How to Host a Tea Tasting
February 1, 2022
There’s nothing cozier than a cup of tea, except maybe drinking a whole set of teas with friends. If you love the idea of a small gathering of trying and discovering new flavors and features of tea, then you should definitely host a tea tasting this year.
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Tea is such an unassuming word for something so broad and complex. In the simplest terms, tea is a drink made by pouring hot water over the leaves of a plant, specifically an evergreen shrub that is native to East Asia. But more than that, it’s the most consumed drink in the entire world, after plain water. So as you can probably expect, there’s a lot to learn and discover about this well-loved beverage.
First, technically tea comes from the tea plant, but in this guide, we’ll also use the term to refer to similar drinks made from infusing hot water with flavors such as chamomile, rooibos, or other botanicals. This category is generally called herbal tea.
Like most culinary histories, the one around tea is also a little fuzzy. Tea drinking likely began in China, in the Yunnan province, and was used for medicinal purposes. What we do know is that it’s been around for centuries, developed into many different varieties, and has spread around the entire world.
Planning a Tea Tasting
How many people should I invite to a tea tasting? A tea tasting works best with a small group, about four to eight people is the perfect number. This gives everyone a chance to share the cozy, intimate gathering. However, if you want to throw a big tea-themed bash, go for it. It just may be a little bit less organized and structured.
How many tea samples should I have for my tea tasting? Any fewer than three, and it’s not much of a tasting. Any more than eight, and the flavors and aromas will be difficult to keep separated in your mind. The sweet spot may depend on the theme or style of your tasting.
How does a tea tasting work? The good news is that if you are the host, you get to decide how you want your tea tasting to work and how to design it. Do you want it focused on the history and culture? Or maybe you are more into the scientific composition of tea, and how it acts as both a suspension and a solution.
But it’s a good idea to start somewhere. Here are a few theme ideas for your tea tasting, and some teas that you could try:
- A Rainbow of Tea Types: White, black, oolong, green, and even yellow tea all come from the same plant, but the differences come from how the leaves are processed.
- Teas Around the World: Focus on the differences between the tea culture in places like China, Japan, the United Kingdom, India, Russia, Turkey and more.
- Herbal Varieties of Tea: Once you get into the world of herbal, almost anything can be made into tea. Some common varieties include chamomile, rooibos, cinnamon, peppermint, fruits like peach or apple, ginger, dandelion, citrus, and many others.
- Blended Teas: Flavors can easily be added to tea, and it’s most common with black teas. You can find these in common varieties like English Breakfast, which is a blend of black teas, or Earl Grey, which also includes bergamot peel for additional flavor.
- The Tea Brewing Process: Focus on a single type of tea, but taste the differences when it comes to the temperature of the water, steeping time, and adding extra flavors like milk, spices, and sugar.
- The Brand Difference: Choose a specific variety of tea, and try the available products from a set of different brands. Major tea companies that you can find include Twinings and Republic of Tea, but you can also find local, small businesses.
What could be better than getting together with friends and family, and trying some fun varieties of tea? Host a tea tasting for a fun evening in!
Preparing Tea to Serve
Not all tea is created equal, and not all tea is prepared the same either. There can be a lot of nuance and opinions when it comes to the correct way to brew tea. From the water temperature, to the method of steeping, to how long to leave a tea bag in the mug, there’s a lot to think about. So let’s make it easy.
- Use good quality water. If you wouldn’t drink the water, don’t use it to make tea. Also use fresh water, not any that has been previously boiled. High quality tap water, filtered water, or even bottled all work, but you shouldn’t use distilled water.
- Weigh to measure dry tea. The general rule is three grams per eight ounces of water. This is about a heaping teaspoon, but the size of the leaves and the makeup of certain tea blends make weight a more accurate measurement.
- If the manufacturer of the tea includes instructions, in most cases, it’s best to follow them. They have had the chance to test and experiment with different brewing techniques, times, and temperatures, so they probably know what they are talking about. If there aren’t specific instructions, here’s some brief guidance on how to brew different types of teas:
Black 190-210°F 3-5 min Green 170-180°F 1-3 min White 170-180°F 3-4 min Oolong 170-180°F 3-5 min Herbal 190-210°F 1-2 min
- For a group, use a teapot. Brewing the tea all together in a pot assures that everyone will get the same experience. Many pots comes with infusers or tea balls built in. You can also add tea bags directly to the pot.
How to Taste Tea
You’ve done a lot of setup and preparation, and now it’s time for the fun part, the actual tea tasting! Before your guests arrive, set up the table with tea tasting note templates, so everyone can write down their favorite features of each tea. There are plenty of these available as printable downloads that you can start from:
Next, gather your supplies. When you are simply enjoying a cup of tea, you can use your favorite fancy tea cups or mugs. However, for tasting, it’s important to have a neutral white backdrop that you can use to easily compare color and appearances. White will also prevent the color of the tea cup from influencing your perception of the flavor.
When you are ready to begin tasting each tea, follow this simple process:
- Examine the dry leaves. If you want to have the tea ready, be sure to set aside some extra leaves in a small, white bowl for your guests to examine. Have them look for the color, appearance of the leaves, and any add-ins like florals or spices. Then have them smell the dry tea.
- Examine the steeped tea. Pour a cup from the teapot for each guest. For the best experience, use white ceramic cups, so it’s easy to see the color of the tea. Examine for color saturation and hue, as well as the clarity of the tea. Brewed tea liquid is called the ‘liquor’ if you want to sound extra fancy and technical.
- Smell the tea. Tell each guest to get their noses as close as they can to the tea, and take in a long, slow inhalation. Pay attention to the broad aromas, such as sweet, spicy, or floral. Then try to hone in on the details. Using an aroma wheel can help differentiate.
- Taste the tea. Don’t worry about being polite here, you want to make sure you are aerating, or taking in plenty of air with your sip to bring out all the flavors. Focus on the flavor, which is similar to the aroma. Start broad, and then hone in on specifics. Discuss it as a group and see if people are having similar or different experiences.
- Continue tasting. This time, take a sip and hold it in your mouth for a few moments before swallowing, moving it around your mouth. Try to pay attention to the way it feels, such as smooth or creamy or light. After swallowing, focus on the textures it leaves behind, like dryness or a coating feeling.
- Talk about the tea. Each variety can bring out something different in the drinker. Ask your guests how the tea makes them feel. Are they suddenly energized, relaxed, happy, or focused?
Tea Tasting Extras
Are you serving snacks with your tea? It can be fun to try to complement the flavors of the different varieties, or have something light as a palette cleanser. You could even feature treats that feature tea. In most cases, I like bite-sized sweets with my tea.
And when your tasting is over, don’t let your guests leave empty-handed. A small tea-themed favor can be a fun way to remember this event. Plus, if it’s something useful, they can continue their own tea-drinking endeavors.