Tuesday, 25 October 2011

you don't really want to know how this tastes, do you?

autumnal background to go with my Karakorum Cha

Have been stewing about something for the last few days and rather than try to be clear and measured, I'm going to scrawl a bit.  

A few nights ago, I stayed up relatively late so I could do another Google+ Hangout with several tea people.  And something Michael J Coffey said got me thinking.  We were talking about the physical properties of tea.  Specifically about the way the chemicals in tea react in different people's bodies.  

And the next thing he said was something I'd considered but not heard anyone ever mention.  Similar to this variety of chemical reactions to tea, there's also the fact that what you taste might really be unique to you.  The example he used was that you read a tea review and it says that there's a taste of something (let's say peach) but no matter how much you try, you just can't taste any peach.

I can't tell you how many times I've read about a tea, whether it was a similar tea or the exact one I'm drinking, and the description was so wildly different from what I was tasting.

This isn't a complaint about the phenomenon.  I actually like the fact that two people drinking the same tea can have wildly different opinions of what they're tasting.  

I guess what I'm getting at is that I'm questioning the whole prospect of tea reviews in general.  I do understand that there are strong flavours that some tea has that everyone drinking that tea might agree on.  I also get it that if I'm excited about, or even disgusted by, a particular tea I've drunk, I want to write/talk about it as descriptively as possible. 

The idea of tea reviews in general makes sense to me.  But the actual practice is sometimes another matter.  I read a blog recently that questioned if people reading these reviews actually read other tea blogger's reviews.  I wish I could link to it but try as I might, I just can't find where I read it.  

So many teablogs.  Information overload.  

I can already hear some of you: I not only write tea reviews, I read them, as well.  Really?  Does it affect your future purchases?  Do you care about the way it's written, or do you just want the information?

And as long as I'm putting words in your mouth, here's what you say next:

Why is this irritating you so much?  You're getting hot and bothered about something that really isn't such a big deal.

Well, a few posts ago I mentioned that I'd be reviewing Karakorum Cha.  The truth is that I've been drinking it on and off for months.  It's a tea that can easily get quite bitter.  So I've been toying with it and finding the best way to get the most flavour without too much puckering.

Actually, that'd probably be an interesting thing to document.  How difficult it was at the outset to make this tea not too bitter.  But describing what it tastes like?  Do you really want to know?

I'm really wondering how useful that information is.


  1. This a point that I have been considering for quite a while, thank you. I can say I am infulenced by 1.good quality tea and 2. Tea reviewers I respect. I may choose to try a tea based on their tastes for example pure verses blends. Proper tea brewing or as you have described finding the right mix to eliminate a teas bitter quality is also of interest. There are a host of reviews out there and as is known everyone has an opinion but it remains in the end it's personal choice.

  2. I try not to read reviews until after I do my own tasting. It's quite humorous, actually, because sometimes my experience is so different. And sometimes it's quite similar. I think you're spot-on, tho...we each will taste differently.

  3. I like reading tea reviews but I generally don't place much weight in them, nor do I take my own reviews particularly seriously.

    When I created RateTea.net, the idea wasn't to necessarily get at some abstract "truth" about the nature of various teas...it was just to start getting people thinking more about how their tea tastes...when we write about how something tastes and smells, we become more aware of it. That, to me, is the main point.

    Reading reviews is sometimes interesting and fun, but not terribly essential. The key aspect of the whole phenomenon, as I see it, is becoming more aware of nuances of the tea, through the act of writing and reading.