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Detecting complex aromas can be difficult when we first get into tea. I know this issue was something I struggled with and it is probably one of the things that I get asked about the most. So first things first, you are not alone! Although some people might be naturally better at tasting food and drinks the truth is that you absolutely can get better at it by training your palate.
I don't mean the board artists put their paint on or the wooden flats used for shipping. Your palate is located on the roof of your mouth where it separates the oral cavity from the nasal cavity. In most cases when we say palate we really mean sense of taste. For the record, that is what I'm referring to here. Although I am not a professional tea taster, I have written over nine hundred tea reviews over the last eight years of blogging. These are some pointers that I feel have helped me along the way.
Drink as Much Tea as Possible
The only way to get better at something is to practice, practice, practice. I learned this early on during very screechy childhood violin lessons but the same mentality applies to tea. If you want to get better at tasting tea you have to do it a lot. Drink every tea that you can get your hands on, even if they aren't the highest quality. Even a bad tea can teach you something (as well as make you appreciate the ones that are sublimely good).
When I first got started I was writing for Teaviews.com so I had the good fortune of being exposed to a lot of tea in a short frame. For those that don't have that option, I highly recommend ordering samples sizes from a variety of vendors. Not every company offers this option but it can be a great way to try a variety of teas without going broke.
Try New Things
Humans are creatures of habit and we have a tendency to want to stay in our lane. Having a favorite tea is perfectly OK. There's a comfort in the familiar that keeps us coming back. That being said, there are thousands of varieties of tea out there to explore. Don't be afraid to drink a tea that might not be the kind of tastes you normally drink. You just might be surprised by how much you enjoy something like a cooked puerh or matcha.
I also strongly recommend that you keep on trying even if your first few experiences with a particular type of tea were less than stellar. Your taste buds just might not have been ready for it yet. It's also possible that the one you tried was a spectacularly bad example. When I first tried puerh I absolutely hated it. In fact, I refused to drink it for years. +JalamTeas changed my mind much farther down the road and I now drink more puerh than any other kind of tea.
One of the most efficient ways to train your palate is to comparatively taste two or more teas at once. Comparing and contrasting teas that have something in common. The fun of it is that you can really let your imagination run wild. For just about every question you might have about tea, there's a tasting that can help you to discover the answer. I find that this is always better than simply reading about something in a book.
Not sure what a 1st Flush Darjeeling should taste like? Compare several from different estates. Curious about the differences between the different types of Wuyi oolongs? Line up some gaiwans full of Rou Gui, Da Hong Pao and Qi Lan. Tasting different vintages of puerh can also be extremely educational.
Here are some comparative tastings that I've written about here on the blog:
➢ A Look at Black Tea Leaf Grades with Emrok Tea Factory
➢ Blind Tasting: Dragonwell - Organic vs Organic Supreme
➢ Tasting Puerh Storage Methods with White2Tea
➢ A Tale of Two Nanuo
If you really want to test your abilities, trying doing the same tasting blind. You'll be amazed at what your senses can pick up when you remove certain biases from the equation!
Taste (and Smell) Everything
It's hard to describe what you experience in tea without reference points. Consciously tasting and smelling as many things as possible really helps to broaden your mental Rolodex of sensory experiences. Flowers, fruits, and veggies are the ones you'll see used most often but try to go deeper than that. Old books, damp earth, and wet river rocks are all tastes you'll find in tea if you look deeply enough.
I was a picky eater for most of my life and because of that, my exposure to certain smells and tastes was very limited. Exploring tea has really changed my approach to food and drinks. I've definitely noticed myself becoming a more adventurous eater since starting this journey. The girl who never ate vegetables now lives for spinach.
Taking notes on your tea experiences is incredibly important, especially when you are first getting started. This blog was actually started for exactly this reason. No two tea drinkers will experience a tea in the same exact way and everyone has their own methods. I tend to jot down whatever comes to mind in a sort of stream of consciousness. Afterward, I'll refer to those notes while writing about the tea. Some tea lovers I know keep stacks of notebooks with handwritten jabberings. Others use spreadsheets or note keeping apps to organize their thoughts. Do whatever works best for you and your tea journey.
I asked the tea community on Twitter for tips on this topic. The responses ranged from helpful to humorous and everything in between. These are some of my favorites:
@teaformeplease Practice, practice, practice (drink, drink, drink)— twodog (@TwoDogTeaBlog) September 19, 2016
@teaformeplease Taste everything that you can, not just tea.— David Pasieka (@DavPasTweets) September 19, 2016
.@teaformeplease two lions, a whip, and a chair— JosephWesleyTea (@JosephWesleyTea) September 19, 2016
@teaformeplease Try as many different teas as possible. You'll definitely find the one that was wondering where you've been all their life.— Mona Peters 莫娜 (@mrpd44) September 19, 2016
@teaformeplease We avoid overpowering flavors, such as too much sugar, salt and spice. We also try different things to expand our palate.— ZhenTea (@ZhenTea2014) September 19, 2016
The next podcast episode will be on my tasting process so make sure to keep an eye out for that. What have you done to help train your palate for tea? I'd love to hear about it the comments!
