Friday, October 25, 2013

Sampling to meet your goals

 If you are a new to tea, sampling is perfect for getting to know tea and once again when you want to find new favorites or expand your experience. As a more seasoned tea drinker, sampling helps to spot bad quality, undesired traits or the way around by helping you find exactly what you were looking for.  It seems like all around win-win, but you have to be careful not to fall into anything past sampling… like hoarding.

Portion of my previous sample hoarding.
 Hoarding samples is the counterproductive thing you can do while trying to sample tea.  What defines hoarding? Hoarding is literally to amass or store huge amounts of anything. But at least in my opinion, is anything you accumulate past being useful/practical; like any samples you don’t drink before buying other samples. It doesn’t sound like much but if you continue you will find yourself with samples that you didn’t even remember you had. Worse yet, samples you have tried and barely remember what they are like (which defeats the purpose of sampling completely).  This happened to me while I was trying to find Puerh I would like to Age/store and try others I had not tried before. The other problem is tea going stale. Tea goes stale over time and more so when not stored properly. Puerh will not go stale at the same level other tea does, but it is still very prone to cross contamination (smells/taste) from sources nearby and will change in taste in a unfavorable environment.  

 All of this happens because you are not aware it is an issue of it until… you become aware of it (too late). Hopefully these tips will help you avoid falling into hoarding tea:

1.       Set a goal! Even if you think that the more you get the more you’ll learn/experience, in general humans have a short attention span/memory for things that are not constant or fail to trigger your curiosity right away. So instead of trying a bunch of teas, narrow down the search and tasting. You could even make it an elimination tasting and rid yourself of the ones you don’t like right away. Be sure to know if you are looking for something specific or barely exploring. Setting this goal will make sure you don’t drift into just buying samples on a whim.

2.       Set a limit! As part of effectively learning and/or deciding, you need to pace yourself. Set a maximum number of samples you want to try within a time frame. Tea takes time to truly appreciate its potential; only two types of tea are easy to make your mind about right away; incredible tea and terrible tea.

3.       Move on… The tea you tried and didn’t like or didn’t stand out will only take up space in some drawer or container.  You can share the samples you don’t want/like with others. Someone might like a tea you didn’t or at least you’ll save them money from buying it themselves.

4.       TAKE NOTES!!!!  If you are trying to find the best tea for you, or just one of a specific kind you may want to write down which ones you liked and didn’t like. That way if you look back you don’t have to wonder OR reorder samples.

note: I take regular taste ‘notes’ to remind me what it tasted like. But if you are running a side by side comparison (similar teas from different shops/grades/seasons/years) sometimes having your own rating system helps.
Side by side tasting is a great way to spot less obvious differences

5.       Steep, enjoy, learn and repeat!

Hopefully this will save some of you some time, money and make sampling that much enjoyable.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Tea tastes like memories

I like taking ‘notes’ about my tea, even when I don’t necessarily write them down I’m paying enough attention to it and describe it to myself in my head. I felt that often several teas didn’t exactly tasted like they were advertised to taste or how I expected based on recommendations. Usually because the way they are described is by using direct comparisons to foods/tastes that generalize taste that most can relate to. And frankly even though tea can resemble many flavors, it does it in its peculiar way. 

 I’m usually a sucker for ‘nutty’, ‘roasted’, ‘caramel’, ‘honey’, ’chocolate’, ‘cocoa’, etc. I’ve tried my share that claimed to taste like some sort of chocolate. In the end, they all tasted very different from each other and only a handful tasted somewhat like ‘chocolate’ to me. Is it false advertisement!? No, at least not necessarily. ‘Taste’ is a subjective thing. Specific tastes/notes are subject to your past experiences with the thing that is being described. There's an unlimited amount of examples to better explain it, but I’ll take what I believe to be the most common.

32% chocolate, 71% cacao, 85% cacao and Cocoa beans
Chocolate (milk vs. dark) and  Cocoa, are used interchangeably to describe similar but not equal tastes. If you love chocolate you know that you can grab two bars of different brands with the ‘same’ percentage of cocoa and have them taste completely different. The way that chocolate classifications are done it leaves LOTS of space for different experiences even if they are equal in the label. If you grew up with a particular brand, type or even country of origin, chocolate taste will mean something somewhat different to you. To make things more complex we each choose traits that we pay the most attention to, that’s why sometimes sharing something you like can bring a new perspective on it. 

Peanuts, Almonds and Pistachios

The same goes for ‘smoky’ or ‘tobacco’. Most people interchange the two but they are not that closely tied, tobacco imparts complexity and a sort or heaviness in taste, smoky is a more general term that seems more fitting in most cases. The same thing happens with nutty, the term on its own holds up pretty well but when someone uses specific nuts to describe something and I try the tea I end up being let down (Pistachio is the main culprit here). 

