There are approximately 300 types of aromas which can be found in the tea leaf and the liquor of the tea. Many of these aromas have desirable notes and are often highly fragrant which is what makes tea so pleasant.
The different types of aromas are attributed to things like altitude, climatic conditions, country of origin, manufacturing processes, and the different clones of the camellia sinensis plant (tea plant).
Professional tea tasters call the aroma of tea, the nose or the bouquet. This nose or bouquet is attained from the smell of both the dry leaf, wet leaf and the liquor after steeping. Tea is generally is described as having a top note, middle note, and background flavour or base note.
Similar to aromatherapy blends these notes come together to create the profile of the tea. This is particularly important when a blend is being created but it also gives specialty teas their unique characteristics.
Professional tea tasters take many, many years to educate their palate and their sense of smell and in that time taste hundreds of teas. They judge tea by using their senses of sight, smell and taste.
Some words used to describe aroma are bakey, biscuity, burnt, fruity, floral, earthy, pungent, smoky, sweet, cut grass or vegetal.
Just as roasting coffee changes the bean profile, it also can change the aroma and flavour of a tea leaves. High fire roasting means that the tea leaves will be sweeter, fruitier and darker. This can be due to the sugar transformation within the leaf. Aromas will change considerably after being roasted at high temperatures. Low temperature roasting can mellow out the texture, which in turn will create a smoother cup and the aroma will be less modified.
The best roasting is achieved using bamboo baskets over open fire and the roasting process can take anywhere from a few hours to several days or weeks. This is where the importance of a tea master comes in. Just as a coffee master roaster creates profiles for certain beans after testing for moisture and other variables, a tea master will do the same for tea. Over a period of time while the tea is roasting, the tea master must carefully watch the leaves, smell the aromas and taste the tea so that he or she can control the overall process.
Some famous roasted teas are hojicha from Japan, long jing from China, tung ting, a beautiful oolong from Taiwan, and aged puerh from Yunnan province in China.
Please share with us if you have tried any of these teas and what aromas you experienced from them.