Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When Everyone Agrees on a Tea - Or Not?

People have vastly different tastes in tea. This morning, a new review was posted to RateTea, which I happened to read, and this review was of Two Leaves and a Bud's Mountain High Chai. This tea now has five reviews on the site.

Interestingly, four of the five reviews seem to agree on one point: the tea has a strong spice aroma, but the base tea is on the weak side (or mellow/smooth, for people who prefer to phrase it positively). Some people seem to like this and others don't; one reviewer noted steeping the tea for 30 minutes!

I find this interesting, because it is rare that people seem to agree this much about a tea. In general, when I see four out of five reviewers agreeing about a certain characteristic of a tea, I'm likely to believe their reviews.

Checking Steepster, breaking the pattern:

Interestingly, I checked Steepster's records for the same tea and I'm not seeing the same pattern in reviews there. One of the reviewers noted bitter flavors dominating the cup if it is steeped too long.

No consensus on the aroma:

I also read Little Yellow Teacup's review of the same tea, and interestingly, I found that this review said that the aroma was dominated by cinnamon. I tend to strongly dislike masala chai blends that are dominated by cinnamon, and I've found that this one, in my perception, is dominated by clove (which I like more, although in this case I still thought it was a bit unbalanced). I've tried the tea many times over a long period of time too, so if the company changed their formulation, it produced only a subtle change that I did not notice.

I find this difference interesting, because it shows how people perceive aromas differently.

What do you think?

Have you tried this tea?

And do you have any idea why there seems to be clear agreement on RateTea's reviews whereas Steepster's don't seem to show the same pattern? Could the two sites perhaps be appealing to people with somewhat different tastes or different ways of perceiving tea? Or do you think it's just randomness? It is a small sample of reviews in both cases, after all.

And do you think that in general, people are more likely to perceive aromas differently and more likely to agree on flavor (i.e. bitterness, basic strength of a tea)? Or do you think that's just this specific case?


  1. I don't know this tea, and I don't like "Chai" but I'm wondering if RateTea attracts a somewhat different crowd than Steepster does. If so what are the differences, and why? Would be pretty interesting to look into that. There are a few sites that analyze user data, such as age, gender etc. However, I think it might go beyond that.

  2. You know, reviews are tricky. Even my review of a tea will vary greatly day-to-day, or sometimes by time of day. It depends on my mood (as much as I am loathe to admit it), what I've eaten, the water I'm using, even the teaware I use, etc. I use reviews to get a broad generalization of a tea but have no expectation that my experience will "match."

    1. Yes...this definitely rings true with my experience.

      One reason I try to sample teas at least twice, often 3-5 times (if the sample size allows), before writing a review. If there's enough leaf, I try to do one western-style brewing and then either do a gong-fu-style brewing, or do something a little closer to gong fu with using more leaf and briefer infusions. Some teas really shine one way and not the other. And some teas can be picky and tricky to figure out, I find this especially to be true of Chinese green teas.

      And mood is a huge influence!

    2. Oh definitely! Even the tea cup I use matters. If I take tea in a broad-rimmed tea cup, it tends to taste so much better (more oxygenation perhaps). And the water quality makes or breaks a tea.

  3. I also wonder about the power of suggestion. If someone has already posted a review noting a certain aroma of flavour, it's very easy for your brain to go "oh yeah, that too!", even if you didn't really pick it up yourself. This used to come up all the time when I did wine and beer tastings.
    If the person is writing the review while on the site (instead of beforehand), they might be subconsciously getting influenced by the reviews already there.

    1. Ahh yes, that's very interesting. I wonder if that's the case here or not. I know at least one person though who makes a deliberate effort to avoid reading reviews before writing their own. I suspect more people do this as well.