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Some of us have experienced quite unusual taste notes while drinking tea. Varying teas offer different taste profiles, but sometimes a tea may exhibit unpleasant taste. Some tea tastes like soap and is rather undrinkable.
A few years back I bought a black tea from a well-known brand straight off the shelves in the supermarket. One evening I wanted to conclude the day with a large cup of tea, but I was heavily disappointed.
The tea I had bought tasted like plain soap. It was as if I was eating a bar of soap rather than drinking a cup of tea. It was disgusting!
I have since found out that I am not the only one to experience something like this and I have investigated what causes this unpleasant taste in tea.
SHORT ANSWER – Why Your Tea Tastes Like Soap
The reason for soapy flavor in tea is the abundance of certain compounds found in tea. Different factors increase the concentration of soap notes.
For soap smell or taste these reasons are most common:
1. You Are Oversteeping Your Tea
2. You Are Drinking Earl Grey Tea
3. Your Taste Has Changed
Thee Reasons For Soap Notes
1. Your Are Oversteeping Your Tea
The composition of teas is quite complex and all teas contain larger numbers of different compounds. Many of these compounds take part in the creation of the unique taste of each tea you drink.
The concentration of the compounds found in the tea you brew is responsible for the taste it has. With high concentrations of certain compounds, you may end up with a tea that tastes like soap.
If you raise the concentration of the compounds that taste like soap, your tea will taste like soap. If you add more sweet compounds like sugar, your tea will taste sweet.
There is a lot of correlation between the soap-flavor you have encountered and bitterness in tea. This post on why tea gets bitter explains in-depth what you can do to avoid bitterness and soapy taste.
Factors That Influence The Concentration
There are a few factors that increase the concentration of some or most compounds extracted while brewing the tea. Generally, more tea, higher temperature and longer steeping time creates a more intense tea.
The most essential brewing parameters you need to keep track of here are:
- Amount Of Tea Leaves Used
- Size And Insulation Of The Brewing Vessel
- Water Temperature
- Steeping Time
You need to adjust the amount of tea leaves according to the size of the brewing vessel. Depending on the amount you will also need to adjust the steeping time to fit both the leaf-to-water-ratio and the vessel size.
Brewing Recommendations To Avoid Soap Taste
For smaller teapots or gaiwans used for gong fu cha, you will generally need to use about 1 gram of tea per ounce of water (3 grams per 100 milliliters) with very short infusions. With larger teapots, it is common to use 1 gram per 10 ounces (3 grams per liter), but increase the steeping time to a few minutes.
I highly recommend you to try using a gaiwan to make tea, as this allows for much more control over the resulting tea. You can get a basic porcelain gaiwan on amazon for little money.
If you use water at a higher temperature, you will receive an intense tea. If you want your tea to taste mild and sweet, you should lower the water temperature to 160 °F / 70 °C instead. This temperature is not fixed, but most common with delicate teas. Anything in between can be the perfect temperature.
2. Earl Grey Tea May Taste Soapy
The most common tea to taste soapy seems to be earl grey tea. There are a few reasons, why this is the case. Many mass-market brands produce different versions of black tea with and without additives in tea bags for very low prices.
There is no need to differentiate between the large tea bag brands, as the difference in production is not particularly big. Some productions do not have this taste, but you will rarely find them on the shelves of a supermarket.
After trying a few different earl grey teas, I found the Organic Earl Grey from Harney & Sons to taste the least soapy.
The Crush-Tear-Curl Method
For one, the tea material that manufacturers use for this type of tea bags is most often produced with the CTC method. Crush Tear Curl is a harsh method to produce broken tea leaves for the mass market that is black tea and especially earl grey and breakfast tea.
With the Crush-Tear-Curl method, the tea leaves are broken into small pieces. This will result in a very large surface area.
This tea is an example of a tea produced by the CTC Method.
This allows for a smaller amount of tea to infuse larger amounts of water quickly, but will also result in the bitter compounds, polyphenols, tannins, caffeine, and other compounds to dissolve quickly.
These compounds, especially tannins, tend to give a dry mouthfeel in the same way that red wine does give that feeling. This does, together with the bitterness, enhance any soapy flavor that is in the tea.
Why Earl Grey Sometimes Tastes Soapy
The compound in this tea that creates the soapy flavor is the bergamot oil. This ingredient is what makes this tea different from other black teas. This bergamot oil tastes soapy in larger concentrations and will depend on the brewing parameters.
While not everyone will experience bergamot oil as soapy, those who will, can not be helped. Additionally, the low-quality tea leaves used to produce tea bags are often quite easy to get bitter and will result in a soapy taste.
If you made your experiences with soapy teas with earl grey tea, you will want to have a look at other teas. I am sure there are plenty of tea varieties out in the world that taste perfectly fine to you!
To get a taste of well-made black teas from Darjeeling and Assam, you should try this black tea sampler from Vahdam Teas. There’s even a tea bag black tea sampler available if you are more of a convenient tea enthusiast.
3. Taste Is Changed
Tea that tastes like soap may not taste that way to other people. It is possible that your taste is different or has for some reason changed. Your age, health, and lifestyle has
One common reason for weird taste and especially changed taste can be both sickness and pregnancy. When sick, especially with a blocked nose, you will notice a changed taste with foods and beverages.
Humans are capable of noticing tiny differences in taste and smell. You notice many nuances through the nose by smelling rather than tasting with the tongue.
With a blocked nose, you have less sense of smell and would not be able to tell the difference between a piece of potato and apple in your mouth.
A blocked nose, pregnancy and many other reasons for changing taste are not permanent and rather derived from some sort of change or sickness in your body.
There’s a lot more to learn about tea! If you are looking for a good place to start, I highly recommend the book Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties. You can check its current price on Amazon here.