Tea tasting is an essential part of the work of both tea brokers and tea blenders. Brokers taste teas in order to assess their value prior to auction, blenders decide which individual teas are needed for a standard blend. It takes at least five years to train as a tea taster and most will tell you that even after 40 or so years in the trade, they are still learning.
To prepare teas for tasting, the dry leaves are laid in containers in rows on the tasting bench. A specific weight of each tea is then placed in a special lidded brewing mug and boiling water is poured on. The brewing is very carefully timed, usually 5 or 6 minutes.
The brew is then poured into tasting bowls and the infused leaf tipped onto the lid of the brewing mug. Tasters in the U.K usually also add a specific amount of milk since most blends for the British market are designed to be drunk with milk. The taster works in much the same way as a wine taster. He slurps the tea sharply into his mouth so that it hits the taste buds, then he rolls the liquid around in the mouth to assess the flavor before spitting it out into a special mobile spittoon that can be rolled alongside the tasting table or bench. The taster also takes into account the appearance of the dry leaf, the infused leaf, and the color and quality of the liquor.