We believe Tea Review’s unique contribution to the tea community is to conduct objective, expert sensory evaluations of teas and report those results in the form of 100-point reviews. Our mission is to help consumers identify and purchase superior quality teas, which will help drive demand and increase prices and ultimately reward farmers, producing countries, and others in the supply chain for investing time, passion, and capital in producing high quality teas.
To that end, all Tea Review tasting and reviewing is done blind, which means teas are identified only by number at the time they are tasted.
Tea Review tasting protocols are standardized and conducted in accordance with ISO 3103, a standard published by the International Organization for Standardization, which specified a standardized method for brewing tea. According to the abstract, the method consists in extracting of soluble substances in dried tea leaf, contained in a porcelain or earthenware pot, by means of freshly boiling water, pouring of the liquor into a white porcelain or earthenware bowl, examination of the organoleptic properties of the infused leaf, and of the liquor with or without milk, or both.
This standard is not meant to define the proper method for brewing tea intended for general consumption, but rather to document a tea brewing procedure where meaningful sensory comparisons can be made.
Tea Review tasting reports and reviews often discuss socio-economic and environmental issues around tea production, economics, or consumption trends. However, we do not evaluate tea on the basis of what is cool, fashionable, profitable, or socially beneficial. And, while might personally enjoy seeing sustainably certified teas score high, or under-appreciated origins score unexpectedly well, or a small start-up tea company’s teas shine, we do not allow such personal preferences or whims influence our ratings, reviews, or reports. In fact, our blind tasting process would prevent any such personal preferences from impacting scoring or reviews.
The Tea Review Tasting Panel is currently working on developing and refining the scoring process and cupping forms that will be deployed by Tea Review. Sensory evaluations and scoring will take into account:
Cuppers will consider the appearance of the dry tea leaves as well as the color of the liquor.
How intense and pleasurable is the aroma when the nose first descends over the infused tea leaves and is enveloped by fragrance? Aroma also provides a subtle introduction to various nuances of acidity, taste and flavor: bitter and sweet tones, fruit, flower or herbal notes, and the like.
Flavor scoring encompasses quality, intensity, complexity, distinctiveness, balance, and authenticity to type or origin. An assessment of flavor includes consideration of the balance of basic tastes – sweet, bitter and sour in particular, and specific aroma and flavor notes, which are many and can be described by associations like floral (honeysuckle, rose, lilac, etc.), nuances of sweetness (honey, molasses, brown sugar), aromatic wood (cedar, pine, sandalwood) and above all fruit (from bright citrus to lusher, rounder fruit like apricot or plum, or pungent fruit like black currant or mango). Descriptors of flavor may also be global – balanced, deep, delicate, etc.
Body or mouthfeel
Body and mouthfeel describe sensations of weight, texture, and substance of the tea in in the mouth. Body can range from thin and disappointing to light and delicate, to medium or full, or even heavy and resonant. In texture, it can be creamy, silky, plush, syrupy, lean or thin. Unlike scoring for aroma, flavor, and aftertaste, in which intensity is generally a positive characteristic that reinforces quality, the score for body should consider that greater intensity may not contribute to a higher category score. Lower intensity but positive compatibility with type, origin, or other cup characteristics may merit a higher score.
Teas have varying degrees and quality of astringency, dryness, or brightness. Astringency can be a lively, clean and refreshing quality that is often called “brisk.” It is not bitterness nor sourness. Like scoring body or mouthfeel, scoring astringency should consider that greater intensity may not contribute to a higher score. Lower intensity but positive compatibility with type, origin, or other cup characteristics may merit a higher score. This category also evaluates the structure of the tea in the larger context of all of the basic tastes (sweet, tart, bitter, savory, umami) and their impact on the balance, resonance, and structure of the cup.
Aftertaste or finish describes reflects sensations that linger after the tea has been swallowed (or spit out). Generally, we reward teas in which pleasing flavor notes continue to saturate the palate after the tea liquor is gone, and the sensations left behind are generally sweet-toned rather than excessively bitter, sour, or astringent.
For further insight into how the Tea Review 100-point rating system and evaluation process is likely to function when it becomes fully operational, read How Coffee Review Works, a 2015 article by Kenneth Davids, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Coffee Review.