Tea: A Nerd's Eye View

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Tillerman
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Fri Jan 31, 2020 8:21 pm

This month The Ultracredidarian takes a look at a very useful new addition to the literature on tea: https://tillermantea.net/2020/02/tea-a-nerds-eye-view/.
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Bok
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Sat Feb 01, 2020 2:19 am

“people who bloviate about how many more different aromas they identify in, say, a wine or a tea, are just using their imaginations.”
This quote I find interesting as I’m always mystified how some have endless rows of flavours they think to detect in a given tea. I always suspected that the majority of it is vivid imagination and wishful thinking.

Good to have some science on the topic, as opposed to personal guesses and “feelings”.
faj
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Sat Feb 01, 2020 5:07 am

Bok wrote:
Sat Feb 01, 2020 2:19 am
“people who bloviate about how many more different aromas they identify in, say, a wine or a tea, are just using their imaginations.”
I always suspected that the majority of it is vivid imagination and wishful thinking.
What I find surprising is that people often reference things one cannot eat or drink when describing tastes. I think in many cases it is more an affair of being evocative and interesting than anything else. I suspect in many cases exotic fruits, flowers or plants are mentioned by people who have never tasted them.

There are cases when I find an obvious, in-you-face aromatic similitude to something that is very much not exotic nor especially refined in a tea, while it is described by a reviewer waxing lyrical about notes of white pebbles from the north shore of the Baltic sea.

I tend to have a boring way to analyze : I mostly notice the aromatic similarities with... other teas. When addressing an audience of people who know a bit about tea, it seems to me that saying "this tea tastes somewhat like X, but with more/less of characteristic Y". You can never properly describe taste in words, but it seems to me like it can point the reader in the right general direction.
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Bok
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Sat Feb 01, 2020 6:22 am

Yes that seems a more sensible way of describing teas. Another problem is that even common flavours are not the same for everyone: for example a European pear has a fundamentally different taste than a Japanese one, or plums is another good example, asian plums have almost nothing in common with their European counterparts. The list is probably endless...
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Sat Feb 01, 2020 10:39 am

faj wrote:
Sat Feb 01, 2020 5:07 am
..., while it is described by a reviewer waxing lyrical about notes of white pebbles from the north shore of the Baltic sea.
That's so funny! What is the taste of a white pebble? How different are the pebbles tasting from the Baltic Sea than....? :lol:
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leth
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Sat Feb 01, 2020 2:58 pm

There are cases when I find an obvious, in-you-face aromatic similitude to something that is very much not exotic nor especially refined in a tea, while it is described by a reviewer waxing lyrical about notes of white pebbles from the north shore of the Baltic sea.
OK, I seldom describe taste in teas. Maybe some obvious once, the other day I had a dian hong with pretty strong campher note at a friends place for instance. Now I didn't mention it that time, but I could've it was very prominent so it would've made sense. It was the only tea I've had this week where it would've felt natural for me to even talk about any taste at all, not that the other teas didn't have tea. They just weren't that prominent or interesting to take into regard. Just as a reference to how I might actually do that.

But I have to be honest, I can really relate to the taste of white pebbles from the north shore of the Baltic Sea. It's in my mind, I have that reference. And I've got emotional attachments to it.

But I guess it's often very much that emotional attachment that plays with the mind as well. I speculate that taste (and smell if you so will) is very much about our previously experienced taste and smells and how they are associated with emotions. So if I had a tea that made my mind make that association to those pebbles from the north shore of the Baltic then that would be what I would "taste" in that tea. Just saying..

And I think it's fine to talk about such associations. And I think we're all capable of understanding them as emotional associations rather than some sort of objective measurement of the teas inherent attributes. And I can even rather enjoy someone speaking about their experienced tastes and interpreting them as emotional attachments.
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leth
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Sat Feb 01, 2020 3:00 pm

Ethan Kurland wrote:
Sat Feb 01, 2020 10:39 am
That's so funny! What is the taste of a white pebble? How different are the pebbles tasting from the Baltic Sea than....? :lol:
It can't be explained in words, You just have to experience it for yourself to know! ;)
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Sat Feb 01, 2020 3:19 pm

leth wrote:
Sat Feb 01, 2020 2:58 pm
But I have to be honest, I can really relate to the taste of white pebbles from the north shore of the Baltic Sea. It's in my mind, I have that reference.
I should have guessed someone would actually relate to this example was intended to be ridiculously specific... You got me there :D .
leth wrote:
Sat Feb 01, 2020 2:58 pm
And I think it's fine to talk about such associations.
It sure is OK, nothing wrong with conveying evocative images. Where I tune out is when the author seems to be asserting his super-human taste of smell by using references to something extremely specific or obscure. When I read a description that says a tea tastes like the spring sun, it is clear it is only an image. But when the tea is described as having notes of unripe cherry kernel... well let's say this is out of my league in terms of tasting prowess.

