May 2018 Newsletter

by Christopher

Happy Spring!


Spring has certainly sprung in the beautiful Pacific Northwest as we've enjoyed some delightfully warm days while trees and flowers blossom to greet the morning sun. Read on to learn about our spring tea sale, a brief lesson on tea tasting techniques, and info about two tea festivals to get on your calendar.

May Floral Tea Sale Event

Enjoy sale prices on several of our most popular floral teas. These teas are delightful when served hot and refreshingly delicious over ice. Sale prices effective through May 27, 2018.

Upcoming Tea Festivals

Entering its second year, Tea Fest PDX will be held on July 21st at the World Forestry Center (Cheatham Hall) near Portland’s zoo. The 2017 debut of this festival was a spectacular success with many great things planned for this year's event.

The Northwest Tea Festival enters its 11th year this fall having served as an award winning model for regional festivals elsewhere around the country. The 2018 Festival will take place September 29-30 at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall.

Modern Steep will be present at both festivals! We we look forward to greeting you in person while serving up samples along with specials on loose leaf tea and accessories. 

A Tea to Remember

A No-Pinkies-Up Lesson on Tea Tasting

If you’re reading this column, there’s a strong chance you've enjoyed a cup or two of tea at one time or another. But did you really taste the tea or discover “notes” hidden beneath the surface of this complex beverage? Here’s a simple run down of tasting techniques you can use next time you approach a freshly brewed cup of tea. While you might not utilize these techniques every time you sit down with a cup of tea, once you identify some of the more subtle traits of your favorite tea in a more formal tasting, there’s a better chance you’ll likely have more reasons to enjoy it next time you casually take a sip.

Your Nose Knows

Tasting starts with your nose! It is estimated that over 70% of what you’re tasting is derived from your sense of smell. Start your “tasting” by smelling the dry leaf just to get a small sense of what the brewed leaf might offer.

Once properly steeped, take a deep whiff of the wet leaves. How does it compare to the smell of the dry leaf? What aromas are you noticing? Is it floral, earthy, leather, grassy, fruity or something else? Doing this will “prepare” your palette for what comes later.

I like to use the following analogy to describe the importance of the smelling phenomenon . . . Let's say you approach a mug expecting it to be milk and blindly take a gulp only to realize it’s actually lemonade. Whoa! You probably just shocked your taste buds and cringed a little in the process when you got “tart and tangy” rather than “sweet and creamy.” Had you “prepared” for something citrusy, the lemonade would’ve been welcomed without the shock factor.

Note: As you prepare to taste your tea, we recommend tasting it at a temperature of about 130-140 degrees (F). Any hotter and you’ll likely miss out on some of the subtleties a tea may offer, let alone burn your mouth (insert sad face!).

Splish Splash

Now that you’ve prepared your palette, it’s time to indulge in some serious sipping. Give the tea a good old fashioned slurp! Yes, feel free to make rude noises as you bring in a lot of air while slurping up nature’s finest beverage. But wait! Don’t swallow quite yet. Rather, work the tea all over your mouth, exposing it to the all the surface areas – top, sides, bottom, up in your cheeks and all around the tongue. With over 10,000 taste receptors in your mouth, there’s a lot more to experience than what goes straight down the middle when casually sipping. Now that it’s in there, what do you taste?

Here are some meta-level terms commonly used to describe the taste of different teas: Sweet, woody, spicy, dairy, fruity, savory, nutty, mineral-like, floral, herbal, etc.

Sub-level descriptors may include: Smoke, lemon, orange, oak, vanilla, honey, bacon, fig, roses, cut grass, leather, tobacco, toast, stone, and countless others! You may use one term or a dozen to describe an individual tea.

What’s the Mouthfeel?

With the tea now exposed to thousands of receptors in your mouth, ask yourself what it feels like. Is it creamy like milk or thin like warm water? This will describe the tea’s body – light, medium or full. Is there bitterness; sweetness? Which parts of the tongue are activated? Does it create a sense of “drying” on your tongue or high up in your cheeks? If so, this would be an indication of astringency. Is it bright or mellow? Discover and describe for yourself all the ways your mouth is feeling.

The After Party

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to swallow the tea. Now what’s happening in your mouth? The lasting taste (and feeling) in your mouth is commonly referred to as the “finish.” Some of these “aftertastes” will last but a few seconds while others might linger on for an hour or more. One way to heighten this experience is to allow a little air to flow between your mouth and nose after swallowing. Again, the sense of smell plays a large part in what you’re “tasting.” Is the finish oily, dry, bitter, sweet or savory? Is it similar or different to what you experienced when it first hit your taste buds? Is it evolving? Does it leave you satisfied or yearning for more or something different?

If you’re like me at the dinner table, I save a little of what I like most on my plate to eat last. Doing so lets me extend the enjoyment of flavor(s) I like best after leaving the table. It’s the after-party experience and I want it to be a good one.

One last thing to consider during a tasting is how the tea makes you feel overall. For instance, many people will describe the effect of drinking matcha as providing mental clarity along with a feeling of being uplifted. Other teas may relax you or, in contrast, energize you. This is something to consider when selecting a tea to enjoy during different activities or time of day.

Wrapping it Up

Overall, we could go on for many pages with tips and techniques on tasting. This primer will hopefully give you some of the basics for experiencing tea in a new way. Create an informal tasting session of your own as an excuse to slow down for a minute while finding something new to enjoy next time you casually sip on your favorite tea. At the end of the day, however, fancy descriptors aren’t all that important. What matters most is . . . do you like it?

June Shipping Note

As part of the World Tea Expo Advisory Board, we’ll be traveling to this year’s Expo June 11–15. Online orders received during that period will be shipped out early the week of June 18th. We look forward to bringing back new ideas, teas and knowledge to share with you following the Expo!

Happy Tasting!

As summer approaches we’ll focus our June newsletter conversation on how to make great tasting, healthful and refreshing iced teas. Until then, happy tasting!