Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Dream About Tea in an Asian Supermarket, Keurig K-cups, And An Interpretation

Last night I had a dream about tea. I recently published a page on outlining my philosophy of dream interpretation, and in the spirit of this page, I will share an interpretation. The setting of this dream is a place you can visit if you come to World Tea East, as it is right around the corner from the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The Dream:

I was at an underground supermarket in Chinatown in Philadelphia, one that actually exists, under the building on the SE corner of 11th and Race, and I was buying tea there. In real life, I'm not crazy about this store's tea selection, and there is another store in Chinatown that I prefer for buying tea (across Race street), but in the dream, I was finding a lot of long jing (dragon well) green tea that I liked.

I suspect that the reason for the dragon well tea in the dream is that I've recently sampled two of these teas from TeaVivre, so I have been thinking about this type of tea. If you're curious, you can find my Review of TeaVivre's Organic Superfine Dragon Well, along with my Review of TeaVivre's Superfine Pre-Ming Dragon Well.

Back to the the dream I noticed some dragon well that looked very good in quality (it was a brand that I trusted) and was low in price, but when I put it in my shopping basket, I noticed that it was not loose-leaf tea, but rather, K-cups for a Keurig coffee maker. Frustrated, I put them back on the shelf and was looking through the boxes on the shelf to find actual loose-leaf tea instead of processed tea in a K-cup. There were few boxes of loose-leaf tea, but I found some.

My interpretation of this dream:

I suspect that the reason for the appearance of K-cups in this dream is that I have been reading about tea packaged in K-cups recently, and that I am not a fan of this idea, and have been considering writing a post on this topic. But, as I have yet to write the post, it looks like my subconscious created a story about them first.

In some ways I think this dream is symbolic of my struggle to promote loose-leaf tea, and food culture in general, and the way I often feel overwhelmed by a sea of consumerism, in which the products that I am working to move people beyond, still seem to be the dominant ones in society. K-cups seem to symbolize processed foods for me, as they're more processed than even tea bags, and they represent an even farther move away from brewing your own tea, and towards instant brewing, convenience at the cost of quality and sustainability.

Do you ever dream about tea?

Do you ever dream about tea? What do you think of my dream? Do you share my loathing of Keurig and K-cups?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tea Bag Buddy, and on Selling Tea Infusers in a Supermarket

Lately I've been on a supermarket kick, exploring the selection of tea and teaware for sale in various supermarkets. Here is a picture I took in a Stop and Shop supermarket in North Adams, MA:

This product, highlighted in a special hanging display clipped in front of the shelves in the aisle with the tea, is Primula's Tea Bag Buddy. In this post, I am not going to comment at all on this product itself, as it is one that I have little interest in as a loose tea enthusiast. Rather, I'm going to propose an alternative of a product that could be sold in a similar location in supermarkets.

Selling tea infusers and loose-leaf tea in a supermarket?

I find the product placement of the tea bag buddy in the aisle with the tea to be interesting, as it shows that people are already selling tea accessories alongside the tea itself. This is important because it highlights a method that could be used to enable supermarkets to sell loose-leaf tea to an audience of tea bag drinkers, not accustomed to drinking loose tea.

Instead of the tea bag buddy or a similar product, the store could sell tea infusers, in the same location, clipped to a prominent hanging display. If I were running a store, I would choose to carry Finum Permanent Tea Filters. I would price them at cost, with the idea that the item was included only for convenience, not profit, and the product would encourage shoppers to purchase loose-leaf tea.

Then, I would carry a modest selection of loose-leaf tea. I would draw attention to the price-per-cup and number of cups in the loose tea, because people unaccustomed to preparing tea from loose leaf tend not to have a good sense of these things. It would make the product more accessible and appealing. Here is a marketing idea:

I chose Twinings as an example of a tea to show, because I have found Twinings to be the loose tea most frequently available in supermarkets in the U.S., and in many cases, the only loose-leaf tea avaliable.

Of course, Twinings or other tea companies could probably come up with much more attractive-looking specials. Even if the tea companies selling loose tea do not change anything about their packaging to draw attention to the number of cups of tea in the container, or the cost-per-cup, the supermarket or store selling the tea can do this themselves, perhaps in a special display, label, or sign. Most supermarkets already place a price-per-count on the price tag for various products. The label shown here is for Bigelow tea bags, and shows a unit price per 100 count:

Such labels would immediately show the clear lower price per cup of loose-leaf tea. With the extremely generous serving of 2.5 grams per cup (much more than most tea bags), Twinings loose-leaf tea, which usually sells for around $4 for the container shown above, would be much cheaper than all but the most bargain-priced teas. And there are numerous brands selling lower-priced loose-leaf tea as well.

