Thursday, 19 January 2012

queries of a tea-drinker profiler

Why blog about tea? Why indeed?

I could easily drink tea and share it with my friends. When travelling, I could visit tea shops/tea rooms and write about them on a travel blog or just keep it to myself. 

Several years ago, I was talking to a friend about social media and blogging. The prevailing wisdom that we were talking about was: blog about your passion. Although I studied music and literature and am quite passionate about both, I couldn't fathom having a blog about one or the other. Or not exclusively about either. 

What was I knowledgeable about? What sort of thing did I feel I had to offer? For a long time I kept telling myself, 'As much as tea intrigues you, you simply don't know enough about it to be a successful teablogger.' I'd read others' work on tea and look at their beautiful photos, and thought I simply didn't have the expertise necessary to add anything. But then my friend made an off-hand remark that in a moment changed everything. 

She said, 'You could make your discovery of tea the focus of the blog. You know, to document learning about tea.' That was the angle I needed. That was my focus. Early on, that and my enjoyment for the tea I'd been drinking was what propelled me. The longer I've done it, the more I settled on my own personal voice. 

When I travel, I search out tea-related things and blog about them. In my daily life, I introduce friends and clients to tea. I joke about luring people over to the leaf-side, but the times I've done so have been truly joyful. Either people who already drank tea but didn't have experience with loose-leaf tea, or even people who had never considered drinking the beverage.

In the process of doing this, I often think of the Lasse Hallström film Chocolat. In it Juliet Binoche's character Vianne Rocher looks at a person and divines what sort of chocolate they'd most like. I have no illusions that I'd be able to do anything of the sort when it comes to pinpointing the perfect tea for a person.

Here's the trailer for the film (you can see Judi Dench go into a moment of revelry around :43-48):

However, I've toyed with the idea for years that I could ask someone a few questions about his or her food/drink preferences and then be able to predict what sort of tea they'd like. I've written about it on this blog a bit, as well as discussed it with tea drinkers in a variety of forums.

Here are some of the questions I like to ask:

How do you take your coffee? little milk/cream or a lot? Sugar/honey? Or black?
Do you like spicy foods? If so, what sort do you like most?
Any vegetables/spices you really adore? That you crave? Or the opposite: any that you loathe? That you avoid?

Isn't that an interesting topic? Can you think of any other questions that might illustrate any more taste preferences?

As my friend Cevie has said, I'm trying to be a profiler of a kind. Not a serial killer profiler, but a tea-drinker profiler. That doesn't sound so bad. I can live with that.


  1. I'd like to see you profile me. No, seriously. I hate almost all foods, and all tea. PROFILE ME, KEN. It's like a personality test! Only BETTER!

    Fine, I can answer your questions. I like lots of cream & Splenda in my coffee, but no sugar. I love spicy foods. All of them. No preference as to which. And if I went into what I loathed, food-wise, it would take up your whole blog. I wrote a post about it once, you could probably do research if you wanted. Love - beans, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms; spices - salt, pepper, and all the sweet ones like nutmeg. Oh, and anise.

    Profile, please.

    1. Ok, this one's easy and hard.

      I'll do this more in depth in a separate post, but right off I'll say this:

      I know you have a thing against tea already. I'd start you off with a rooibus, because it's not actually tea. It doesn't smell or taste like black tea, so it won't make you gag.

      We'll try that first, and then ease slowly into something that's actually tea.

    2. Should I really try that? I'm scared. But I trust you. So I might. I am nervous, though. I like that name. "Rooibus." It's jaunty and reminds me of kangaroos. Why? I don't know. The "oo"s, I think.

    3. It's made from the red bush that only grows in South Africa. It tastes nothing like tea.

      I've drunk it with both little caramel pieces (tastes like Christmas) and orange pieces/orange peel (really nice if you like oranges).

      If you need help finding some, I'm happy to help you do so. Not only are there shops in your area, but decent online shops, too.

    4. Stopped by to check out your blog...looks interesting! Thought I would tell you about my online tea shop since you love tea! I handblend all of my loose leaf tea's in small batches and use only fresh fruits in them that I dehydrate you are sure to have the freshest tasting tea you have ever enjoyed! Stop by my shop - The Tea Sampler and you are sure to find something you will just love! or feel free to email me directly in my shop with any questions or special tea blending requests! Hope to see ya there!

    5. Glad I happened to see this comment on a post from a while back.

      I'll check out your site...sure.

  2. Profile me, my friend. I like very strong coffee with very little milk. Whole milk, not cream. I like masala and chili spice but not too hot. Adore nutmeg and coriander but not together. I dislike most squashes and of course, marmite. As for other questions: Do you like simple or exotic flavors? (both) Do you prefer wine or beer (wine.) Do your best and intuit my tea if you can.

    1. Shirley,

      Like Amy above, I'd like to go into this in more detail later, but I think I know what we should start with with you. I think you and I've already talked about it.

      I want you to have a really malty Assam and/or an above-average Nilgiri. If you want to start out with a splash of milk, it might make it easier. But try a sip or two with it unadulterated first.

      Seriously, let's talk by email if you have any teashops nearby. If not, there're some fantastic mail-order tea companies that're incredibly reasonably priced.

  3. I've been making the mate mixed in with the white tea like the hippies at Teavana recommended. This way it actually qualifies as tea. It has lots of strong flavors in it. I supposed it appeals to me because I like spicy food.

    1. This will take more time than I expected. You've got me thinking about Indian food.

  4. I was going to submit my profile, but now I am distracted and craving spicy Indian food.

  5. I think you're on to something here with the tea profiling! :-) I blog because it's a way for me to reflect on what I'm learning, to share that with my friends and family who are far away, and to engage in conversations with interesting folks like you.

  6. Nice comment Steph. I've appreciated the dialogue we've been having in each other's comments section.

    The tea profiling is a long-term goal for me. There's no little doubt that it could take a lot of trial and error to get it right. Or at least not terribly wrong.

  7. I get emails all the time from people asking me to recommend different teas to them. The questions you mention above are good ones. I usually ask about the caffeine thing too. I find myself recommending a lot of flavored teas to newer tea drinkers. When you add strawberry or peach, people seem to be less afraid of it. That's how I started so maybe I'm just comfortable with it. I love the idea of profiling though. Nothing is as nice as recommending a tea and having the person really enjoy it.

    1. It's an interesting point you make. Though I don't enjoy many sorts of flavoured tea, it might be an easier way to get someone in the door.

      Was asked yesterday about a starter tea, and my first inclination was to recommend Pumpkin Tea to him. Interesting.