Chewy Tea

Spring Garden

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. 😋

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  1. Joni March 29, 2016 / 11:11 pm

    I love this kind of stuff! It’s part of why I’m way more interested in the chemistry behind fragrance than the commercial results of the industry (i.e., actual perfumes). And I’m pretty sure your term is actually technically correct, though I’ve only ever seen it mentioned in relation to clay dispersed in soil…but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t tell anyone that I use “multivariate” in non-math contexts, even though math is the only time I’ve seen it used. :p

    This is just me thinking aloud with plain jane high school chem, but I can’t help but wonder why tea isn’t considered a colloid. If a colloid is something that has one substance dispersed but not dissolved in another substance, tea seems to fit the bill. Wouldn’t the compounds in the tea leaves — flavor compounds, aroma compounds, whatever compounds contribute to mouthfeel and texture — be what gets dispersed in the water? But I’m just playing guessing games with limited knowledge, haha. Maybe I’ll try adding flavor chemistry to my fragrance reading, so I can understand more tea stuff.

    • Lisa March 31, 2016 / 7:23 am

      Hey! I think we need more crossover terms. It would make life more interesting! I had to get to the bottom of this colloid vs. solution debate. Looks like solutions are clear and light passes through them. A good cup of tea should not be cloudy or murky. Light passing through tea turns into liquid gold! ☺️ Colloids are cloudy and scatter light. Also, solutions don’t settle. (No compromises for those stubborn solutions! Lol!)The way I am looking at it is: my steeped tea stays like that, and the last drop has the same components as the first drop, no matter how long it sits there. This is unlike matcha which settles over time, and would need to be whisked again. But why would anyone let their matcha sit that long? Only in the name of science…

      • Joni April 6, 2016 / 5:39 am

        That makes sense…some things always seemed hard to categorize, though that might be because there are like eight types of colloids, from what I remember. I remember thinking it wasn’t weird that fog is a colloid but having a tough time with butter being one. Maybe I need Alton Brown to teach me (or maybe I just want chemistry lessons delivered in the form of tasty consumables).

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