What do you think?

Do you think that a display highlighting a small selection of loose-leaf tea, with a few low-priced, high-quality tea infusers clipped to hang prominently in the aisle in front of them, would get people's attention and draw some new people in to switch to loose-leaf tea? Do you think this sort of setup could be financially viable, or even possibly lucrative, for a supermarket?

Friday, August 10, 2012

SpecialTeas - Featured Defunct Tea Company

Back in June I featured an inactive tea blog, Tea Nerd. Today I follow suit by featuring a defunct tea company, SpecialTeas. SpecialTeas was still in business when I founded RateTea, but I did not have the opportunity to actually try any of their teas until after the company closed.

Most of what I know about this company is from reading the reviews and commentary of others. Here is a screenshot of the company's website in April of 2008, a typical example of what it looked like:

What did I like about SpecialTeas?

  • A clear focus on single-origin pure teas - Although SpecialTeas had quite a selection of blends and herbal teas as well, the company had a strong emphasis on single-origin pure teas. The website classified tea both by type and region, drawing attention to the influence of region on tea.
  • Large and diverse selection - SpecialTeas had a very large selection, not only carrying many different types of tea but many specific teas of certain types, such as a rather large selection of Chinese green teas and Indian black teas.
  • Good prices - The prices of the few teas from this company that I tried were quite reasonable, and I heard good things about the company's prices from people who had sampled more of the company's teas. All but a few of the ratings of this company's teas on RateTea give this company 5/5 or 4/5 on value.

If you want to read what is probably going to be my last ever review of this company, I recently posted a review of SpecialTeas 546 Mountain Peak Mao Feng Organic, a green tea from Zhejiang province which was quite pleasing.

Why did SpecialTeas close?

SpecialTeas was bought out by Teavana, and then closed. The buyout may have happened as early as 2005, even though SpecialTeas remained open for years after that; there's some strongly suggestive evidence for this buyout highlighted on RateTea's page on SpecialTeas. In 2005, the company was bought by a company that shared a business address and two key corporate officers with Teavana. The company has now officially announced that SpecialTeas has been merged into Teavana. The domain name now redirects to a page on Teavana's website announcing this merger, and offering free shipping to former customers of SpecialTeas. You can use this as a clever trick if you wish to obtain free shipping when buying from Teavana's website.

I personally think that much was lost when Teavana closed SpecialTeas. The two companies had quite different selection and pricing. SpecialTeas in particular had a much broader selection of single origin pure teas, and their prices also tended to be lower. I also never heard any complaints about pushy sales practices associated with SpecialTeas, which has unfortunately been a persistent complaint about Teavana, although to be fair, SpecialTeas did not have physical store locations of its own so it is hard to compare the two companies on this level.

Dragonwater Tea closes:

As another loss, there used to be a company named Dragonwater tea, which was supplied by SpecialTeas, and which closed when SpecialTeas was closed. I learned about this company through a 2009 thread on TeaChat about Teavana and SpecialTeas, in which people were speculating about the relationship between these two companies before any information had been made public officially. I found it interesting to learn about this company, because it showed how value can be lost in society when a company buys out its supplier and closes it.

The economics and ethics of the buyout:

Acquisition of a competitor is a prime example of an anti-competitive practice, generally agreed on by economists as having a negative effect on the economy because it reduces competition and thus reduces market efficiency. As such, these sorts of buyouts and closings raise ethical concerns for me. They are usually legal (with the exception of certain buyouts, restricted under US anti-trust law), but I am not convinced that they are the most ethical decision. I recognize that people have different values and beliefs about business and economics, but personally, I believe anti-competitive business behavior to be something that is often unethical.

Beyond ethical concerns about indirect economic effects, in the tea industry there is an additional, more direct ethical and human rights concern related to anti-competitive behavior. If a company buys out and closes a competitor that sells the same tea for a lower price, leaving the tea only available on the market at the higher price, the result of people buying the tea at the higher price is that a smaller portion of the money being spent on tea reaches the original producer. This causes wealth to concentrate in the already wealthy country, keeping the poorer producing country poor.

