Monday, September 26, 2016

How to Train Your Palate for Tea

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 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.

Comparative Tasting

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.

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.

Take Notes

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:

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!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Round Up: September 18th - September 24th

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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Young Mountain Tea Kumaon White

Country of Origin: India
Leaf Appearance: large, somewhat broken with visible buds
Ingredients: white tea
Steep time: 5 minutes
Water Temperature: 170 degrees
Preparation Method: glass teapot
Liquor: gold

When I heard the news that Tea Journey Magazine's Kickstart campaign was fully funded I was very excited. Partly for the magazine and partly because that meant there would be some Kumaon White on its way to me soon. I had long heard tales of this tea from +Geoffrey Norman and loved it when I tried some at World Tea Expo.

When I opened the bag I was struck by the intense sweet meadow aroma. It may sound strange but it reminded me of my days working in a barn (not in a yucky horse poop way). IThe dry leaves very much resembled what you might expect from a Chinese Shou Mei. They were quite pretty to look at with varied shades of greens and browns. There was a significant amount of stems but I also spotted buds scattered throughout. This is a tea that begs to be photographed!

I initially tried this tea using their western brewing directions in my glass teapot. The taste was wonderfully fresh with a lot of natural sweetness. Honeydew melon came to mind but there was also delicate floral quality. There was no astringency to speak of, even when brewed for longer times or with hotter water. It really hit the spot on a hot summer day. I still need my tea fix even when temperatures climb but there was a lightness to this tea that really helped me to beat the heat.

A few weeks later, I tried gongfu'ing this tea in a glass gaiwan and that just might be my preferred brewing method. I stuck with 170 degrees as per their recommendation but went with 30-second infusions. Concentrating the flavors really accentuated the complexity of the flavor profile. The leaves also don't quit. I was drinking late one night and was able to continue brewing (after a quick rinse) when I woke up in the morning.

Kumaon White received from Young Mountain Tea as a reward for contributing to Kickstarter campaign for Tea Journey Magazine.