Tuesday, 19 June 2007

On Having an Amateur Palate

Today I tried to do my first formalised tasting, setting out my three oolongs, cups, some notes, advice from various websites and a pile of books to refer to in the kitchen. My hope was that after some elegant sips and taking some shatteringly perceptive notes, I would retire to the laptop to publish my opinions to general acclaim. Did I expect light to shine down from heaven as I swirled tea in my mouth? Probably.
Not surprisingly, it didn't go as planned.

Having set out a tasting notes sheet, with spaces for "dry leaf appearance" and "wet leaf smell" etc... I prepared a very lovely Phoenix Oolong from Ming Cha. I had tried the tea before and I knew I liked it, and so I thought I would have lots to tastes to describe in my notebook. I felt ready with all sorts of professional sounding words like "woody", "malty" and my favourite tea word, "brisk".
In the event however, I sipped and came up completely blank. I sipped again, sniffed the tea some more. Nothing. I sipped once more, swirled, thought, and sipped again. I knew I was tasting something delicious, but just as I was trying to find the words, the taste would disappear leaving me groping for vocabulary and experience I just don't have. This experience of tasting was so ephemeral and my inability to communicate what I was tasting, even to myself, was very frustrating.

After thirty minutes the kitchen table was a mess, my notebook was mostly empty except for comments like "nice" and "mmm...biscuity". My best note of the evening was a hesitant "citrusy(?)". Not so much light beaming down from heaven, rather a small candle flickering uncertainly in the next room.

Eventually I gave up, realising that I was unlikely to get very far on my talent as it stood and so I went upstairs to soothe myself by reading teablogs by people who know what they are doing.

Having spent my life so far studying literature and then working with books, I can talk about books for hours and feel confident enough to defend my opinions, or to accept when I'm wrong.

Tea is a whole other matter. Though every tea person I have had the good fortune to meet has been incredibly kind and supportive of my efforts, I'm finding it difficult to be patient with myself.


Ido said...

Tell me about it... . I had a miserable go at describing what I taste just a few days ago. Look at it this way, you are not the only one who blog about tea without proper tasting notes. For your sake I wish you don't continue in joining me in this "club".

Nikhil said...

Patience and persistence are words that come to mind -- advice I need to follow myself :)

Incidentally, I'm a novice at this too - my father is the professional tea taster and somehow finds ways to describe every nuance in flavor - his advice is what you see on our site! Me - I just enjoy the tea and try to figure out what I like, and try to learn from other blogs - Phyll Sheng's in particular. I do keep a little journal though, and am often at a loss for words on how to describe flavors and aromas in tea. So you're not alone, my friend! It's a fun journey though.

francofinn said...

It is indeed a fun journey! Thanks to you both for the comments - they are so kind and supportive of my tiny efforts.
I'm really enjoying reading your blogs and i'm learning so much!
I try to remember how far I have come in six months, and look forward to where I'll be in another six months!

equiano said...

Hang in there! If it is any consolation, you have converted moi into a tea addict: I am loving the ones you brought over recently. Coffee? What is coffee?!

francofinn said...

Oh I'm so excited! Can I bring more over?? Is Giri a convert too?

Nigel said...

After the first five years it generally goes quite well!