What Umami Tastes Like
When referring to teas, you might often encounter the term "umami", but what exactly is it? Here we will try to break down for you this somewhat mysterious word.
The term umami is originally Japanese, however, nowadays it is so well known to the western world that it is not rare to find it used on product labels, menus, food articles, and the like. It is also not rare to encounter this word in the tea drinkers community.
Umami is known to be the fifth taste, joining sweet, sour, salty and bitter. These are known as the basic, or primary tastes.
To define things in a more technical manner, umami is used mainly for substances combining the amino acid glutamate, as well as the nucleotides inosinate and guanylate.
So how can we detect umami?
Umami is a very delicate taste. Subtle. It is a taste that spreads across the tongue, coating it completely. Lingering. Bringing a mouthwatering sensation.
Green tea is known for containing a high amount of glutamate, an amino acid which produces a satisfying, savory umami taste. Anyone who has tried green tea will perhaps have sensed varying levels of sweet, umami, astringent, and bitter tastes. While the sweet and umami tastes result from theanine and glutamate, the astringent taste comes from catechin and the bitter taste from caffeine.
Teas that contain the most umami are first flush teas, made from young tea leaves that are picked early and do not yet have a lot of sun exposure; and gyokuro, as it is grown in the shade. On the other hand, teas like hojicha (made from mature leaves) contain less umami.
Of course, this is not to say that teas with lower umami are inferior. It all depends on the occasion. While drinking tea on its own or before a meal one might prefer a something with richer umami, lower umami teas are perfect after meals because of their mellow, refreshing qualities.