Tasting tea is primarily based on three sensory elements: how we experience the tea on our taste buds and in our mouths, how the aroma enters our nose and how we experience the tea visually with our eyes. Rinse and Repeat.
During my studies one additional element came to my mind, which we seem to take for granted: sound. Most of you will say: what kind of nonsense, you cannot hear tea, tea does not speak to us.
One of the most powerful quotes I heard about this was from one of my idols, owner of the famous tea house, Maison des Trois Thés, tea master Madame Yu Hui Tseng: “You have to listen to the tea, you need to enter into a conversation with the tea.”
I first wanted to dismiss this thought as well, but the fascination with it would not go away. I kept thinking about how we experience tea with our ears. And again I went back to my childhood memories and it became clearer to me.
Sound is an important element, when we prepare tea. We can easily remember the sound when the water kettle is ready. The whistling sound would give us the signal that it is time to pour the water on the leaves. When the water is boiling at its highest point, we respectfully listen to the energetic rolling thunder of the boil.
We all love the comforting sound of water being poured into a cup and slowly filling up, with the pitch of the sound becoming higher and higher. We hear the sound of the piece of sugar dropping into the cup or the milk being poured. We hear these sounds and they complete our tea experience. It is like added comfort to our soul.
Sound can have an important role on the overall experience. Think of drinking a cup of tea in the middle of a noisy construction area with cranes and sledge hammers around you. You will be too distracted to enjoy your cup, no matter how good it is. Just think of sitting next to a beautiful river with its soothing sounds and birds singing to us. What a wonderful cup of tea you will enjoy.
In a more scientific way we also find the confirmations. The nerves which are connected from our brain to our taste buds and our nose also have links to our ears. So even if we don’t hear tea, our organs we use to experience tea are all connected to each other.
I wanted to go one step further in my studies to see how sound can assist the professional tasting experience.
I started listening to the sounds during the sensory evaluation. I used sound during the evaluation of the dry leaf. I noticed, that when lightly squeezing leaves you could hear a crackle.
Sometimes more prominent, sometimes less. In sensory evaluation this could be a sign of leaves being too dry or being very fragile in structure. In any case it would provide additional information about the inner life of the processed leaves and could provide further information on the quality of the tea or a factor when choosing the right infusion time and temperature for a respective tea.
Tasting and smelling complimented by the visual evaluation will always take on a primary role when experiencing tea. But sound plays a role which we might not consciously realize, but when recognized, can help us to heighten our awareness of an amazing tea experience.