Saturday, August 7, 2010

Not Your Cup of Tea: Writing About What Other People May Enjoy

This post was inspired by one of Lainie's posts: Bad Tea or Bad Taste?, which got me thinking about how one determines, if you are drinking a tea that you don't really like, whether it's bad or whether it's just not your cup of tea.

What is important to write about when you review a tea? The appearance and smell of the dry tea leaf? The brewing process? The aroma of the cup? The flavor? The differences between each infusion, if you use the tea for multiple infusions? How you feel after drinking the cup? The thoughts and sensations evoked during the whole experience?

Maybe there's something missing from this type of review.

Sharing Tea With Others:

When I share tea with other people, I'm often struck by how different people's opinions are on the same tea.

My parents are big tea drinkers, and have quite different taste from me. My father has a broad range of teas that he enjoys, and doesn't tend to have as strong opinions on them as I do. It's hard for me to predict what he likes, but he tends to like a lot of the same teas that I do, and also some teas that I dislike. I find we are more likely to share opinions on inexpensive teas (we both like foojoy tea bags, for instance) than pricier teas.

My mother is very different. She rarely likes any tea that is not very strong, full-bodied, and usually quite bitter--but she also has a strong propensity to like fruity and floral aromas, and she (like me) loves mint and other mint-family herbs. She loves Russian Caravan and gunpowder, but Lapsang Souchong is too smokey for her. Rose-scented black tea is one of her favorites, and she even loves rose-scented green tea, but doesn't like most straight green tea. But for some reason she likes dragon well--she says it has less of the grassy quality that she dislikes in most green tea. And she loves oolongs, especially more bitter ones. And she loves roasted teas--including hojicha and darker-roasted oolongs. She absolutely cannot stand pouchong, saying it's bland and fishy. Over the years, I've developed an intuition for what kinds of teas she likes. I can't predict with 100% accuracy what she'll like, but I have a pretty good sense of it, even when her tastes are very different from mine.

Writing About Who Might Enjoy a Tea:

If you are writing reviews for others, even after the natural self-selection that takes place when readers seek out bloggers or reviewers who have similar taste, many of your readers will inevitably have substantially different tastes from yours. I designed a user-comparison algorithm for RateTea, and, interestingly, the highest "similarity" I had with any other user was 59%--meaning that if given the choice of two teas, we would prefer the same tea only 59% of the time. Tastes are diverse enough that even the people with whom we share the most similar preferences are going to have substantial differences!

It makes sense then in your reviews to think about who might enjoy a tea, and to write the review with this in mind. I don't like the aroma of cinnamon. If I dislike a tea (such as a chai blend) for the sole reason that it has a strong cinnamon flavor, I note this--because a cinnamon lover can then use that information to know that they might be likely to really enjoy that blend. The same goes for bitterness.

Occasionally I'll try a tea that I really don't like, but I have a compelling sense that someone I know might really enjoy it. There's nothing wrong with writing about teas that you don't like! But...try to think about who might like it, and write about that. You can even say explicitly: "This is not my favorite style of tea, but I thought it was very good for what it was", or "This wasn't my favorite, but people who like X, Y, and Z qualities might really enjoy this one."


  1. Usually when I do a review, I try to leave all of my personal likings aside. I note the tea for what it is. I do the same basic thing in all my reviews as well; aroma of dry leaf, appearance of dry leaf (sometimes), flavor and aroma profiles of the successive brews, and then my general feelings about the tea last. I am actually not very picky about tea and have only had a few teas that I would not prefer, but to say I completely dislike a tea, that is very wrong.
    Great information once again Alex!

  2. Thanks for your responsive post. I tend to do this (recommend a tea for particular palates) a bit, particularly with Dragon Well, which really isn't one of my favorites.

    Take care.

  3. The site that I review for wants our reviews to be rather subjective. Do I like the tea? Will I be purchasing it in the future? Why or why not? I really loved your post though and will keep it in mind. I do try to consider who would like the teas but I know that I don't include it in every review.

  4. These responses are so interesting because they highlight how there are so many different ways of reviewing a tea...and it's not that any one approach is better than the others, it really depends on the purpose of your reviews!