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Tea tasting is a process by which tea tasters determine the character, quality, and value of tea. The tasters examine the tea both before and after preparation, and then give their verdict. This is a very specialized task and very few are equipped to do it.

The physical examination gives the tasters an idea about the presence or absence of fiber, dust and stalk as well as the care taken in sorting and grading. New teas do not crumble easily when pressed in hands while the aroma from the warmed teas helps in distinguishing between Oolongs, Ceylons, Javas, Africans, Indians, and most black teas. This process also helps in determining the tea quality.

The open, flat leaves infuse quickly while the well-twisted leaves take longer to yield the full flavor. The taster then sniffs the aroma and looks at the infused leaf for color, evenness, and brightness. A bright, penny-coppery-colored infused leaf indicates good quality black tea; a dull-brown color is a sign of poor liquor; while mixed, uneven, and green color indicates that the liquor is raw or thin in taste.

Now the taster checks out the liquor itself in bright and consistent light. Light, bright greenish-yellow liquor indicates quality, body, strength, and pungency in green tea; dark or brownish-yellow color often indicates old or poor leaf. Young green teas yield very light liquors, while the finest oolongs have a pale amber color; Darjeeling tea yields light colored liquor.

Finally, the tasters proceed to the actual tasting of tea. This is the final confirmatory step that verifies or nullifies the physical indications. The tea is normally tasted at 106 degree to 110 degree Fahrenheit. Astringency or pungency of tea is not a taste, rather a sensation felt on the gums and cheeks. The body, or thickness, of the tea is determined by the weight or viscosity experienced when the liquor is swirled roughly in the mouth. The real sensation of tea is experienced more by the nose than mouth.

The flavor judging system - the nose and tongue - is one of the most sensitive of all our senses and therefore fatigues easily. Thus a taster can taste a maximum of two to 3 dozen varieties of tea in a day, after which he or she is required to rest for around 50 hours to remove any previous impressions. Each tea expert specializes in a particular flavor or odor, and should not be used to test tea out of his group -- if he or she is to deliver the most terrific results.