Tasting Tea like a Professional

Our first plantation manager Bill Benson reveals how he learned to become an expert tea taster, a process that has remained unchanged at Nerada to ensure you get the highest quality cup of tea.

Tasting tea all day sounds like a dream job, right? But it requires a great deal of skill to learn all the nuances a tea to be able to detect the subtle differences. A master taster can tell in which season a tea was harvested, where it came from and sometimes from which estate and at which altitude it was grown. A master can identify between 1,500 and 1,600 different teas. It truly is an impressive skill.

As pioneers of tea production in Australia, we’ve had to hone our tasting skills over time to ensure we can assess the quality of our tea to consistently produce the Nerada style you know and love. So, once our first plantation manager Bill Benson had finished the hard yakka of planting the Nerada estate, it was time for him to learn the fine art of tea tasting to ensure that the quality of the tea crop was consistent. Quite a contrast from his previous experiences!

Learning to Taste Tea

John Collins of Finlays Tea Estates in Kenya visited Nerada in the early days of the plantation being established and he was tasked with educating Bill in the ways of tasting tea. “We’d taste day after day. There would be 30 cups on the table at a time with samples from different fields,” Bill explains. “After a while you learn a pattern on your palate and detect differences between cup one and cup two, for example. With other cups, there’d be very little difference between them.”

“The tea was made using distilled water to ensure there was no taint and served in special tasting cups,” he says. “We’d taste it black first, then remake it all and serve it with milk to see the differences in colour.” Bill learned to taste tea over 30 years ago, but the process and what we look for when it comes to the Nerada style remains the same today.

Mentorship from Bill and John Collins saw our current plantation director Tony Poyner hone his craft, as they put him through the same rigorous training. “There isn’t really anywhere to go where you can learn these things, particularly here in Australia, so a lot of training was handed from one generation to the next,” Tony explains. “The thing with tea tasting is that it’s a time thing. You can have all the books and all the terminologies, but to link the terminology with the flavour profile, and the feel on the tongue – it takes years to understand and master. After the first year you think, ‘oh yeah, I’m a bit of a gung-ho taster’, but you realise after you’ve been doing it for a few years that it takes quite a while to get your palate mature.”

Why we Taste Tea

So why go through this gruelling palate-testing process? The short answer is, it’s a vital part of our quality control. It’s how we make sure our freshly harvested tea consistently tastes like the Nerada black tea that you expect.

Seasonal variations can cause our tea to have slight changes in flavour. This is all dependent on the weather conditions that the tea plant is exposed to. For example, how much sunshine did it get or how much rain fell. Tony tastes our tea daily at the plantation to ensure the differences in flavour are not extreme and the taste of the tea is consistent. We produce more than 1.5 million kilograms of black tea per year, so we have to be extremely thorough.

How we Taste

Tony starts tasting in the morning when his palate is fresh, after the first processing takes place at the factory. Just as Bill described when he was honing his craft, small white tasting cups are lined up and tea leaves from different parts of the plantation are brewed using distilled water to ensure it is pure and flavourless. The tea is first tasted black and then again with milk.

The first thing Tony does is look at the colour of the tea. This is why the cups are white so as not to interfere with hue of the tea. He then gives it a good smell to check the aromas of the tea. After that he takes a mouthful and swirls the tea around in his mouth so it coats his entire palate, that way all flavours can be detected and identified. He then spits it out, just like a wine taster, and describes what he has tasted.

Want to give it a go? The next time you make yourself a pot of Nerada, really inhale the aroma and swirl the liquor around in your mouth and see what flavours you can detect. You may have a secret talent

To taste tea like a professional, you need to train your palate to detect subtle differences in each cup. Luckily, Nerada has Tony tasting at the plantation every day to ensure your Nerada is of the highest quality and has that unique flavour you expect.  All you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy drinking your cup of Nerada tea – we’ve done all the hard work for you.