What do we talk about when we talk about mouthfeel? Surely, when you read tea descriptions, picking out which best suits your taste, you may notice something referred to as “mouthfeel.” The mouthfeel is an essential part of the tasting and understanding of every tea. Or even coffee, alcoholic beverages, and food! Of course, it’s impossible to escape mouthfeel if you are tasting something. However, some of us may not be used to paying it much mind. In this article, we’ll take a deeper look into mouthfeel and how to decode it during a tea tasting!
What Is Mouthfeel?
Mouthfeel is quite what it sounds like. Thus, we can describe it as the physical sensation a particular food or drink creates in our mouth. However, it’s different from the flavor. Furthermore, it’s not only how the tea feels in our mouth, but also the sensation we get on our palate after we’ve already drunk the tea.
Mouthfeel and Hui Gan
In Chinese, the combination of mouthfeel and aftertaste is referred to as “hui gan.” You may often hear of this in tea terminology. To sum it up, mouthfeel is really how the food or drink feels.
Particularly hui gan is quite an elusive term, and tea connoisseurs still debate its definition, much like cha qi. Furthermore, it has two different meanings. One refers to the aftertaste that stays in our mouth cavity after swallowing the tea liquor. It might be tied to a particular fragrance notes, a feeling of the tea soup's texture, or simply the cooling sensation that coats the back of our throat. The other meaning refers to a pleasant lingering sweetness after some initial astringency. Overall we can describe it as a long lingering flavor of the tea that stays with us past the tea session.
In scientific terms, the mouthfeel is actually quite important. In large, our brains decide if we like a particular tea or not based on the mouthfeel. For example, many people can’t stand an astringent mouthfeel, while others are pretty fond of moderately astringent teas!
There’s actually a very particular study of these concepts, called food rheology. However, we’ll try explaining it in clear terms and relating to, of course, tea.
Another common way of describing mouthfeel is by using the word “body.” For example, a full-bodied tea. A tea that might be described as heavy, thick, or viscous.
Some mouthfeel qualities actually do overlap with taste. So, for example, we may describe something as the taste of the tea when it is, in fact, the mouthfeel. In Chinese tea tastings, this is common, and there is even a word to refer to it - gan 感
Common Categories Of Mouthfeel In Tea
The Popular Three
Mouth-drying or astringent. You may notice, after drinking a specific tea, your mouth feels parched. This is most common with non-Chinese black teas. Some black teas produced in India have almost overbearing mouth-drying qualities. While we find the astringent qualities of Chinese black teas delightful and well-balanced. If you want to give this quality another try, we recommend trying a mellow Chinese black tea.
Heavy, dense, thick, or full-bodied. In Chinese, referred to as “feng fu”. This is felt by tea’s thick, heavy liquor, which often pleasantly coats the mouth. A typical example is Lapsang Souchong Black Tea.
- Creamy or milky. This is a similar feeling to drinking milk, and teas most definitely also possess this quality! For example, Milk Oolong possesses these qualities. It’s also one of the biggest reasons so many people favor tea!
Wuyi Oolongs are known for being rounded and thick, with a mouthwatering finish.
Other Categories Of Mouthfeel:
- Delicate, light, or light-bodied
- Smooth (like Liu Bao Hei Cha)
- Buttery or oily
- Silky (like Ali Shan Milk Oolong)
- Velvety (like Yunnan Dian Hong Black Tea)
- Mouth-watering (like Shui Jin Gui Wuyi Oolong)
- Brisk or crisp (like most green teas)
- Tingling (like Oriental Beauty Oolong)
- Tart (like Wild Orchid Raw Pu-erh)
- Cooling, refreshing, minty, or herbaceous (like Lu Shan Yun Wu Green Tea)
To sum it up, the mouthfeel is in large depending on the person. While certain criteria determine mouthfeel, and most people agree on it, there are still unaccountable aspects. Surely, we are all different and might sense certain qualities that others won’t. Indeed, other elements will interact with our perception of the mouthfeel. For example, if we’ve eaten something before the tea tasting or the like. In short, always feel free to experiment and write down your findings in a tea journal!
For more useful material on decoding the flavors, aromas, and feels of loose leaf tea, you can check out our tea flavor and aroma wheel and this article.