This is also a matter that concerns me.

What do you think?

Did you ever try SpecialTeas? What do you think of their buyout and closing by Teavana? Do you think Teavana provides a comparable experience to SpecialTeas, or has something of value been lost by the closing of this company? Do you think that this buyout constitutes anti-competitive behavior, or just part of normal, healthy business activity? Have you ever thought about how this sort of buyout could hinder fair wages for tea producers by causing wealth to concentrate in already-wealthier Western countries?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Packaged Loose-Leaf Tea in an Indian Store: Lipton Yellow Label, Brooke Bond, and More

Recently I wrote about a Lipton Tea display in the Supreme Shop n Bag grocery store in West Philadelphia. One block east of this store is a small Indian grocery store, officially called "International Foods and Spices", but known by most people in the neighborhood as "The Indian Store on Walnut", distinguishing it from a similar store one block away on Chestnut street. (I love multiculturalism!)

Unlike the supermarket, the Indian store sells primarily loose-leaf tea, although it also carries some tea bags. It was hard for me to take one photograph that shows the whole of this store's selection, because it was rather spread out, so here's just a brief snapshot that shows only a small part of it, but gives you a general idea:

Reflecting the heavy influence of British culture on India, particularly Indian tea culture, there are numerous British brands represented here. Yorkshire Tea, PG Tips, and Brooke Bond are all represented, but there are quite a few others. There is single-origin Darjeeling and Ceylon tea available as well. Most of the tea sold here is straight black tea.

Lipton Yellow Label:

Lipton Yellow Label tea amuses me slightly, since the mainstream, generic "black tea" marketed throughout the U.S. also has a yellow label, but it tends to never be explicitly named this way. For some reasons, Lipton Tea imported from outside the U.S. often bears this name explicitly.

I have yet to try this tea, so I can't say if it is the same as the tea sold in the tea bags in the U.S. or not. I have been told that it is higher-quality.

Brooke Bond:

Brooke Bond is a particularly interesting brand to me. Most Americans do not know this, but Brooke Bond was originally a tea company of its own, and was the originator of the PG Tips brand. In time, the PG Tips brand soared to great popularity, and Brooke Bond's own brand of tea eventually fell out of popularity and was discontinued in most Western markets. Both brands are now owned by Unilever.

In many non-Western markets, however, including India and Pakistan, the Brooke Bond brand of tea is still not only strong but dominant. The Indian store mentioned above imports Brooke Bond tea, as it is not directly distributed in the U.S.

More to be said later perhaps...

There is a lot more to be said about this particular store's tea selection, but I will save it for a later date.

Have you tried Brooke Bond tea? Have you tried the "Lipton Yellow Label" tea imported from outside the U.S.? For those of you overseas, in which locations is Lipton Yellow Label sold as such, and, have you had the opportunity to try it to see if it is the same blend sold in the U.S. or if it is a different tea entirely?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mindfulness and the Dangers of Tea Blogging

I blog frequently, and of course, also review teas on RateTea, because I love to write, but there are sometimes downsides to my high level of enthusiasm for writing about tea.

One thing that I've noticed about blogging and reviewing teas online is that, when I write about tea often, I reach a point where I am constantly looking for ideas. I go through my day, and I see various things relating to tea, and think: "Oh, I can blog about that!" or "Oh, I really want to take a picture of that so that I can include it on my blog!" While this can lead to some interesting blog posts, it can also unfortunately take away from my experience of things in the moment; getting too sucked into this mentality can be a threat to mindfulness (or a different page on mindfulness for those of you more oriented towards pyschology than Buddhism).

Today there are no pictures, and I don't have anything to say about tea. I want to experience everything not only my tea, but everything in my daily life more mindfully.

Have you ever experienced this?

Have you ever struggled with the desire to write or blog about things taking away from your own mindfulness of them in the moment? If so, how do you balance your life and resolve this struggle?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Black Dragon Tea Bar: Featured Tea Blog

It has been some time since I featured a tea blog. Today's featured blog is Black Dragon Tea Bar, a Seattle-based blog run by Brett Boynton, who, together with Virginia Wright, or Cinnabar, of Gongfu Girl, runs the small tea company Phoenix Tea.

The name of this blog is a clear reference to Oolong tea, Chinese 烏龍茶 or 乌龙茶, Pinyin wūlóng chá, which is literally translated as "Black Dragon Tea". The blog does have a lot of material on oolongs, but it is much broader.

