Food for Thought ...


One of the intentionally aged teas, Pu-Erh has a loyal following.

Food for Thought ...

Postby tst » Feb 21st, '13, 01:02

This has been something on my mind for almost a year now.

Last February, I was listening to the local NPR radio affiliate and heard a very interesting program on the science of taste and to what degree our brains and/or perceptions of what we're eating or drinking affect our impressions.

It was a very interesting bit of radio to say the least (the first half is what mostly applies). Here's a link to the full transcript, however I would encourage you to seek out the podcast, as listening to the audio is worthwhile.

http://www.freakonomics.com/2012/02/28/ ... ranscript/

To summarize, they mainly talk about wine and how people who taste two different (or identical) wines will mostly say the more expensive wine tastes better. Then the labels would be switched, and people will now claim the other wine is better (it will make more sense when you read/listen to the program). They also mention other tests and studies regarding this idea, which also found that experts and regular wine drinkers both tend to rate wines as better tasting, and that their ratings were linked to the value they believe the wine has.

I'm curious to hear some opinions on how this idea applies to tea. How much do you think our perceptions of a tea affect how much we enjoy it? Yes? No? Why or why not? And before you completely denounce the possibility that you do this, consider the snobby, senior professor from the story ;)
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Re: Food for Thought ...

Postby gingkoseto » Feb 21st, '13, 01:22

This kind of things happen all the time. Last year I found through twitter in a blog discussion (can't remember where) where the blogger commenting on people's comments on a Chinese Ningxia wine winning some international wine champion. Most commentators in the wine world thought something must have gone wrong with that competition, because, how could a non-French, non-Italian have won the champion... And the point is not about how good or bad the wine is - the blogger pointed out that most commentators who voiced aloud didn't even have a chance to taste the wine.

As for the real tasting, if tasting is beyond personal enjoyment and is for the sake of making claims or competition, then only blind-folded tasting counts. It's too easy to claim things or draw conclusions without paying a stake in it.
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Re: Food for Thought ...

Postby wyardley » Feb 21st, '13, 01:23

I think our brains absolutely do affect the way we taste. I will be the first to admit that I am completely influenced by the things I know (if any) about a tea when drinking it.

Most tea (with some exceptions, like say, some pu'er) has very in the little of marketing or packaging the way, say, wine does, but even so, we may be influenced by the stories we hear about a given tea from tea vendors or tea friends. It can be freeing to try teas without knowing what they are, and I do think this is a good way to build your confidence in your own tasting ability. But while training and experience will likely make it possible to make better judgements than someone else, it's still possible to be off the mark a good percentage of the time. This is very much true of professional wine critics - they may be more likely than you or me to correctly identify a wine, but they're still likely to be wrong a lot of the time (I don't know the exact percentage, but I'll bet that it's pretty high).

The downside of the fact that most loose tea is devoid of any kind of standardization or commercial packaging is that I think tea is a bit like the wild west, because there's so much misinformation and (intentional or unintentional) misrepresentation of teas out there.

I am sometimes fascinated by the claims of some of the folks here about being able to identify a tea's region or varietal. While some may be able to do this reliably, I think it would be very interesting to have a Teachat blind tasting sometime.
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Re: Food for Thought ...

Postby shah82 » Feb 21st, '13, 02:16

Most attempts at sampling are highly artificial. After all, when you're at home, you think of what you want to have, and you go get it--with the expectation that you will get largely the same quality as you are used to.

Can anyone be confused by some labeling and blind tasting issues? Yup. If I drop you and your car at the Spaghetti Junction in Atlanta, will you be confused about where you are going and make judgments on that confusion? Yup.

Don't ever let people tell you that they're all the same. If that were true, you'd just drink Coors light if you're a beer (well, for the sake of argument) drinker. Most people just never really educate their tongues, and most people don't have good beer or wine or tea as a matter of course. A sample can fool you. You can easily pick the worse tea in between two blind samples. However, if you have those teas regularly, you will be able to identify the aspects of a tea that you like (probably from the better tea) and reach for the one you really like, whether you chose that sample originally or not when it was a blind taste test.
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Re: Food for Thought ...

Postby Tead Off » Feb 21st, '13, 02:43

All perception is filtered through our thinking. And, our thinking is what we've learned/been taught from past experience and the inherited cultural information. In order to communicate and function in the world, we establish agreed upon ways of looking at things (value systems). The actual value systems (composed of a structure of thoughts) have nothing to do with the body's perception through the senses. We actually have no way of knowing what we are experiencing, be it tasting, smelling, feeling, etc. without thought giving us information. This is an interesting observation if you really see it. We make judgements based on value systems that the culture tells us we should have. This affects every moment of our lives in every way, shape, and form. You might say that we are programmed! :D
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Re: Food for Thought ...

