I’ve recently been thinking about the value that I place on tea. This crossed my mind because part of our tasting experience is subjective, and it is interesting to me how marketing claims and personal biases can influence our perception of the end result in our cups. With this being said skilled tasters are able to work past personal preferences, and come to more objective conclusions that can be shared with other individuals.
Some examples of marketing claims that I’ve seen include different teas being sold as rare, old, premium products, bargains, healthy, relaxing, etc. It makes sense to me how these claims would influence perception of a tea. If we were offered a rare or premium tea, wouldn’t we want it to taste good? Likewise if we bought a tea at incredible bargain rates, wouldn’t it be easy to justify some weak or unpleasant qualities?
I also think that our own personal biases are just as important of a factor in our perception of the tea that we drink. Is the best tea the newest, cleanliest, & lightest tea available, or is the best tea the darkest, most pungent, aged tea from some old warehouse? It depends on the individual and their preferences.
With thoughts like these recently crossing my mind, I’ve started doing a lot of blind tastings to compare different teas. Tasting teas in this blind way seems to have helped reduce the amount of information influencing my perception. It has also forced to me to learn about my own biases, and clarify what my own idea of ‘value’ is in a tea. I’ve been sampling teas this way to try to improve my ability to come to more objective conclusions about teas, conclusions that I could share with others.
Two Samples of Rou Gui
For this post I’m going to share notes from a recent blind tasting that I did. For this tasting I drank two samples of Rou Gui, a varietal of Wuyi wulong tea, from two different vendors. I parceled out two equal portions of each sample in separate but identical bowls, and put the names of each vendor in the bowls on little folded scraps of paper. After this, I shuffled the bowls with eyes closed around and around in a magic trick like fashion until I forgot which tea was which. Then I finally drank the teas!
Rou Gui #1
The dry leaves of tea #1 had a warm, woody, and somewhat fruity smell to them. The flavors of the tea were similar to the aroma, and the tea offered roughly 6 – 8 good infusions. During the life of tea #1, the brewed tea was smooth, the flavor was full, and it left a slightly mineral aftertaste after being drunk. After being brewed it could be seen that the tea was produced out of some small / medium sized whole leaves, and these leaves were fairly easy to roll & pull apart. After drinking this tea, I thought I’d be willing to spend roughly $4 – $5 / ounce.
Rou Gui #2
The dry leaves of tea #2 had a darker smell than those of tea #1. This aroma was nuttier, and had the scent of charcoal roasting. The flavors of this tea were stronger. They were dominated by a roasty charcoal flavor, but seemed to be more up front and have less depth. The brewed tea was less smooth, and had a slight astringency. This tea left a stronger mineral aftertaste after being drunk, and offered roughly 5 good infusions. After being brewed it could be seen that the tea was produced out of some small sized leaves that were somewhat broken apart. At the end of the session, I thought I’d be willing to spend roughly $3 – $4 / ounce on tea #2.
After drinking both teas and coming up with a price that I would be okay paying for them I revealed to myself which one was which, and looked up their prices. I said I would be willing to pay roughly $4 – $5 / ounce for Rou Gui #1, and it sold for $5 / ounce. On the other hand I said that I’d only want to pay $3 – $4 / ounce for Rou Gui #2, and it sold for > $10 / ounce.
It turned out that the blind tasting was useful for me, because it helped clarify that tea #1 matched my ideas of value, but tea #2 did not. It also revealed one of my own personal biases towards wulong tea, because I realized during the tasting that I tend to enjoy lighter roasted wulongs rather than the very strongly roasted ones.