The first time I drank puerh, and I think it was a shou, was when I lived in Berkeley, California, where I purchased a small amount of the tea at a Whole Foods Market. I did not enjoy the tea then nor on any of the subsequent occasions afterward until last week when I conducted a tasting of shou with Dr. Christine TN Wong, an independent consultant and educator. The tea I steeped was a 2007 Ripe Palace Mo Hei courtesy of Teanami. For evaluation purposes I used 3 grams of tea. The leaves were infused in 212F water for 3 minutes then 3.5 minutes.
The dry leaf smelled fungal, musty, and sweet (dried, red fruit). The leaves were pieces from a cake, were variations on brown, and were dry and rough.
The color of the first infusion was a dark red brown but as it poured looked inky. Describing the color was the simplest part of this tasting. Otherwise, the liquor was a cacophony of mouthfeel, taste, and smell. The tea tasted like eating a raw mushroom or wet cardboard or maybe like drinking mushroom juice. There was an underlying molasses sweetness as well as a dryness that I experienced in the roof and cheeks of my mouth. As the liquor cooled, it became thicker and heavier. All the flavor lingered. There wasn't a traditional smoky notes per se but I did detect a leather belt flavor (as in licking a leather belt). When pressed, I described the taste as drinking a lapsang souchong with milk.
The infused tea leaves were small and inconsistently sized. The leaves were all a dark red brown color after steeping and smelled deep, rich, and of mushrooms in a paper bag.
The liquor from the second infusion had the color of a zinfandel. The tea smelled again like mushrooms in a paper bag with a light sweet smell off the steam. The taste was fungal, funky, and of forest soil below the top layer of decomposing leaves. The mouthfeel was heavier than the first infusion but not dramatically so, and the flavors lingered here too. The infused leaves were lighter in color than after the first infusion but still had "legs", staining the gaiwan.
Overall, the aromatic profile of this tea is mushrooms in a paper bag and forest soil. The liquor from the first steep was bolder than the second one. The second infusion yield an integrated, smoother and sweeter tea. I felt heady after drinking this tea. The "webbing" effect that I first felt while drinking the second infusion intensified. I don't think I could drink a long session of shou.
How do you feel when you drink a ripe puerh?
I remember LiberTeas reviewed Lemonade from Shanti Tea a few years ago but I figured it would be a good time for me to add my two cents worth before I’m faced with colder weather in the upcoming winter months. Lemonade from Shanti Tea is a Green Rooibos based herbal tisane that I am quite fond of. Along side the Green Rooibos there are Lemon Peel, Lemon Myrtle, and floral specs of joy throughout the Read More
Five and half years after the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant in Japan, a question still lingers for some tea enthusiasts:
Is Japanese tea safe to drink?
The short answer?
The longer answer?
And the reason why is multi-faceted.
Firstly, by “safe to drink”, the layman might think this means, “the tea is absent from radioactive particles”. While this may be true for many producers, this interpretation isn’t entirely accurate, for reasons that will soon become apparent.
Why shouldn’t you be worried? Thankfully, radiation doesn’t travel far unless carried by a radioactive material, and the tea growing regions of Japan are a significant distance from Fukushima. The distance from Fukushima to Shizuoka Prefecture, where 40% of all Japanese tea is grown, is 360 km (224 miles), or just a bit further than the distance from New York City to Washington D.C. Another 30% is grown on a completely different island, Kyushu, where you have the infamous tea growing Prefectures Fukuoka and Kagoshima, the latter of which is as far away from Fukushima as New York City is from Atlanta. It’s worth noting that the exclusion zone around the power plant is only 30 km (18 miles), and over the last five and a half years, the Japanese government has been systematically removing a layer of topsoil, significantly reducing the ambient background radiation.
[Before continuing, let’s clarify two different and useful scientific terms that measure radiation: the becquerel (Bq) and the sievert (Sv). Becquerel measures how much radiation a substance emits. Sievert, usually measured as a millisievert (mSv), measures how radiation effects the body.]
Before Fukushima, Japan allowed food exports to register under 500 Bq / Kg, the same limit as the European Union. After the disaster, Japan reformed their rules to only allow 100 Bq / Kg, the lowest range of any country on Earth. You might be wondering, as a means of comparison, how much does the USA allow in our imports? Even though Canada and the International Codex allow a maximum of 1000 Bq / Kg, the United States tops the list with a maximum of 1200 Bq / Kg, or 12 times Japan’s standard!
