Monday, June 13, 2011

The Chicken Soup Aroma in Black Tea

What does chicken soup have to do with tea? This is certainly not my favorite weather for hot soup, and I have not had a bowl of chicken soup in some time, but I have unexpectedly encountered the familiar, distinctive, and comforting aroma and flavor of chicken soup in several black teas that I have sampled:

This following photo of a bowl of chicken soup was contributed by RWS and is available on Wikimedia Commons under both GNU FDL 1.2 or later and CC BY-SA 3.0 licenses.

Which black teas taste like chicken soup to me?

The first tea in which I detected the aroma of chicken soup was Rishi Tea's Keemun, which is a black tea produced in the style of Keemun, but grown in Hubei province, rather than Anhui where Keemuns are traditionally made. I made a note of the interesting chicken-like qualities of this tea, but did not think much of it more until I tried Upton Tea Imports' Kaimosi Estate GFBOP1, which was a very different tea from Rishi's Keemun, but had a definite chicken-soup character as well. Then, recently I sampled Upton's Hubei Keemun Ji Hong, which, interestingly, I found very similar to Rishi's Keemun (although several months have passed since I tried that tea, so I cannot truly say whether or not they would be distinguishable side-by-side).

Why do these teas resemble chicken soup?

In terms of the flavor, I found all three of these teas to have a light, thinner quality, combined with a savory (umami) presence, with an almost salty quality. This helps explain the flavor experience.

What explains the presence of this aroma? I honestly have no idea but I find it fascinating. In general, I am quite fascinated by the diversity of smells that appear when drinking pure teas. Tea may be from a single plant, but the diversity of history of cultivation, different growing conditions, and different processing methods produces all sorts of fascinating resemblances to other foods.

Have you ever thought that a tea, black tea or otherwise, seemed a bit like chicken soup to you?


  1. For me, this "chicken soup" quality would be described as "savory." I can definitely say I know what you are referring to, but as to a specific tea, I couldn't tell you.
    The salty flavor sometimes present in Keemuns definitely does play a roll in the similarity.
    I enjoy the "out-of-the-box" posts of yours! Definitely makes me think!

  2. Haha, thank you! I thought again about your quote "The endurance of the hog related qualities is unshakable" when writing this post.

    The "chicken soup" quality is not just savory. I have tried a broad range of teas which have savory qualities (i.e. Gyokuro, some Chinese greens, Monks Reserve (Darjeeling oolong) from Castleton Estate), but which did not have anything in their aroma that much resembled chicken soup, at least in my perception.

    These teas that I discuss here, very strongly suggested chicken, as much as that tea of yours suggested pig to you.

  3. That is quite true! I guess I have not tried anything that really screams "chicken soup" at me. I may just have to sample a few of the teas you have suggested in this article!

  4. Hi AZ. I just posted a review of an organic high mountain Taiwanese black tea in which I referenced this post!

  5. That's interesting, thanks!

    One thing I've started to realize is that there are multiple ways of describing the same aroma, so if certain smells, foods, or seasonings are familiar to you or in the forefront of your consciousness, you will be more likely to detect them when sampling a tea, or any type of new or unfamiliar food or drink. I wonder if that's what's at work here? And here's a link to your post in case anyone wants to check it out.