Cinnamon, Cloves & Star Anise
Improving your flavor palate doesn’t require much. The benefits include finding new flavors you enjoy, appreciating what you eat and drink, and slowing down. It is both funny and sad to think that many people cannot describe the flavors of their last meal. Partially because eating has become something we do mindlessly and on the go in the US. We are not taught the words or the steps to make us pay attention to what goes into our mouths. It is just assumed we will figure it out ourselves as we grow up. Well, many of us don’t. So here are 3 easy steps you can take to improve your flavor palate, which will make drinking tea an even more fun experience.
- Think when you eat or drink. When you put something in your mouth, focus on it. Then pick out words to describe what you taste and smell. This is actually a fun exercise to do with kids as you will get some pretty funny, yet eye opening, descriptions. If you are struggling for words there are many flavor wheels on the internet that can help. Here is a flavor wheel that is one of our favorites.
- Drink more tea! Yes, you had to see that one coming. Don’t just drink more of your favorites, try new things way outside your comfort zone. We generally recommend venturing into white teas like Bai Hao Silver Needle, as they are so subtle that you must concentrate on them when you drink or you will miss their flavors and aromas. Looking to find a tea that will give you a dizzying array of flavors, play in oolongs like Oriental Beauty or Wen Shan Bao Zhong. Then there are teas that will give you a whole new vocabulary of flavor, Puerh.
- Watch how much salt and sugar is in what you eat. The typical American diet has way too much salt and sugar*, both of which greatly effect what you taste well after it has left your mouth. Both salt and sugar make it more difficult to pick up subtle flavors because they over stimulate your taste buds, making it hard for your brain to also process the other flavors. Want a fun experiment? Try for one week to eat as little salt and/or sugar as possible (read labels carefully). Then go back and eat a small portion your favorite salty or sweet snack. Wait for the head rush and see how truly overpowering the saltiness or sweetness is.
So while you are working on expanding your palate, don’t forget your medicine cabinet. One of the most frequent and not really talked about side effects of antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory and high cholesterol drugs is the loss of taste and smell. So if you happen to be a regular consumer of one or more of these, it has likely effected your ability to taste and/or smell. Dosages can be adjusted down to help with this, but it may require you to increase the amount of spicing (skip the salt and sugar) on your food and the amount of tea you use to brew your favorite cup. Enjoy expanding your palate!
* The US Food & Drug Administration recommends less than 50 grams of sugar a day with a 2,000 calorie diet. This is what you will find in a 16 oz soda. The World Health Organization recommends less than 25 grams.
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The brain plays a major role in interpreting and describing mouthfeel and flavor.
Mouthfeel is defined as the texture of a substance as it is perceived by the mouth. It is funny to think about how something feels in your mouth, but it is actually a very important part of how your brain decides rather or not you like a particular food or beverage. We spend a lot of time focused on smell and taste and often overlook mouthfeel until a particular food or beverage does not feel the way we expect it too.
Tea has a mouthfeel that is created by the polyphenals reacting with our saliva and the mucus membrane on our tongues. This means that different teas have different mouthfeels.
Describing the Mouthfeel of Tea
Below are the three most common mouthfeels used to describe tea that do not reference the temperature of the tea itself.
- Astringent or Drying. Some people use the term brisk to describe this sensation as well. Astringency is the ability of the substance to leave the tongue and roof of the mouth feeling dry after swallowing. If you pay close attention, you may notice that only certain parts of your tongue and roof of your mouth give that sensation. English Breakfast is usually the least astringent, followed by Scottish Breakfast and then Irish Breakfast. Assam black tea is what makes Irish Breakfast the most drying.
- Creamy. You do not need milk to drink a creamy tea. Oolongs, like Oriental Beauty, and certain green teas, like Dragon Well, have creamy textures. The tea leaves the sensation of remaining on your tongue after you swallow, just like milk. It general reacts the same way on all parts of your tongue, which makes the tongue feel coated in tea.
- Full bodied. This one is a little tricky. Body refers to a thick, sticky consistency. A full bodied tea is not going to feel the same on the mouth as a full bodied beer or wine. The most common example of full bodied tea is Lapsang Souchong, but this pine-smoked tea is not drunk by everyone. Another example is Malty Assam Black.
So the next time you sit down with your favorite cup, think about how it feels in your mouth. It may surprise you!
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Ever wondered what the difference is between English, Irish and Scottish breakfast teas. Well, it’s a relatively simple answer driven by the terroir of tea. While there is no uniform formula for each of these blends, their flavor profiles are generally agreed upon within the industry. English breakfast is typically sweeter, while Irish has the most astringency (making it the perfect candidate for milk or cream). Scottish breakfast is astringent like Irish only the astringency is felt further back in your mouth, so it is not as forward as Irish but still milk worthy. We know plenty of people who put milk in their English breakfast, and that is fine too. However, it is a smooth black tea blend if made in the right ratios and nice to drink in the morning plain.