Though this seems high (by comparison), we are far from negligent in our duties. The FDA has worked on this issue extensively, coordinating with Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW), and issues reminders to the public that it has found no cause for concern among any imported foods from Japan and that the import standards are considered safe. They also consult the EPA’s environmental radiation monitoring program (RadNet), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who keep a fairly regular (weekly to bi-weekly) journal of what’s happening in Japan.
Provided these organizations are doing their jobs, many tea companies have taken up the mantle of preventative concern themselves. For instance, Aiya, a huge Japanese brand primarily selling matcha, releases monthly reports of radiation testing conducted on their tea, a process that certainly doesn’t come cheap. Numerous other brands do this, and are very open about the testing. Resources are available online to research what levels of radiation are being reported in Japanese foodstuffs and tea, either from governmental bodies or from the tea distributors themselves. If you’re concerned, simply ask!
Finally, there’s the idea of “safe” when it comes to radiation. All of these numbers and concepts can be abstract, so I’d like to provide context.
Let’s perform a thought experiment based on a worst-case scenario:
Taking all these factors into consideration, what would be the total amount of radiation you would ingest over the course of a year?
About 29 bananas.
* Yes, bananas are radioactive, because about 0.0117% of natural potassium is radioactive, thus any foodstuff with potassium, including avocados, potatoes, beans, and yes, coffee (don’t get too excited tea people), are radioactive.
The simple and unavoidable fact of life is this: we’re all exposed to radiation constantly. It’s a natural part of this planet. It’s everywhere, bombarding us from space, radiating from the building materials of our homes, from minerals in the soil, and in the air we breathe. This is called background radiation. Ever been in a hot spring? Been near a brick or cement building? Flown in an airplane? Been to the dentist? Then you’ve been exposed to multiple forms of radioactive materials. The average human on this planet racks up about 2 to 4 mSv of background radiation a year (and in some places this can be as high as 10 mSv). The experiment detailed above, an exaggerated worst-case scenario, would be effectively the same as walking around the Colorado Plateau for a day or two.
The longer answer summarized into a tasty, bite-sized take away:
Japan and their tea producers took the necessary, often extreme precautions, in coordination with multiple organizations at home and abroad, to make sure their tea was safe for you and me. Radiation is everywhere and the amount you could possibly get from drinking tea is minuscule. So stop worrying about it and go enjoy a cup!
Photo Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tea_Plantation_in_Nansatsu_Plateau.jpg
I am trying the caffeinated version of this blend, which is also available as a caffeine-free herbal. The instructions call for two teaspoons of leaf per cup of boiling water, but they recommend a four minute steep. I stuck to these parameters. The tea is pale and fragrant, more earthy than floral. I do taste the Assam, and definitely the calendula and probably a hint of rose coming through as a faint, round sweetness. My Read More
It seems these days, you can’t go anywhere without smart people pairing tea and food. Well, when I say “anywhere” and “smart people”, I am specifically excluding the somewheres where dumb people think serving a teab*g to your guests is acceptable. Anyway today’s blog is inspired by some commentary around a spectacular event we are […]
Given the prevalence of Earl-Grey-like teas, you’d think it must be an easy thing to make. As my Calculus teacher used to say, “you already know the equation. Pop the numbers in there and plug-and-chug. However, though the ingredients are straightforward, it’s a difficult thing to get PERFECT. There’s a technique. A FINESSE. A golden mean of proportions Or maybe the secret ingredient is love, as my mother used to tell us (sarcastically) when she Read More
The leaves of this tea have a lovely refreshing fragrance even before steeping. I steeped it just after boiling, as per the steeping info. I used about 5 grams for about 10 oz. of water. I steeped it in one of my wire mesh ball infusers, but next time I’d plan to use my fine-weave steeping basket because some of the leaves are fine enough that a few leaf particles escaped through the mesh. (I’m Read More
This morning my tea infusers are all full of teas that I plan to re-steep but don’t currently feel like drinking, so I decided that now is the perfect time to try this tea, which comes in a handy and elegant pyramid-shaped sachet. I steeped it for five minutes, which I spent wondering if it would taste like a baked good. I mean, vanilla and almond flavoring are two of the most common flavorings for Read More
The post Organic Vanilla Almond Sachet from Boston Tea Company appeared first on SororiTea Sisters.
