Tea: A Matter of What You’re Used To

Sencha Kyoto Cherry Rose Festival Green Tea (ETS image)
Sencha Kyoto Cherry Rose Festival Green Tea (ETS image)

How well we like a tea is often a matter of what we’re used to. The simple proof of this is giving teas you didn’t like awhile ago a new try. Or revisiting a tea you have fond memories of but haven’t had in a few months … or even years. The results can be quite surprising.

That Grassy or Seaweedy Green Tea

I have seen numerious comments from tea drinkers out there about green teas that taste like an infusion of grass clippings or dried seaweed – and they said so as a complaint, not a compliment. And I was one of them. That was about four or five years ago. Fresh samples of some green teas from China and Japan arrived recently (I’ve been trying to reduce the flood of tea samples coming in to more of a smaller, steady stream so I can keep up), and I eagerly dived in to see how they would compare. Let’s just say that the “grassy” quality now had more dimensions to it, such as sweetness and a mild floral quality. The seaweed quality in some of them now took on a new appeal, too, especially when paired with some sushi we had fresh from a local eatery. Either the growing conditions were better this year (quite possible) or my palate is improving for detecting some of these subtleties (also possible) or I’m paying better attention (definitely!). Or maybe I’m just getting used to these flavors in these teas.

That Bitter Black Tea

Lapsang Souchong can be overly smoky for my taste. Assam needs milk and sweetener to cover that bitterness and be palatable for me most of the time, even when steeped only 3 minutes, as some folks suggest. Pu-erh teas (especially the kind called “cooked” or “raw” or “shu”) can be overly earthy (like the aroma of wet decaying leaves on the ground of a forest). Yet, revisiting each of these reveals new surprises. The Lapsang Souchong can be steeped lighter to reduce the smoky quality. Switching from a CTC Assam to a higher quality tippy Assam will shift the flavor profile away from being bitter to a more nutty quality. And you can gain an appreciation for that earthiness, especially if you steep it in a more gongfu fashion (small amounts of tea leaves and liquid – usually about 4 to 8 ounces of liquid – steeped in water brought to just below boiling for about 10-15 seconds the first time and adding about 5-10 seconds each time you add more water to those leaves for another steeping). Sometimes being able to get used to something is a matter of altering it to suit you.

That Flavored Tea That Didn’t Quite Please

Flavored teas (that is, those teas where the vendor thinks he/she needs to improve on nature by adding flower petals, spices, fruit pieces, etc.) are a real dilemma for me. For the most part, I have begun avoiding them. The exceptions are masala chais and a few flavored with fruits such as Sencha Kyoto Cherry Rose Festival Green Tea. The added flavors mask the tea flavor (yes, I know there are many of you out there that want the tea flavor masked), tend to get distorted over time, sink down inside the container so that you have to stir things back up each time you want some (applies to those loose forms, not the bagged ones), and generally steep up consistencies each time. I keep retrying some that at first impressed me, but frankly can no longer find them appealing, again with a few exceptions such as Monk’s Blend which is always pleasing. I’m thinking here that if you get used to the flavors in high-quality teas, you won’t need the flavored kind.

Bottom Line

Just as we all deserve a second chance, so do your teas. Give that Assam or Chun Mee or Hojicha another chance to tickle your tastebuds! And expand what you’re used to tasting so your tea enjoyment can expand, too.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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