Not all black teas are the same, nor should they be. Remember tea is an agricultural product and it should vary in flavor year-to-year and by where it is grown. The three black teas that make up these three breakfast blends are Keemun, Assam and Ceylon teas. That’s right, all three blends are generally made from these three black teas. The ratios of these teas change whether the tea is an English, Irish or Scottish breakfast tea.
English, Irish, & Scottish Tea Differences
English breakfast is predominately Keemun tea out of China mixed with Assam tea from India. Depending on the tea blender and the characteristics of each tea for the year, English breakfast can also have a small portion of Ceylon tea. Keemun tea from China is a malty black tea that is slightly sweet and stone fruit in flavor. It doesn’t have the astringency of an Assam or Ceylon. However, blending it with those teas helps to give them more complexity in flavor and a softer mouth feel.
Irish Breakfast is predominately Assam tea with a little Keemun and Ceylon teas thrown in. This is a strong tea in that it can dry your mouth quickly
because of the combination of Assam and Ceylon. Scottish is predominately Ceylon with smaller portions of Keemun and Assam included. To tell the difference between Irish and Scottish, you need to exclude the milk and look at the color of the brew. Ceylon tea is a beautiful red while Assam is brews more orange. You should also pay attention to where your mouth gets dry in drinking these teas. An Irish breakfast, will dry your mouth more toward the front to middle while a Ceylon will hit further back on your tongue and throat.
So the next time you a few minutes in the morning with your cup of tea, pay attention to what you feel in your mouth and the flavors of these popular blends. It is a fun way to appreciate the complexity of something that on the surface seems rather simple.
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Delicious Tea Ice Cream Float
Tea ice cream floats are a fun way to drink tea when it is really hot out or you are in the mood for an ice cream float but without the soda. Below we used Ginger Honeybush, as this was for dessert after dinner and we did not want caffeine that late in the day. The recipe below is scaled for 4 people but is easy to scale down or up. There is also no requirement that you freshly brew the tea, if you have iced tea in the refrigerator, feel free to try with that.
Tea Ice Cream Floats – Ingredients
4 tablespoons Ginger Honeybush tea
4 teaspoons of Agave Nectar
2 1/4 Cups Boiling Water
Seltzer Water (Should be cold)
Vanilla Ice Cream (You can use any ice cream. We happen to like Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream)
4 Large Glasses
Tea Ice Cream Floats – Steps
- Take your 4 glasses and put 1 teaspoon of Agave Nectar into each glass. Bring your 2 1/4 cups of water up to a boil.
- Steep the 4 tablespoons of Ginger Honeybush in the water for 5 minutes.
- Strain off the tea and pour 1/2 cup into each glass and stir (yes the tea is hot). Pour in selzter water until half-way up the glass and stir.
- Scoop in vanilla ice cream and then pour in additional seltzer water to the desired level. Serve and enjoy!
This is a fun way to do ice cream floats without soda. The seltzer water still gives you the crunchy ice cream effect that you get with soda.
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The history of the Silk Road and tea are intertwined in ways that still affect the tea we all drink today. So for a quick view into what the Silk Road did for tea, here are 5 facts about the Silk Road.
- The Silk Road is not a single road but a series of routes that encouraged trade in many goods, including tea, as well as the exchange of knowledge and cultural habits. Many of these routes existed independently before being brought together into a contiguous network of roads during the Han Dynasty (206BCE-220CE). These routes exposed various cultures and supported a lively trade in goods and exchange of knowledge. The Chinese not only gave Westerners knowledge of paper, gunpowder and silk, but received back knowledge of many western religions and irrigation for agriculture and live stock.
- The Tea Horse Road was the route through Yunnan that brought tea to the rest of China and to the West. This road is very treacherous with narrow roads that snake along the side of mountains that easily washed out and were barely wide enough for a horse or human on foot. This route gave birth to what we now call Puerh.
- Moroccan Mint was created on the Silk Road. The exchange of spices was common on the Silk Road. Mint was grown by the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and exchanged for many things including tea. During the height of trade on the Silk Road, tea was sold in crushed bricks and prepared with many spices including mint.
- Goods and people didn’t just leave China for what is now the Middle East and Europe. Many people and their cultures came into China and stayed. Along the old Silk Road in China is a hugely diverse population that include Yi, Bai, Hani, Zhuang, Dai and Mao. These ethnic groups have different languages, dress, religious beliefs and holidays. While the People’s Republic of China officially recognizes these categories, many of these categories, like the Yi group together another 30-40 ethnic groups. These ethnic minorities are many of the skilled tea workers, not just in the fields but in the manufacturing of tea in Yunnan. For some, like the Yi, their holidays are based around the tea harvests.
- One Belt One Road is China’s current plan to rebuild the Silk Road by investing in infrastructure not just in China but into the Middle East and Europe. While it is presented as a way for China to expand its international influence, it ignores how China will be influenced by those countries who choose to participate. Trade is a two way exchange when done successfully, so if the Chinese government really wants this to be successful they will have to bend and be open to the influence and culture of the other countries, which could have some unexpected outcomes for them. This will be an interesting project to watch.
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