Astringency in Tea
When we offer samples of tea at Selby Gardens or the Sarasota Farmer’s Market, many people respond with, “I don’t like the taste of tea.” Our standard cheeky response is, “Because you have never tasted our tea?”
After probing a bit, people describe the bitter taste of tea. The root cause is typically oversteeping, which is why we are so specific with steep times at Local Tea Company. Loose leaf tea offers so much flavor, and when prepared incorrectly, will become astringent.
Astringency is that dry, puckering sensation that follows a sip of strong tea, an assertive red wine, or a bite into not quite ripe fruit. Tannins are responsible. They are polyphenols or natural defensive compounds that actually help deter bacteria and fungi growing on the tea leaf. The sensation of astringency is caused by the ‘tanning’ of the proteins in the mouth’s saliva and mucous membranes. Besides, this causes the surface tissues actually to contract and reduce lubrication.
Tannins tend to get some bad press because they are often confused with tannic acid. However, tannic acid is derived from oak leaves and is used for tanning leather! When I was young, I remember well the threats from Dad that I would “get a good tannin if I misbehaved.” I guess this is the source of the phrase? In other words, and to set the record straight, I do not have a leathery bottom now. The threat served its purpose, and I am always a good girl!
The Camellia sinensis tannins found in loose leaf tea are responsible for the wonderful flavor and color in tea. After that, a little astringency is nice, giving your drink some body and briskness (I love that word!) and cleansing your palate after eating. That’s why a cuppa always tastes so good after dinner. You will find tannins very evident in green tea and especially black tea if steeped too long.
I will let you on to a little secret, though you may already know about if you drink your tea like the Brits. If you add milk to the tea, the tannins attack the milk’s proteins rather than those in your mouth, and you have a less astringent taste.
Last but not least, Tannins are said to keep bad bacteria out of your mouth and help impede dental cavities. In conclusion, celebrate Hot Tea Month and make your Dentist happy by drinking lots of tea!