What do I like about this blog?

  • Breadth and diversity of topics - There are surprisingly many tea blogs written by people with a lot of deep knowledge and experience with tea and Chinese tea culture. What makes this particular blog stand out is its breadth, focusing at times on the tea itself, on the process of drinking it, but on other times covering tea production, or even tangential topics like tea seed oil (not the same as tea tree oil; this one is actually made from the tea plant).
  • First-hand accounts from regions of tea productions - Brett Travels to regions of tea production, particularly, Taiwan. Not only are the direct travel accounts interesting on their own, but the fact that Brett travels makes me more likely to trust his knowledge of tea production and the teas themselves, especially from the regions in which he has traveled.
  • Brett is clearly an experimenter - I noticed this pretty quickly when I started reading this blog, and it is one of the aspects of the blog that keeps me seriously engaged with it. A couple recent examples of Brett's experimenting include a side-by-side cupping of broken-leaf Wenshan Baozhong, and a roasting experiment involving 2006 rou gui oolong. I love both the desire to experiment with elements of tea production or aging like roasting, and the practice of side-by-side comparisons, which allow for more objective gathering of information than comparing teas to memory.
  • Brett is a gardener and writes about it - Not only does Brett garden, he grows the tea plant in Seattle, and he also shares interesting tidbits from his other gardening adventures on his blog. And like me, he gets excited when vegetables overwinter in his garden! I especially recommend reading Brett's accounts of growing the tea plant, such as this may 2009 report explaining something about production and the more recent July 2012 report of an attempt at making oolong. Yet another thing I love about this blog!

Urban herbs:

One last thing I want to draw attention to about this blog is the Urban Herbs series, which relates both to Brett's broad interest in plants and gardening, and experience of tea and herbal infusions. Brett has set out to locate various herbs growing wild in the urban environment, and steep them as herbal teas.

I find this fascinating, both because I also share a desire to steep and drink infusions of various herbs other than the tea plant, and experience them with a richness similar to that of tea itself, and also because I love experiencing wild-harvested food and herbs, as I find it helps one to learn more about and become more connected to the local ecosystems.

Here is the entirety of the series, so far:

There's a lot to love about this blog, so I recommend checking it out, whether you're interested in oolong, tea production in Taiwan, tea culture in the US, growing tea in your own back yard, harvesting wild herbs in an urban environment, or (like me), all of the above!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lipton Tea Supermarket Display

I'm continuously interested in tea in American supermarkets, mainly because supermarkets are a place of the mainstream, and what is going on in mainstream supermarkets says a lot about the reach of tea culture in the U.S.

Pictured here is a supermarket display from the Supreme Shop n Bag store, part of Thriftway Shop n Bag stores, located on Walnut St. in Philadelphia, between 43rd and 44th streets:

This is a large, attention-getting display, out in the middle of the aisle. It's hard to miss. Yet I find it disappointed me; the display got my attention, but in the end, was rather boring.

Missed business opportunity? Why not highlight more products?

This display takes up a lot of space, yet it only includes a single product. Judging by how full the display is, the display does not seem to be doing a great job of encouraging people to buy tea.

Lipton tea, although it is known for its basic black tea, has diversified a lot lately, and now offers herbal blends, flavored teas, and higher-quality tea offered in pyramid sachets. You can visit the Lipton tea page on RateTea if you want to check what products Lipton carries, or read some reviews; I've personally reviewed 10 different offerings from Lipton. The company also sells loose-leaf tea. This display doesn't highlight any of these products!

I don't know if Lipton chose everything about this display, or if it was more up to the supermarket, but, regardless of who made the decision, I think Lipton is missing an opportunity to highlight the diversity of its products.

What do you think?

Do you think Lipton is missing an opportunity here? Or do you think people really just want a discount on their basic black tea? Or is Lipton tea off your radar entirely?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Why I Don't Want You To Click This Headline

I want people to read the pieces I publish online; the more readers I reach, the better. My message reaches a broader audience, and in the long-run, I even earn more money as I gain visibility for RateTea indirectly. So why do I not want people to click on the headline for this blog post?

You're already here, so the headline already got your attention and drew you in. First I have a confession to make: The headline was not fully truthful. On some level, I wanted you to click it, but on another level I did not. Why not? The answer lies in how I feel about sensationalism. I included a less-than-truthful headline, a form of exaggeration, in order to draw in readers.

