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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Matcha Infused Sencha and Brie
Tea has been consumed with food for centuries, so it seems rather funny to talk about tea and food pairings. However, as high quality tea becomes more widely available there are many opportunities to look at what you want to eat with your prized tea to enhance its flavor and give you new experiences. We bet there are certain foods you wouldn’t think to have a cup of tea with. So here are 3 unusual tea and food pairings you might want to try.
- Brie and Matcha Infused Sencha – Yes, France meets Japan. Given that Brie is typically paired with a Chardonnay or fruity light red wine, Matcha Infused Sencha was a shock. This grassy tea compliments the Brie and enhances its flavor without losing its own. The two together create a lite nutty flavor that is smooth and creamy.
- Tomato, Basil & Garlic Pasta with 2nd Flush Darjeeling – Pairing this fragrant, yet strong, tea with a tomato sauce makes for lovely combination. The crisp Darjeeling cuts the acidity of the sauce while enhancing the basil with other herbal notes. Darjeeling is surprisingly versatile, so pair it with your favorite tomato sauce and pasta combination. It also stands up to your favorite spicy dishes.
- Roasted Nuts & Himalayan White – The next time you reach for your favorite roasted nut for a snack, grab a cup of white tea to go with it. The combination of the salty nut and floral white make a third flavor together that is like cream. This is especially true with pistachios, cashews, and almonds.
Pairing tea with meals is similar to pairing wine with meals. Lighter teas with lighter foods and stronger teas with stronger foods. However, don’t allow that guidance to stop you from experimenting. The complex flavors in teas make them very versatile and fun to play with. So bring out your favorite tea and pair it with some of your favorite foods you wouldn’t consider. You will be amazed at what you find.
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The tea cozy (cosy in British English) is first documented in writing in 1867 in England, but is actually believed to have been around since the introduction of tea to England back in the late 1600’s. This handy device keeps your teapot warm. Given that afternoon tea became fashionable in the 1840’s, it is more likely they were in use sooner. Afternoon tea was a social affair, so conversation dominated and tea could quickly get cold. So, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.
Tea Cozy Design
This humble device is built to allow you to pour and easily gain access to the lid to refill. Originally made of linen, they are now made of any washable material. Afternoon tea was popular in mainstream culture during the Victorian Era, so the tea cozy became a highly embroidered cover and fashion statement for the teapot. If was fashionable during the Victorian Era to decorate just about every object in your house. The tea cozies of the time resembled something of a knitted hat that wrapped the teapot from the bottom up or a cover that draped over the pot and was removed every time you needed to pour. More recently, the tea cozy has become something of a fashion statement or artistic center piece for your tea party. They are a combination of knitting and sewing. If you think you want this, there are books on how to make some really unique tea cozies.
When to Put on the Tea Cozy
Newspapers of mid 1800’s actually debated when it was appropriate to put the cozy on the teapot, before or after steeping. The concern was that the cozy would cause the water to be too hot to steep. This is actually a legitimate concern if you are steeping green tea, which would have been the dominant tea in the 1800’s. If you are steeping a black tea, hotter is better. Ultimately is seems to be a personal preference as long as you factor in water temperature.
In closing, if you ever need to keep the teapot warm for long conversations, the tea cozy is not a bad addition to your tea accessories and you can make it yourself.
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