Thursday, May 11, 2017

All About Aroma!

Whenever people ask me about how to learn more about tea, I always say 'taste, taste, taste!'. But there's another important factor- use your nose! It's easy to forget, but aroma and taste of course go hand in hand. You can't fully taste without using your nose. They combine together to give you the full picture.

Think about how you perceive flavors with a stuffed-up nose- flavors appear muted or non-existent. According to this article (and quite a few others I stumbled upon), 80% of what we're tasting is actually coming from our sense of smell. Even without the research, the gorgeous aroma of a lightly oxidized oolong needs to be appreciated just as much as the flavor. Whenever I'm handed a plate of food, I always smell it first. I love getting a first impression through the aromas, and the same is true for tea. Without the aroma, you're not fully tasting the tea. 

When enjoying the aroma of tea, you can reference an aroma wheel to clearly identify what you're sniffing. That's probably a professional thing to do, but I like to just close my eyes and let the aroma tell me its story. Just like taste, aroma also has a powerful element of memory and nostalgia. I once had a light oolong that brought me back to childhood at my parents' house, hiding under the crab apple tree. It reminded me of a carefree, happy time. These days aromas usually bring me to a food, or a fruit, or flower. 

To get into things a little deeper, there are two phenomena that happen when you sniff and then sip your tea. Retronasal olfaction, and orthonasal olfaction. From a JAMA article from 2005
Retronasal olfaction is the perception of odors emanating from the oral cavity during eating and drinking, as opposed to orthonasal olfaction, which occurs during sniffing.1 The retronasal olfactory pathway, which contributes to the flavor of foods or drinks, is commonly associated with the sense of taste. 
My aroma set

Ok, that's as deep as I'll get into the sciency stuff...for now. While thinking about aroma, I realized I have an aroma set, designed to enjoy the scent of brewed tea. I'd only used it a few times since I'm not usually patient enough to sit and really meditate on the aroma before taking that first anticipated sip. The aroma cup is a neat little tool though. The tall cup (pictured above) is designed to capture the concentrated aroma, waiting for the user to discover hidden stories of the tea. It allows the tea drinker to experience aromas that may not be as apparent just from sniffing the surface of the tea.

Since I'm a klutz by nature, I need a bit more practice with the cups, but below is a little video on how to use it. First, you need to brew your tea- I used a gaiwan, and then poured the brew into a sharing pitcher. Then, you pour into the long cup, place the tasting cup on top, so the whole thing looks like a tall mushroom. Then you flip it over, and remove the tall cup. After the tall cup is emptied, bring it to your nose and inhale the beautiful aromas (that's the one thing you can't see in my video). Once you've experienced all the aroma, feel free to sniff and slurp the tea you've been waiting for.

I needed to sample Dancong Aria by Adagio, so this is what I decided to use for the aroma cup. Oolongs are so nuanced that they are great to use this way. As soon as I opened the bag, I was hit with a strong peach scent. It was so powerful I thought it may have been a flavored tea! But no, it was just the natural goodness of the mighty leaves. After brewing the tea and using the aroma cup, I was gifted with the aroma of peach, almonds, flowers, and dark chocolate. Even though the tea had left the aroma cup, it left a beautiful perfume behind. 

Dancong Aria
The aroma cup gives you an immense sensory experience without taste to change your perception. It is also a fun way to add an interactive step to your tea session. That is, if you can wait before diving in to that cup of tea! It might be a nice way to delay drinking a roasted oolong, when the water is so hot it could burn your tongue. I will definitely be using the aroma set for an upcoming Office Tea Club meeting.

Have you used an aroma set before? Did it enhance your tea session? How did it change your perception of the tea after you had a taste? Would love to hear your experience with it.

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