This post starts out talking about a bird, but if you are patient, it does relate to tea. Recently, this Friday, June 29th, to be specific, I was in Cobbs Creek Park, on the western border of the city of Philadelphia, near the Environmental Education Center at the end of Catharine street, and I spotted this bird:
People with only minimal knowledge of birds might recognize that it is a type of heron. The cryptic plumage is a clue that this is a juvenile bird; juveniles begin with camouflaged plumage, because birds tend to be most vulnerable to being eaten by predators during the first year(s) of their life. As the birds age, they become more experienced and better able to stay safe, and they take on their brightly-colored plumage that helps them to defend a territory and attract a mate.
First impressions can be wrong:
When I first caught a glimpse of this bird, my first impression was that it was probably a juvenile green heron, because, of the birds that look vaguely similar, that bird would be most common and likely to occur in this habitat. But then I realized that it was a night-heron, a primarily nocturnal species of heron. A tip-off is the bright red eye, adapted to seeing at night. Then I thought, oh, wow, it is probably a black-crowned night heron, something I would be excited to see in this city park, but would not think entirely out of the ordinary. But upon examining it in detail, I found that it was actually a yellow-crowned night-heron, quite an unusual find anywhere in Philadelphia, but especially in a city park like this, and, on eBird, never recorded in June. Click the photo to find a page where I explain how to tell apart the juveniles of these two bird species; the easiest clues are the long neck and legs.
I find that the process with which I progressed through different (false) impressions of this bird parallels the process with which I experience many things in life. Sometimes first impressions are spot-on, but in other cases, especially with things that I do not experience often, they can be way off. I've only seen a handful of yellow-crowned night herons in my life, and they have usually been adults in very bold, distinctive plumage.
What makes an expert?
Recently I spoke with an experienced birder who had once had the opportunity to bird with Kenn Kaufman, a famous naturalist and author of several well-respected field guides to birds. The birder I spoke with was struck by how Kaufman would look at very common birds extensively, often examining them for a considerable length of time before calling out what they were. Most birders (including, often, myself) will quickly call out: "Oh look, it's a such-and-such." whereas Kaufman was examining the bird in detail, ruling out all the possibilities of rare, unusual, and unexpected species that it could possibly be. Maybe Kaufman is such an an expert on birding because he suspends judgement until he has enough evidence to form an accurate opinion.
Often, when I sample a new tea, I have a bunch of impressions about it. I see how the dry leaf looks, I see how it smells. If it is a tea that I'm familiar with, my impression of what it will actually taste like when brewed is often quite accurate. But, especially if it is a type of tea I am less familiar with, my impression can be way off.
The same is true of tea companies. Recently I wrote about grasping the aesthetic of a tea company, a process which can take considerable time. There are many stages of first impressions in this process, including looking at their website, reading or hearing about others' opinions of their teas, and tasting the first tea, and then later ones. But I find that it often takes extended sampling to really form an informed opinion. I can form an impression very quickly, but, like with the case of the heron pictured above, it might be wrong.
I don't particularly have a life goal of becoming an expert on tea (or birds), but I do feel inspired by this occurrence to suspend judgement and pay more attention, both to tea and birds.
How about you?
What are some times in your life, both pertaining to tea, and other matters, in which your first impressions have been way off?