Tea and How To Do A Tea Tasting
First, a bit of how we like to do a proper tea tasting.
Doing a tea tasting is important, especially when you want to try a new tea you just bought. We've written a comprehensive post on tea tastings before. However, here's a small recap:
Prepare your teaware and warm it up by pouring hot water over it.
This cleans the teaware and makes sure it's warm for receiving the tea leaves.
Measure the amount of tea leaves using a precise kitchen scale.
*Note 1: You can experiment with the amount of tea leaves after you are acquainted with the tea. However, for the first brew, we always recommend sticking to the instructions on the packet.
*Note 2: teas are very light. You'll usually be dealing with small amounts of up to 6 grams per gong fu tasting. We recommend investing in a precise scale that can notice minute differences in weight.
- Pour the tea leaves into the brewing vessel. Since the vessel is already warmed up, you'll be able to sense a strong aroma of the tea leaves. Sit with it for a moment.
- Follow the water temperature and brewing time instructions to brew the tea leaves.
Taste the tea by sipping it in small sips.
Let the brew sit in your mouth for a moment. Take note of the taste. This is when you might notice some bitterness.
Take note of the mouthfeel.
This is when you might notice some astringency.
- After swallowing, note the aftertaste.
Bitterness Vs. Astringency
Although sometimes confused, bitterness and astringency are two totally different profiles that come from different molecular compounds. You can learn a lot about tea by learning to distinguish these profiles.
When it comes to the taste of tea, bitterness is an undesired taste, while astringency is a desired mouthfeel. Tea enthusiasts favor astringent teas.
Bitterness is one of the five main flavor profiles. That is, alongside sweetness, sourness, saltiness, and umami. Naturally, humans have a slight repulsion towards bitter things. This is because many inedible and even poisonous things are very bitter. The revulsion towards bitterness is what kept our ancestors safe throughout history. Furthermore, the bitter qualities of fresh tea leaves are what keep many predators at bay.
Some common bitter foods are bitter melons, radishes, orange peels, and many more.
Naturally, larger leaves have more bitter qualities than young shoots. They need to develop stronger anti-predator qualities. Also, teas that grow in hotter climates where there are more pests have more potent bitter qualities.
Most people don't like their teas to be bitter. Furthermore, bitter teas are a common sign of bad quality. Hence, for centuries, tea farmers have been deploying various techniques to keep bitterness at bay. For example, growing teas at high elevations and picking young shoots in early spring.
To avoid bitterness in your tea, make sure to follow brewing instructions and not over-brew your tea.
Ya Shi Xiang Dan Cong Oolong is a pleasantly astringent tea.
Astringency is actually a mouthfeel and not a taste. It can be described as slightly mouth-drying. Furthermore, it lingers on the palate and progresses with each sip. Moreover, lingering astringency is actually much favored by seasoned tea drinkers.
Some common astringent foods are pomegranates, parsley, bananas, and many more.
Furthermore, polyphenols cause astringency in tea. When speaking about tea, we call them tannins. If your tea gives off a prudent drying feeling and long-lasting finish, it means it's high in tannins.
In conclusion, bitterness and astringency are two very different profiles. Tea connoisseurs may often seek out a well-balanced astringent tea, but never a downright bitter one.