Well, do you?
Do you have what it takes to go further in tea?
Actually, we can put that to the test. It’s easy.
Just let me send you a 15 gram sample of two different teas:
- First, a Japanese sencha with notes of roasted brussels sprouts, yuzu, and wet stone.
- Second, a Wuyi yancha with notes of yellow peach skin, birch sap, and quinoa. Long, creamy biscuit-like aftertaste.
I’ll send these over to you, and once you get them, I want you to brew them up and see if you pick out these same notes.
And if you don’t get them exactly right… well, I don’t know. Maybe you’re not just cut out for this tea thing.
Maybe you just “don’t have the palate”.
As someone who used to write tasting notes for a living (you might have even tried a tea I wrote the descriptions for), let me tell you: they’re great and give a nice preview look into the tea, but they’re not everything.
For example, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s ever seen Somm, the documentary that follows folks practicing for the most prestigious exam in the wine world.
Now those guys have palates. They throw out the fanciest, most specific tasting notes and actually use them to determine the age, grape varietal, region, and even producer of a particular wine.
It’s the coolest shit ever. I wish I could do it.
I don’t think we can reliably do that in tea, though, and here’s why (and why that’s OK).
Let’s say we both had a bottle each of 2010 Chateau Cheval Blanc Bordeaux. (Which I just picked at random from a Google search, btw. Sounds legit, right?)
Chances are, we could open these bottles, share a long-distance wine date on Zoom, and get pretty similar notes. Unless we use hugely different glasses or one of the bottles got fk’d in storage, the two bottles will produce wine of similar color, aroma, body, and flavor.
It’s different in tea, though.
Unless you use the same water, brewing vessel, and brewing techniques, we’re just not going to get the exact same notes from the same tea.
That sencha with “notes of brussels sprouts, yuzu, and wet stone”? Well, up the temperature just a bit and it’ll taste more like spinach and seaweed on that brew. Use a different kyusu or gaiwan, and you’ll start transforming the tea altogether.
Heck, even the color changes if you use a different water, let alone the flavor notes!
Can we really expect everyone to get a yuzu note, then?
So if you ever find yourself or a friend saying:
- “I guess I don’t have the palate yet.”
- “I’m not good at tasting tea…”
- “I can’t taste that. Is something wrong with me?”
(actual quotes from Reddit and real life, btw)
Stop it. You taste tea just fine.
Can you tell what you like or don’t like? Yes?
Then you’re good to go.
Tasting notes can be super fun and helpful, but they really are more arbitrary than they seem. The sooner we can accept that, the sooner we can build more confidence in ourselves AND in others who are just starting to get into tea, too.
No sommelier palate required.