Before you drink the tea, you must smell it.
That’s the first lesson in Palais des Thés’ Grands Crus tea tasting class.
The 30-year-old French tea company last month launched a tea school in SoHo, where tea enthusiasts and newbies alike can learn more about the origins and different types of tea, how tea is made and how to properly taste it — starting, of course, with smell.
“Smelling is important when you taste tea,” says Palais des Thes founder François-Xavier Delmas while leading a special class on his company’s Grands Crus. “We can also smell the dry tea if you like.”
Delmas chose the four samples from dozens of Grands Crus teas the company sells — rare teas that are harvested in small batches and are only available for a limited time.
They include two green teas — an ichiban cha from Japan and a longjing from China — a black tea from Kenya and a dark tea from Malawi.
As the intimate class of four, including this reporter, smells each small brewed pot, we’re encouraged to describe the tea.
“It’s very French to verbalize the aromas and fragrance,” Delmas says. “You can spend a long time with the fragrance of it, what it reminds you of.”
The ichiban cha reminds Delmas of the seaside, while the longjing has a roasted quality, like chestnuts. The African teas both have an earthy quality and recall prunes and licorice, respectively, to Delmas.
Once you smell and verbalize, it’s time to taste. We slurp each tea, which is neither steaming hot nor ice cold.
“For the mouth, it’s not easy to analyze something that is very hot or very cold,” says Delmas, who is currently at work on a book about tea infusion in between his global travels finding and tasting tea. “We should think not only about hot and iced but think in-between.”
We work through each tea while also verbalizing the different notes and flavors, from the creamy ichiban cha — which demonstrates the “umami” flavor, Delmas says — to the astringent longjing to the light, fruity African teas while our teacher regales us with tales of his travels. When it’s time to pick a favorite, there is no clear winner.
In addition to the Grands Crus tea tasting, the school offers an introduction to tea tasting, covering everything from the plant to the cup, and an intro to matcha, during which students learn about the tea’s health benefits and how to properly prepare it. Custom classes and tastings can also be arranged, and all are taught by the company’s tea experts.