Summer Sangria from The NecessiTeas is a flavored white tea and the aroma AND flavor will captivate you as it did me! According to the product description Summer Sangria from The NecessiTeas has orange peel, blackberries, cornflower and marigold petals and natural flavors paired with the white tea base. Eventho I could taste a hint of blackberry, orange, and various floral notes I could have sworn I was also tasting a bit of lemon and Read More
Oolongs are mysterious creatures- full of complexity, and with such a wide variety of dominant flavors depending on how the leaves are processed. For me, they are the closest I will get to anything like ripe pu’erh for probably a long time. That said, whenever I am presented with an oolong from a well-known, high quality tea vendor, I am always very excited, and like to put my “snooty tea connoisseur” wizard hat on for Read More
We at SororiTea Sisters adore our friends at Simpson & Vail so that is why we thought we would dedicate today’s posts to all things Simpson & Vail! We hope you enjoy our reviews and find some goodies to try for yourself! ~The SororiTea Sisters I was a bit hesitant about jumping right in to Emily Dickinson’s Jasmine Tea Blend from Simpson & Vail Tea. Not because I don’t like Jasmine – it’s just not Read More
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We at SororITea Sisters adore our friends at Simpson & Vail so that is why we thought we would dedicate today’s posts to all things Simpson & Vail! We hope you enjoy our reviews and find some goodies to try for yourself! ~The SororiTea Sisters Louisa May Alcott’s Green Tea Blend from Simpson & Vail Tea smells AMAZING. I mean A….MAZE…ing! Right away the aroma reminded me of strawberry Jolly Ranchers. This was even Read More
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What am I Doing Wrong with my Tea?
Paul of +White2Tea shared a post on this blog that really hit home. Much ado is made of the process of making tea and it's easy to feel that we're doing it wrong, even if we enjoy the end result. His honest answer to this question is one that I think I'll be sending to a lot of folks in the future.
Tea Bowl Series: 油滴茶碗 - “Oil Spot” Glazed Tea Bowl
+Oca Ocani of A Matcha Enthusiasts Diary continues her awesome tea bowl series with this installment on oil spot glazes. Tenmoku has become super trendy lately but I have to say that I'm really falling for this gorgeous style of teaware.
How to Brew Shincha
Shincha is one of my favorite kinds of Japanese tea but I definitely struggled with brewing it correctly when I first got started. Luckily for you guys, +Ricardo Caicedo wrote this handy dandy guide. I love that he advises following your own personal taste!
8 Things I like to do When I drink Tea
Nazanin at Tea Thoughts posted a totally relatable list of the things she does while drinking tea. Doing nothing and dreaming about whatever seasons it's not are definitely some of my favorite past times. That sweater weather mug is too cute!
Getting Started with Loose Leaf Tea
Hoálatha at Cat Lait Tea put together a fantastic post on getting started with tea. It's easy to get overwhelmed but sound advice like this will get anyone started off on the right foot. I really appreciate the realistic approach without being snobby or condescending.
We at SororiTea Sisters adore our friends at Simpson & Vail so that is why we thought we would dedicate today’s posts to all things Simpson & Vail! We hope you enjoy our reviews and find some goodies to try for yourself! ~The SororiTea Sisters Walt Whitman’s Green Tea Blend from Simpson & Vail is the tea of the moment here at Sororitea Sisters! Walt Whitman’s Green Tea Blend from Simpson & Vail is inspired Read More
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The scent of this tea actually surprised me as I was expecting something a little more simple. I pick up heavy spice, black pepper, fruits and flowers all just by smelling the cup. The vanilla black teas I’ve had in the past have lacked such complexity. I take this as a good sign that this tea will taste just as interesting. You can’t beat a classic black tea and vanilla pairing, but given the simplicity Read More
One thing I LOVE when I first smell Matcha powder is when it smells of a heavy green savory veggie. Organic Matcha Green Tea Powder Culinary Grade from ZenTei Matcha had just the first sniff I was craving! Another thing I enjoy is when a Matcha froths up nicely – again – Organic Matcha Green Tea Powder Culinary Grade from ZenTei Matcha did just that! Oh! But Wait! There’s More! Organic Matcha Green Tea Powder Read More
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I have to say I have being having so much fun going thru the Hope & Glory Shipment that was sent and Rajah Collection Organic Masala Chai from Hope & Glory is one of those teas that I am VERY MUCH enjoying thus far! I LOVE the packaging! It goes along with their brand. It’s colorful and clean. The packaging also explains a lot with very little wordage. It’s eye-catching and easy to comprehend while Read More
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This is my first time reviewing a tea for SororiTea Sisters and I am SO excited!! It’s a lovely Wednesday morning as I write this, and this morning I will be drinking and reviewing the Black Licorice Chai tea from Harlow Tea Co. This blend of ingredients, from red rooibos and whole clove to anise seed and cinnamon chips, is unlike any I’ve ever heard of. I’m very excited!! The scent is bold, warm, and Read More
The dry leaves of this tea are beautiful and aromatic, which I noticed as I opened the sample. The gold tips are distinctly visible before steeping. Since it’s a delicate tea with a recommended steeping temperature of 176 degrees, I allowed the water to cool for a couple of minutes after boiling before I lowered the infuser in. For the first steeping I allowed three minutes in about 8 ounces of water. It came out Read More
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