While current/recent events saw a world where staying put became necessary and traveling discouraged, there is a way to explore new worlds from your home: tea flights!
You’re likely familiar with the term “beer flights” or “wine flights,” and undoubtedly many of you have experienced them yourselves. Flights are comprised of sample sizes of generally four to six types of beer or wine for your sampling pleasure. It’s a great way to find out what you like and what you don’t without embarrassing yourself by asking for a dozen free samples.
Tea flights are the same idea: find out what teas you love and which ones aren’t up your alley. Doing this at home is super easy. We’ve got some tips on how to do this yourself-- get ready to discover a whole new world of teas from the comfort of your kitchen/table/couch and in your workout tights/sweats/pjs!
Your Flight “Crew”
You only need a few essentials to assemble your tea flight. While we recommend using loose leaf tea to get the fullest possible idea of how a tea tastes, sachets and tea bags are certainly fine.
- A teapot or an infuser. We recommend ceramic or glass teapots to make sure all you’re tasting is the tea.
- Some tea cups. For a true tasting experience, you should plan on at least three teas, but no more than six. If you choose to brew in a teapot, you’ll be brewing each tea individually, so more than three or four can become cumbersome. Using an infuser, sachets or tea bags will make the process go faster.
- A teaspoon for measuring your loose tea, like our Perfect Cup Tea Scoop.
- Filtered water is best for brewing tea.
- To make sure you’ve brewed your tea correctly, a thermometer. This is optional but if you decide to brew like a pro, all our teas have the recommended brewing temperature on the packaging.
- A tray for presenting your flight. This has nothing to do with tasting the tea, it just looks nice. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
- Some way to identify what each tea is, like note cards or sticky notes.
- Paper and pen to write down your thoughts. If you’re going to get serious about this, a journal where you can keep notes to refer back to later. You know, #teanerd.
- Tea! More on this in a bit.
What you don’t need is extras like cream, sugar, etc. You can add those another time if you like, but in order to really know what the tea tastes like, you need to drink it without additives. That, of course, does not include serving your flight with scones, biscuits, cookies or your preferred choice of in-flight snack. Peanuts come to mind...
Before you get started, select your teas. We always recommend starting with the lightest, subtlest teas and end with the darkest and most intense. Unsure where to begin? One easy way is to check out our Tea 101 page, where we have a short overview of the different types of teas and their basic characteristics. You can explore from there.
We also offer a variety of sampler sets that you can order to give you different options. Have you been saving those samples of tea that we send with every Harney order? Now’s a great time to use those. Whichever teas you choose for your flight, trying them in order of lightest blend to the darkest is recommended.
The most important advice we can give you, however, is advice given to my dad, Mike Harney, by his mentor and friend Bernd Wolf. This renowned German tea broker first taught my dad how to taste tea like a professional. In his book The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, Mike writes, “Bernd showed me the traditional British way to taste teas… but his most important lesson was to notice my own mood as I slurped and sipped. ‘Only buy teas that make you smile,’ he said.”
As my dad says, tea should always be a pleasure. Tea flights are a fantastic way to discover which teas make you smile-- and what makes you smile may make another frown. Old tea tasters have a favorite saying: “From ten tea tasters will come eleven opinions.” There really are no wrong or right ways to do this. But there is one best way.
To truly understand and appreciate a tea, paying careful attention to the brewing and tasting process is crucial. “Cupping” is the tea industry term for the steps taken to examine the dry tea leaves, brew the leaves, look at the brewed tea (known as the “liquor”) for color, smell the tea (more on that in a sec) and finally taste the tea.
While wine connoisseurs will swirl wine in a glass to release the aroma and then smell the wine, the proper way to smell tea is to drain the leaves and then bury your nose in the pot. Don’t hold back-- the first sign of a good tea taster is a few wet tea leaves stuck to the nose! The nose is also integral to tasting the tea, which is why tea tasters will slurp tea into their mouth, loudly, pulling the tea through their teeth, inhaling quickly and swishing it around in their mouth. This process allows the tea’s aroma to drift up to your nasal cavity, thereby exposing all the flavors the tea has to offer. You’ll be surprised by what a difference sampling tea this way makes.
You can read more about this process and how we rank our teas in our aptly named How Does Harney & Sons Rank Their Tea? blog post.
Take Note of Your Preferences
In addition to just being fun, the idea of the tea flight is to expose you to a wider world of teas. What did you love? What did you not find to your liking? Use those note cards, sticky notes or tea journal to jot down your thoughts. What aromas and tastes did you experience? What surprised you? Did you think lavender in tea sounded downright strange until you discovered you loved the light floral notes? Did a smoky tea transport you to your favorite camping spot? Take the time to note not only how the teas tasted but how they made you feel. Invite your friends and family to do the same and share your thoughts.
Possible Tea Flight Ideas
Mike’s book, The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, is organized chapter by chapter with tea tasting in mind. You can use it as a guide for choosing groups of teas to try in a very organized fashion. He’s also compiled a tea-tasting menu you can use to compare specific tea groupings.
- Matsuda’s Sencha Japanese green tea
- Panyong Congou Chinese black tea
- Spring Himalayan Orange darjeeling
- Bai Hao, aka Fanciest Formosa Oolong
- Singbulli 2nd Flush darjeeling
Have a Lovely Flight and Thank You for Flying HarneyNo matter how you choose to create your tea flight-- brew your tea and stick your nose right in those leaves, choose specific tea groupings or use the miscellaneous teas you have in your pantry-- the point is to enjoy the vast world of tea, create a special event and discover what makes you smile. Don’t forget to return your tea trays to their upright and locked positions. We’re always glad when you choose Harney to get you to your desteanation and hope to see you again soon!