The part of me that did not want you to click the headline did not want you to because I do not want people to be swayed by sensationalistic headlines. In my ideal world, I would like people to be immune to these sorts of headlines. Below, I explain why I think this would make the world a better place, and how you can help to advance this goal.

What is sensationalism?

Wikipedia has a rather spotty and incomplete article on sensationalism, which, although the article as a whole could use some improvement, I think hits the nail on the head with its initial definition:

Sensationalism is a type of editorial bias in mass media in which events and topics in news stories and pieces are over-hyped to increase viewership or readership numbers.

This definition cites a page about sensationalism on the website of FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing media bias and censorship.

Sensationalism causes problems in the tea world:

I want to visit some topics that I have heard people in the tea community complain about frequently:

  • Inaccurate public impression of science - My recent post about the tea and prostate cancer headline is an example of how even very mild sensationalism can have a powerfully negative impact on public perception of scientific knowledge.
  • Tea and weight loss fads - Tea, particularly green tea and oolong tea, and to some degree Pu-erh and white tea as well, have become associated in American society with weight loss fads. There are numerous negative impacts to this association, from people being put off from green tea because they try bad green tea sold as a weight-loss product, to negative body image issues promoted by marketing aimed at women. And most importantly, this whole approach takes away from people focusing on the quality and taste of their tea, and enjoying tea and the process of drinking it. And lastly, sites promoting tea as a weight loss product are not particularly truthful; for a more truthful approach I recommend reading Gingko's post on the slimming effect of tea.
  • Myths and falsehoods circulating about tea - A lot of the myths about tea surround the caffeine content of tea, such as the myth that white tea is lowest in caffeine among teas. A lot of other myths pertain to unsubstantiated health claims, which can range from the mundane to the absurd. Fortunately, there are a lot of people out there committed to ending these myths, including such people as Michael J. Coffee who runs Tea Geek, or Brandon of Wrong Fu Cha, who also administers WikiCha and is one of the numerous contributors to TeaDrunk, another great place to get solid info that breaks through myths and misconceptions. I also appreciate the casual skepticism expressed by bloggers like Lahikmajoe, or Nicole in her post Health Benefits Schmealth Benefits. And it's also worth noting the ATB (Association of Tea Bloggers) Criteria, point 6, also get at this issue; another thing I love about the ATB.
What can you do?

I think there are numerous things you can do to curb sensationalism in news, especially in how you read news online, and how you participate in social media and various online communities. Some of my recommendations:
  • Slow down - Sensationalism thrives on speed. Sensationalism flourishes and sensationalistic headlines are rewarded in an environment where people act on snap judgments, rather than thinking deeply, which leads into the next points.
  • Read deeply - Do not just skim pieces. Read them in their entirety and take time to think about them. Does this seem like more work? This leads into my next point.
  • Read less - Be more selective of what you read. As you read more deeply, you may reach a point like I did, where I realized that an overwhelming majority of what I was reading was remarkably low-quality, in that it communicated little new information, or was hastily thrown together, or it cited no sources, or that it was presenting opinions or mere assertions as fact or objective truth. These realizations are a good thing; they will help you to cut out whole media outlets, blogs, and websites. You will also get a better idea of what sorts of topics you wish to read on which sites. You may subscribe to a blog that posts almost daily, like this one, but you may find that only a small portion of the posts interest you enough to actually read them. This is a good thing! When you have less to read, you will be able to read more deeply.
  • Think carefully before sharing - Never share or re-share a post without reading it. Put some thought into what pieces you decide to share or re-share on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, social bookmarking sites, or through linking to from your blog or website. Think about what effect you are having by sharing a work or webpage. Is the work truthful? What effect will it have on the world for you to share it?
Sensationalism in the media only thrives when we fuel it. If we ignore it, and instead focus on high-quality, thoughtful journalism, scholarship, blogs, and other media, the sensationalists will just spin their wheels and eventually run out of steam.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

New Social Networking Icon Library For RateTea

I'm pleased to announce a new page on RateTea highlighting a comprehensive selection of RateTea Social Networking Icons, in different resolutions and three different color schemes. The page also has guidelines for making your own icon out of the RateTea logo.

Check the right sidebar of my blog to see how they can be used by an individual to link to your profile, alongside your accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Steepster, Google Plus, and other sites:

The use by tea companies is similar; tea companies can link them directly to the page for their tea brand. Tea companies can benefit from these icons by encouraging existing customers to rate and review your teas, reaching a broader audience than with reviews published only on the company website.

