Thursday, June 21, 2012

Acquired Tastes, and Biases Against Flavored Teas

I recently read a post by Courtney Powers on The Purrfect Cup, titled Say Goodbye, which highlights a tea purchased in the closing sale for Tony Gebely's Chicago Tea Garden. I first want to say (as I have on various social media sites but have yet to say here on this blog) that I am sad that Chicago Tea Garden is closing.

There was also something that resonated with me a lot about this post, when Courtney started talking about her experience brewing the tea:

I’m getting a light orange bit of sorts on the finish. Which I might have said months ago was just weird and wrong….actually months ago I would have NEVER thought of trying a pu-erh let along one like this. Sadly, my tiny cup and pot are empty…which means I need more!

This remark in particular resonated with me, in that I could relate to how my own experience with tea has changed and evolved over time. I've especially noticed that my tastes seem to broaden over time, and that I develop an ability to appreciate teas that I did not at first. For example, as I write this, I am drinking a green oolong, produced in Vietnam, and sold by Simpson and Vail.

Green oolongs are one category of tea that I often had trouble appreciating. Many of them tasted soapy, skunky, or highly vegetal, and many of them also just tasted bland to me. But now I love green oolongs. Another bias that I find myself confronting over and over again is a bias against flavored teas...I often expect myself to not like them, but then find myself pleasantly surprised when I try a well-executed one. My favorite example of this would be Rishi Tea's Vanilla Mint Pu-erh, but I recently tried a well-executed flavored oolong from Shanti Tea, their Citrus Punch.

How about you?

Which teas did you need to acquire a taste for? That is, are there teas which initially tasted uninteresting or possibly even unpleasant to you, but which you later came to love?


  1. I have not found any flavored teas that I'd drink more than once. I've come across a few that i don't mind, but none that have changed my view of flavored teas. I am trying to keep an open mind about this, though...

  2. I think a lot of high-end tea drinkers have a deep bias against flavoured teas. They're treated sort of like lagers among beer aficionados. Flavoured teas are seen as inherently inferior, meant for people 'not really into tea', and this spreads into a groupthink where nobody wants to admit to liking flavoured tea. Some flavoured teas do get approval, but they need to be pointed out as "particularly good" or "not what I normally drink".

    Sure, there are plenty of shitty flavoured teas out there, but there are also plenty of shitty unflavoured and traditional teas too.

    1. I know what you mean, I see that same kind of bias in the beer world. I've sampled hundreds of beers (and rated them on RateBeer) and my personal opinion is that there are a lot of microbrews that I just don't like, and some of the mainstream lagers I think can be quite good.

      I really don't like groupthink, when it takes the form of negative generalizations, or, especially, when people start equating certain types of drinks with status (i.e. those macrobreweries and their lagers are for "those people").

      I do think there are legitimate reasons though to be cautious of flavored teas, and avoid them. Besides the obvious quality issue, that some companies use blends to mask teas of low quality, I think flavored teas can be bad because the extra "value added" step (and accompanying markup) means that a smaller portion of the price you pay for the tea goes to the original producer. That's another reason I feel better about Rishi's Vanilla Mint addresses both the quality issue and, to some degree, the question of money going to the producer, through its fair trade status.

  3. I have to be totally honest, I haven't ever gotten the taste in for two very specific teas:

    -Especially high-grade Sencha such as a Gyokoro (though this is rapidly growing on me)
    -Anything with chocolate added.

    I do try to avoid the "flavoured teas are for sissies" attitude as much as possible. Where I live, I have very... let's call it "mineral rich" water. This is not good for making anything that isn't loaded with pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry, or chai spice, since all you taste is the mineral content. At work or when I remember to fill the brita, though, that's a very different story.

    Took a while to get a taste for unflavoured whites. Same problem. They're too mild to compete with the groundwater.

  4. The problem with flavorings is that they really only works to enhance low quality teas. Great teas, due to systems properties, have complexities and depth that even the best vanilla (or whatever) is not going to add anything to, and will probably detract from. If the flavorings that were used, on their own, yielded the same level and complexity as the tea plant, then it *might* work...but if that was the case, then the methods and variety of brewing cinnamon would have been developed to the same degree that they have for camellia sinensis over the past few thousand years. When have you ever seen an expertly-made wine that had flavorings added to it?
    I would surmise that the reason why, in the USA, it seems the norm to sell your pu-er mixed in with something else, because the raw leaves of a run of the mill shu-puer is some of the cheapest and lowest quality tea that can be bought, and conversely, to actually buy raw, unadultered good pu-er, that stands on its own merits, can get very expensive. Easier to mask low quality tea with a big blast of chocolate or cherry.