Care for some tea with your cream and sugar?
It is possible to retrain your taste buds to enjoy tea without milk or sugar. You are not so much retraining your taste buds but your brain. How people enjoy food is a rather complex system that scientists are still studying to understand, but there is a general consensus that flavor preferences are built by what is consumed routinely. So if you are wanting to remove that milk and sugar from your tea or expand your tea habit into new areas like puerh or green tea, here are 3 tips to help you in that process.
- Slowly remove the milk and sugar from your tea. This includes stevia and other sugar substitutes. If you taper it down over time, your brain won’t reject the change. Try reducing the milk and sugar by half what you normally put in the first week. Then reduce by half the following week and follow the same pattern until you are at zero. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition ran a study in 2016 that had half the participants reduce their sugar intake and then judge the sweetness of certain foods before and after 3 months of a reduced sugar diet. It was not a surprise that the group found certain foods more sweet after reducing their sugar intake. Our brains are very good to adapting to what we do, if we constantly consume sugar the brain stops consciously registering the sweetness. So we consume more sugar to get the sweetness we think we want. This particular study used 3 months, but other studies on taste have indicated that the taste preferences reset anywhere between 3-6 weeks.
- Keep trying that new tea. It will take between 5-10 tastes to adjust. Yes, new flavors are learned. So a single sip will not work, it requires repeated consumption to register the new flavor with your brain. You need to think when consuming this new flavor. What do you like? What is different? Why is it different? Is different good or bad? This practice is termed mindful eating. If practiced enough you will enjoy new foods more.
- Pair that new tea with something you love. If you are really serious about bringing green tea into your diet but are having trouble with the flavor, drink that tea while eating something you like. This is called associative conditioning. Our brains will associate the new flavor with the one you already like and condition you to enjoy that new flavor more than if you consumed it alone. You will need to do this more than once for it to work, usually about 4 or 5 times. This trick also works really well when introducing new foods to children.
Enjoy trying new tea and retraining your taste buds!
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Interested in green tea but don’t know where to start? Here are our 3 favorite introductory green teas that we recommend to those who are new to the tea or had a bad green tea experience in the past. Each gives a different view into the vast world of green teas without being so green that it shocks your palette. We skipped flavored teas here as they don’t truly represent complex green tea flavors.
We recommend that you brew these between 175°F and 185°F.
- Jasmine Green – This scented green tea from China carries the floral aroma of jasmine petals with a lite astringency. This is a good one to try if you like other floral teas that include lavender or rose. It is a softer green tea that also holds its flavor over ice. Applying the jasmine scent is labor intensive but worth the effort.
- Gunpowder – The name of the tea refers to the shape of the tea leaves. This is a tightly balled green tea from China. Unlike other greens, this one has a stronger finish that is more similar to an Irish Breakfast or Assam tea. This bite is due to the combined use of steam and baking to make this tea. We generally recommend this tea to those who have been loyal black tea drinkers but want to branch out into green tea.
- Genmaicha – This Japanese green tea is a mixture of green tea and toasted rice kernels. The toasted rice kernels were added to help stretch out expensive green tea. This ancient recipe carries the aroma of popcorn and a lite smooth finish. It is a great introduction to Japanese green teas, which are steamed instead of baked.
Green tea is a very broad category of teas with a wide range of flavors. So if all the articles talking about the health benefits of green tea have you interested, these introductory green teas are a great place to start to help narrow the field to a tea you can drink daily.
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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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