If your company already has existing reviews, linking can benefit you because shoppers unfamiliar with your company will be more likely to trust reviews published on an independent, third-party source than reviews on your own site.

What do you think? Any requests for new styles or dimensions?

The current array of icons there is limited to three colors, but we have a large array of other colors and styles that we have not published. Do you think there would be any other colors, styles, or dimensions that you would like to see? If you want something that we do not have displayed, Sylvia or I can probably design one for you in a brief period of time.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On Comparisons of Sandpiper Size and Tea Tasting: Lessons From Kaufman's Advanced Birding

My girlfriend Kelsey recently gave me a present, the newer edition of Kenn Kaufman's book "Advanced Birding". I'm finding this book has a lot of universal relevance to my life, including to the subject of tea tasting.

It's shorebird migration season, and the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge has been filling up with migrating shorebirds, including an abundance of Least sandpiper, Killdeer, and Lesser Yellowlegs, as well as smaller numbers of Semipalmated plover and a lone Pectoral sandpiper, which I have now seen twice. Identifying these birds is tough, and in many cases, size is an important clue.

One thing that Kaufman, widely respected as an expert birder, points out, is that without a size reference, it is impossible to accurately gauge size. Want an example? Look at this bird, which I photographed in the refuge recently:

How big is it? The photo alone gives no size reference. If I tell you that it is a Least sandpiper, and you know how big that is, then you have a reference. Let me give another example. How big is the same species, the least sandpiper (the smaller bird) in the following photo?

This photo was taken near Las Vegas, by Lip Kee Yap, and is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The bigger bird on the left is a Killdeer, a bird, common across much of the US, which can be found both in open, grassy areas like lawns, gravelly areas like railroad beds, and on mudflats alongside sandpipers. Seeing the two birds side-by-side gives us a size reference.

Size is an important clue in bird identification, especially when comparing visually similar birds, like the greater and lesser yellowlegs, or pectoral sandpiper, which is visually similar to the least sandpipers pictured here. Just how similar, you ask? Look for yourself:

This photo is by Andreas Trepte, and is licensed under BY-SA 2.5.

Is this bird bigger than the first bird? Yes, it is significantly bigger, and if you saw them side-by-side, you'd be able to see this very clearly. But looking at one bird alone, with no familiar objects for comparison, the size is impossible to see. And without a size reference, anyone other than an expert would have a tough time knowing that this is even a different species from the sandpiper in the first two photos. Both species have essentially the same plumage pattern, and both have yellow legs, and very similar bill shapes and sizes, and body shapes as well.

But check out these photos of a pectoral sandpiper alongside a Killdeer, or two pectoral sandpipers near a least sandpiper, and you'll see that it's hard to confuse these two species of sandpiper when you see them with a clear size reference, such as side-by-side, or near another species of familiar size. The pectoral sandpiper is much larger!

Back to tea:

I've lost count of the number of times I've described a tea as being "more bitter than" or "sweeter than" another tea, or having more of this aroma or that aroma, when I was only tasting one tea, and comparing it to memory. Do I really know this for sure? In a coarse sense, yes. I can probably tell that a stronger-than-average Irish Breakfast tea is more bitter and robust tasting than a lighter-than-average Darjeeling First Flush, just how, in the field and without a size reference, I can probably tell that a turkey is larger than a sparrow, even if I am only seeing one bird.

But for subtle differences in taste, I'm not sure we can know these things with much certainty, without actually tasting teas side-by-side. I wrote about some time ago, about how mood affects how we perceive taste. When comparing to memory, there is the possibility of remembering things in a skewed fashion. Our memory of an earlier tea when we try a new tea and make a mental comparison may be clouded by our expectations of how we think the new tea is going to taste, and tainted by how favorably we feel about the companies selling both the tea we are drinking and the tea we are comparing it to in our mind.

I'm not convinced I have the ability to be particularly accurate when it comes to these sorts of things.

What do you think?

How much do you think you can tell about how a tea you are drinking compares to a tea in your memory? Do you think the subtle tastes and aromas of tea is easier to compare without direct reference than the size of a lone sandpiper on a distant mudflat? Or do you think we can sometimes be a little over-confident with our comparisons of a tea we are drinking to another tea in our memory?