Some like it hot….
….some like it cold
Some like it in the pot
chewy and bold!
Milk will feel a lot different from water when swished around in the mouth. Miso soup feels a lot different from clam chowder. The different components within the liquid will cause different mouthfeels, and the same applies to tea. Even though it is just leaf and water, lots of chemistry is taking place, right there in your teapot.
Not every leaf is created equal. Have you ever tasted a tea that just gave a long pleasing afternote, and your throat felt smooth and cool? The tea felt heavier in the mouth. A little thick and “chewy” and didn’t just disappear like water?
I can’t explain it in scientific terms, but in Chinese they use the word 膠質 (jiao zhi) which translates to “colloids”. Tea is a homogenous solution (I think) and not a colloid, but colloidal compounds in tea help to create that nice feeling in your throat. The higher on the mountain the tea grows, the more of these colloidal compounds are present. This is a reason why high mountain tea tastes so great and are in high demand.
Not every tea leaf grown at a high altitude will be amazing though. How much a leaf can offer as a beverage depends on the skill of the tea maker.
In order to get that chewy mouthfeel, the tea maker needs to remove the water content from the leaves evenly, yet keep the life of the leaf intact. This means the cell walls within the leaf can’t be damaged during the wilting and whithering process. Any moisture in the bit of stem still connected to the leaf needs to continue traveling up through the veins of the leaf and out. After the tea maker determines that the correct amount of water has left the leaf, the cell walls within the leaf are opened, releasing the 膠質.
One way to test a leaf’s colloidal content (I just made up that term because I have no scientific vocabulary) is to take a tea leaf that has been rejuvenated and squish it between your fingers. If it feels a little sticky, then you are feeling the colloidal content. (Used my new term twice. Ha!) If it is there, as you go through multiple steepings, stay aware for the cooling sensation in the back of your mouth and “chew” your tea. 😋