Postby futurebird » Feb 21st, '13, 03:49

wyardley wrote:I am sometimes fascinated by the claims of some of the folks here about being able to identify a tea's region or varietal. While some may be able to do this reliably, I think it would be very interesting to have a Teachat blind tasting sometime.


I think it would be education for beginners and experts alike to have a blind pu-erh tasting round with say:

* An old "pretty good" raw tea from the 80s/70s
* An old "pretty good" raw tea from the 90s
* An old "excellent" cooked tea from the 90s
* A young "excellent" cooked tea 00s
* A young "pretty good" tea 00s
* A young "excellent" tea 00s

About 25g each (enough to do a few tries of each tea, one is not enough) and maybe $100 (???) to participate.

Maybe one of you tea-heads with 100 bings "aging" in your living room could select some samples and set it up?

I'd view it as a blessing if I liked cooked tea from the 90s as much as true old raw puer. It'd save me money!

When my teas come in the mail I try not to look at them too carefully to do my own blindin tasting, but I do know what I paid could influence me. When you spend a lot it's harder to admit you got ripped off! No one wants to feel like a sucker, but we all are suckers on one day or another.
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Re: Food for Thought ...

Postby SilentChaos » Feb 21st, '13, 04:27

:roll: 25g of a pretty good 70's pu (not loose originally) alone will cost like 40 to 50 usd... :roll:
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Re: Food for Thought ...

Postby TomVerlain » Feb 21st, '13, 07:57

Like the Pepsi Challange, the Pu'erh Challange.....

In the Pepsi challange, people took a sip of one, then the other and made a decision. Makes for great TV marketing, but for pu'erh, a sip doesn't tell the whole story. Some teas blossom in later infusions, while others wither.

So, realisticly, you'd want to sample over a period of days, and sample each time at the same point in brewing, (i.e. day one try brew one from 5 teas, day 2 (or time 2) try brew 2 from the 5 teas).

But also, since the effect of tea can be both delayed and cumlitive, try a single tea over a long session, so you get the feeling from a single tea, rather than combined effects.

Since the appearance of the leaves gives clues to the tea, you would ideally like someone else to do the preparation.

Since the pot might flavor the tea, or shape it's brewing, 5 identical pots should be used.

I propose we meet in HK and try this. Should take about two weeks. All we need is a sponser.
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Re: Food for Thought ...

Postby ChengduCha » Feb 21st, '13, 08:56

I'm curious to hear some opinions on how this idea applies to tea.


I rarely drink wine, but I assume wine taste differences aren't as strong as those for pu erh when you get above the astringent/chemical tasting rubbish segment.

If two things taste very similiar the brain most likely tries makes up the difference from external influences i.e. the alleged value in this case.

When I'm at tea shops I often find cheaper teas tasting better than expensive ones and when the taste differences aren't big I always opt for the cheaper version, but I'm sure an inexperienced tea drinker would try to justify the taste of a crappy tasting expensive tea in his mind somehow just to be able to fathom why it costs so much. :D

With pu erh a greatly increased cost mostly comes from aging - which doesn't really mean much if the tea was not good to begin with and the popularity of an area (like lao ban zhang) which mostly leads to fakery, decreased quality etc. in China instead of the establishment of solid quality standards as in the west. The reason for this is mainly gift giving to people who just care about the alleged value - but aren't sophisticated tea drinkers.
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Re: Food for Thought ...

Postby plant partaker » Feb 22nd, '13, 03:57

Very Interesting topic. I wonder if I tell myself the tea I have is highly expensive if that will influence my enjoyment in drinking it :lol:
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Re: Food for Thought ...

Postby JakubT » Feb 22nd, '13, 06:41

SilentChaos wrote::roll: 25g of a pretty good 70's pu (not loose originally) alone will cost like 40 to 50 usd... :roll:

Where, pray tell? I'd expect 40-50 USD to be price for 5-10g at most.
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Re: Food for Thought ...

Postby JakubT » Feb 22nd, '13, 06:45

ChengduCha wrote:
I'm curious to hear some opinions on how this idea applies to tea.


I rarely drink wine, but I assume wine taste differences aren't as strong as those for pu erh when you get above the astringent/chemical tasting rubbish segment.
...


I think that the differenes are not really smaller, especially if you step up from a single area (e.g., Chateaneuf du Pape is completely and utterly different from Beaujolais). I think it all depends on what one drinks most, as the brain adapts and "scales" to what it perceives. The people I know, who drink mostly wine and less puerh, they find puerhs to be more similar to one another, while they see huge differences in various wines they try.

I drink a lot more pu than wine (although I drink reasonable amount of wine too) and it seems to me that the two genres are not simply comparable when it comes to range of tastes...

It seems to me that both worlds have roughly similar number of "dimensions" to them - area (important in both), age of trees (important in both), wild/non-wild (only in pu, ok, but how important is it?), production process (both complex in wine and pu, maybe a bit more in wine?) and aging (puerh is probably a bit more complex here as it depends largely on not only how long, but where it ages).
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