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 well known in the western world too. You can often find it 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 taste that spreads across the tongue, coating it thoroughly, lingering, bringing a mouthwatering sensation. Umami taste is best described as a savory taste.
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, has perhaps 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, picked early and without a lot of sun exposure (as gyokuro, 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, warming qualities.