Anyone relates to unripe cherry kernel? :D
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leth
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Sat Feb 01, 2020 4:43 pm

faj wrote:
Sat Feb 01, 2020 3:19 pm

It sure is OK, nothing wrong with conveying evocative images. Where I tune out is when the author seems to be asserting his super-human taste of smell by using references to something extremely specific or obscure. When I read a description that says a tea tastes like the spring sun, it is clear it is only an image. But when the tea is described as having notes of unripe cherry kernel... well let's say this is out of my league in terms of tasting prowess.

Anyone relates to unripe cherry kernel? :D
I'm sure someone can relate to unripe cherry kernel. And that's sort of the point. Let them, it's just taste. Taste is inevitably subjective. I agree that some people are overly pretentious about it all. And there is much to leave unsaid about that and such people. But I also think it's quite important to let people have some really strange associations that no one else gets. It's a bit funny that the example given was something I can relate to. But I think that just shows how strange and arbitrary such relations can be. As such we shouldn't get stuck on them. Either as these pretentious people that likes to throw of strange evocative associations that tends to become esoteric and a bit abstruse or as someone that completely dismisses the idea of such personally emotive and highly idiosyncratic behaviour. As so often, the middle path is ever so equitable.
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Victoria
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Sat Feb 01, 2020 4:54 pm

Nicely said @leth. Waxing poetic about an intoxicating aroma and sensory immersion of flavors, can be as fulfilling as the experience itself. It’s not always so easy to find the right words, or associations, but when they come rolling out the experience is amplified for me. Poetry has many expressions.
faj
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Sat Feb 01, 2020 5:49 pm

Victoria wrote:
Sat Feb 01, 2020 4:54 pm
Nicely said leth. Waxing poetic about an intoxicating aroma and sensory immersion of flavors, can be as fulfilling as the experience itself. It’s not always so easy to find the right words, or associations, but when they come rolling out the experience is amplified for me. Poetry has many expressions.
I think we came to this discussion from two different angles.

My take was mostly about people who write tasting notes because they sell tea, or otherwise have a "brand" or reputation they are building. When someone writes with the intent to influence me, I do not like when they seem to be self-aggrandizing or exaggerating the product's merits. It does not mean they should be censored.

On the other hand, I am OK with anyone writing anything they want, poetic or not, about their tea experiences, and describing the taste any way they feel. I once wrote in my notes about a tea comparing its flavor to the rancid smell of sweat-impregnated laundry left in a pile for too long (that was not even meant as criticism!). Not very poetic, but it was bang-on in terms of describing what I felt. I do not mind creatively writing about sensory experiences.
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Sat Feb 01, 2020 8:42 pm

funny enough i was actually going to write a synopsis of each chapter of the book in a week or two when i have time. busy with 2019 annual work currently(love those 60hr+ work weeks) that don't have time to cliffnote.
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Sat Feb 01, 2020 10:42 pm

I thought the elaborate taste descriptions were kind of the modern equivalent of writing a poem inspired by a tea, which used to be popular in literati circles, and was not trying to be a practical review most of the time, like with Lu Tong's "Seven Bowls of Tea". For the wine-tasting language it is easier for some people to appreciate poems when they seem scientific; this is not unique to tea, but is the same impulse that used to cause the trend of taking an established discipline and renaming it Discipline Science to give it more credibility, like "Management Science".

I think this was influenced by British tea-tasters, who at first appear to do this by using terms to describe particular flavors that did not seem to have an obvious flavor meaning, such as "rasping", when they were trying to use these terms in a new technical way to reliably identify flavors for tea-blending that did not have their own names.

Speaking of historical context making things challenging at times, I think the same thing might be true for the difference between black and oolong tea. Before the scientific study of tea, the difference between oolong tea, black tea, and dark tea was not well understood; this is why all these teas were called "fermented" in the past, in both English and Chinese. This was exacerbated by the Cohong system of buying tea, because foreigners rarely received pure teas, it was all blends. When the British were thinking of changing the way they tax East Indian Company teas in 1834, The House of Commons held an investigation, interviewing tea buyers on how they determined the difference between bohea, congou, souchong, and pekoe, and the answers were a little demoralizing. :) (Great if a little tedious reading; it is on Google Books as something like House of Commons: The Report on Tea Duties", 1834".) This was not due to a lack of technical skill, but because they were blind-assessing tea blends.
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bentz98125
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Sun Feb 02, 2020 1:09 am

I shudder to take and defend a coherent position on this because tea crosses a lot of boundaries. Subjective experience is important to appreciating it but the cultivation, processing, and brewing of tea without science doesn't work. Genetic hypersensitivity to vegetal bitterness has been discovered in some undetermined percent of the population so just how would an objective, scientific description of the tea experience work? Literary heights are probably the inevitable consequence of enthusiasm, enthusiasm is the inevitable result of good tea (at least for me), and enthusiasm is easy to ridicule. My advice when you find yourself reaching for that vivid metaphor is don't, unless you really know what you're talking about or are Shakespeare and not Homer Simpson.
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