Umami: the sweet-savoury taste in green tea
Updated: May 6, 2022
It happened that, while I was describing the flavour of some green tea, I mentioned the Umami taste. Several people asked me what it was. So, Let's see together what it is.
Along with sweet, salty, bitter and sour, scientists now recognize another basic taste: Umami.
The term umami comes from Japanese and means, flavorful, delicious.
It was first identified in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a professor of chemistry at Tokyo Imperial University. While carrying out research on the origin of the intense flavour of kombu seaweed broth, Ikeda isolated the molecule that is responsible for it: amino acid L-glutamate, naturally present in many foods such as ripe tomatoes, shellfish, smoked salmon, aged cheeses, dried mushrooms, spinach, Marmite...and tea! For a long time, umami was not recognized as a taste in itself. Only after decades of research and thank to the Umami Research Organization, the International Symposium on Olfaction and Taste (Isot) in San Diego (1997) declared the Umami as a real taste, connected to specific receptors present on the tongue, in the stomach, in the intestine.
A certain Umami flavour can be also percepted in the tea.
You can hear Tea Tasters mention it especially in presence of Japanese or Chinese green teas. What gives green tea the Umami flavour is the L-Theanine, an amino acid present in the buds of the tea plant (Camellia Sinensis). During the development of the new shoots, the sunlight can turn the L-Theanine in other substances, such as cathechins. Therefore a large amount of L-Theanine can be present only in the tender buds protected from direct sunlight.
Teas from mountains, where clouds and fog act as a natural filter for the direct sunlight, retain a large amount of L-Theanine giving the peculiar hint of umami.
Chinese Lu Shan Teas are between them.
Where climatic conditions do not allow it, the bushes are artificially shaded for a few weeks before harvesting, to recreate the natural filters. This is typical of Japanese tea such as Gyokuro, Kabusecha or Tencha (used to make Matcha).
We can offer a selected range of teas from high mountains in our collection: Meng Ding Maofeng first flush, Huangshan Yun Wu...or Japanese Genmaicha, just to name a few.
To find out more, please visit trulyteashop.co.uk.