Himalayan rock salt, Yunnan Clay, River stones and a rock.
The most interesting taste to me is mineral/rocks. This is the hardest to get used to because there is a limited number of minerals you can try in  unadulterated form. And well rocks… what shocks me, is how I can easily agree with the taste when I drink a high quality Phoenix Oolong and yet I haven’t stopped to lick a rock… or so I thought. A few years ago I bought Whiskey rocks, and well they taste like rocks lol. In fact, if you ever feel like you want to know what 'rock' taste is like, I'd recommend Whiskey rocks; as for mineral, rock salt is a good place to go.

After some time, I realized that tea notes come from each person’s experience with life rather than with tea alone. Tea triggers the memories in your mind and looks for similarities. Tea tastes of memories! The more you have in your ‘arsenal’ the more you will enjoy your tea. Try new things, revisit old ones. Things will taste different when you pay attention to them and tea in turn will more enjoyable.

Monday, August 26, 2013

To Age or Not to Age?

Boy, Puerh is getting expensive! Buying, storing and aging yourself seems like the best option. There's lots of information in blogs, forums and even vendor sites that give helpful guidelines on what defines a proper storage. I’ve also found instructions on how to make artificial environments to mimic the definitions of a proper storage. It seems like all you need to get started, but lots of people still fail at it. Why?.

wet stored cake piece -displays 'frost and 'musty' scent
Like all things in life, if you want to be able to try something new you need guidelines, but more importantly to find out if you are up to the challenge. Puerh aging is like baking, everyone loves to eat baked goods… not everyone is willing to put the effort in to it. It requires a lot effort and at first, you may end up with an undesired result. 

The most important thing in my opinion is to define and set your goals, store vs. age. Storing is a shorter term thing, 1 or 2 years is basic storage; basically, the tea that you put away until are done with your previous ones. While aging is long term storage, you are expecting to allow the tea to change and even improve over time, but this usually takes a several more years (usually 5-10). How long can you keep your hands off your Puerh? I feel this is where people actually fail. Most people get impatient with tea, want to see results fast and either end up 'checking'(a.k.a. drinking) all their tea or trying to accelerate the process(wet storage).

Choose your favorites to age - Mixing too many teas is not advised due to 'cross-contamination' (scents)
It takes a reasonable amount of time to determine the effects/results of your storage settings. Puerh usually doesn’t show much change in a one to two year span; usually when it does it means bad news. I learned which storage condition benefited me, by buying several cheap cakes and storing them in different conditions (exposed, in clay pots and in a cabinet). I continuously rotated them and periodically checked them (every six to 8 months).  As time passed I learned which storage condition benefits me in my home. 
keep scented tea away from others

Keep in mind, No storage recommendation is absolutely 'the best' for all situations; it depends a lot in your environment. Be willing to experiment, find out which type of storage works for you. At the end the sacrifice may save your real investment. Keep in mind if your environment is hot/cold, dry/humid and how you’ll deal with airflow. If your environment is inconsistent you may want to consider creating an artificial environment, rather than taking chances with your Puerh.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

First awkward step

This is my attempt at blogging. I thought it would be a good idea to make my first post an introduction to myself, not at as personal introduction but rather about my interests. Interests, that perhaps will develop into more clear goals as I continue to expose thoughts on topics, get feedback and learn how to handle the new learning process.

If I were to define a current goal for this blog it would be to make sure it isn’t a rant spot for myself or a review site. Rather, I want to be able to express my thoughts regarding defined topics, mainly but not solely regarding tea. Hopefully, this will be a step to make friends with similar interests and to engage in great conversations and even debates! I mean, what is the point of exposing your thoughts if no one will ever contradict them? How can you learn more, correct and be corrected, if we hide behind curtains of ignorance.
I want to fill in gaps in what I currently consider ‘knowledge’; and perhaps redefine it as ignorance to challenge myself to learn most I can from this Blog. And hopefully you will do so as well. 

Another, and very important goal for me is… neutrality. I can’t even explain this part without slightly slipping away from the previous ‘no rants’ stance, but I’ll give it a try. The more I want to learn about tea the more I find myself constricted or even restricted to a few limited sources of information. I’ve visited several blogs and forums seeking for knowledge, just to satisfy my curiosity and indulge in self-gratification. But more often than not, I find a battle between groups who want to wear a title, as if there was a title for loving tea more than others. I feel like a lot of these sources are reliable sources of information, but you have to skim through

the specks and sometimes mounds of hatred towards their ‘competition’. Again, I’m not sure what they compete for. I wish I could stand in the middle and yell: ‘Ladies! Gentlemen! Is it not ignorance the ultimate enemy here? Why battle sources of knowledge rather than work towards higher knowledge?’ But just as a physical battleground… I might just be a target standing in the middle of the fire range. 
In the end, I hope that once people start reading. They will feel welcome; free to comment, add, criticize or just make conversation that leads to new topics. Hope to hear from you, and hey… this wasn’t even as awkward as I expected it to be.