One of the most prized professionals in a tea plantation is the tea taster. It is this individual who judges the taste and flavor of each brand of tea. Based on this individual’s verdict a company goes ahead and markets the tea.
The tea tasters take years to perfect the art of tasting. They hone their senses of smell, sight, touch and taste to pick up the finest nuances of a tea’s flavor, aroma, color, viscosity etc.
The tea tasting process is like a ritual. The samples are arranged in a row or around a round table. Each sample is numbered, and placed next to the tea taster’s lidded cup and bowl. A row of steaming kettles is kept close to the table for the tea taster to infuse the tea.
The tea taster first examines the tealeaves. This is both a visual and a physical examination. The leaf is then transferred to the lidded cup and the tea taster pours boiling water from a kettle. The infusion time is normally six minutes, but a tea taster can change the infusion time.
The liquor is then transferred to the bowl, and the lidded cup is turned upside down. The wet leaves that fall on the lid are then examined by the tea taster. The taster also examines the liquor for color, aroma and viscosity.
Now, the tea taster is ready for the final act, of tasting the tea. The tea is scooped with a special spoon and sucked at a speed that is around 125 miles per hour. The sucking produces a loud, slurping sound, which is not pleasant but which sprays the liquor in a fine, thin mist to all parts of the mouth. It is this spray that becomes the tea taster’s final sample. The tea is then expelled in a gaboon, or a spittoon, and the tea taster gets ready to taste the next sample. On an average a tea taster tastes 15 to 20 samples. Each sample is tasted twice, the first time to get rid of the flavor of the last sample and the second time to assess the actual qualities of the sample. The tasters allow the liquor to cool slightly before they slurp it. However, even then the tasters are used to getting the insides of their mouths scalded.
Good tea tasters are in great demand. They also command a high price. And why not. The art of tea tasting is unique. Very few people can do it. Those who can make full use of this skill.