It’s not at all strange for the exact same wine, or any other drink, to taste completely different from one day to the next. Let’s go deeper. Was it the condition of wine storage? A corked bottle? The wrong stemware? Perhaps, but those are minor factors compared to the overall tasting experience. The same exact wine will not taste the same in a totally different context. It doesn’t matter how good the wine is, how expensive it is. Flavor is dynamic. Flavor changes with many things, but one of the most important things is environment.
It’s not just what you drink that matters; it’s also where you drink it.Like wine, tea will taste different in different environments. As I write, I’m enjoying the pleasure of a rainy, cold morning in LA. It’s 50 degrees, overcast and damp. It smells of petrichor. I’ve spent my life in vastly different parts of the US, from woodsy New Hampshire to the great plains of a Nebraska farm, humid Chicago with its infamous lakefront effect and bone-dry desert of west Texas, from San Francisco’s ever-foggy spring-fall to LA’s perpetual sunny and 72. Such a nomadic life has made me acutely aware of how climate changes scent and flavor. Scent and flavor are virtually inseparable, but let’s focus on flavor. Let’s focus on tea flavor.
The way we perceive flavor is influenced by the tasting environment. There are at least 3 major environmental factors that affect the way something tastes:
- time of day
Here's how these 3 factors influence the way things taste.
Let’s start with time of day.
In the morning, my senses are pretty sharp even when I’m tired. Here’s what’s going on with me: It’s dark, I’m between dreaming and waking, I’ve brushed my teeth but haven’t yet eaten or smelled anything. My senses have rested and reset during the night. They are super sensitive. That’s why I personally don’t enjoy smoky tea first thing in the morning. I gravitate towards green tea or gentle single origin black teas, or a nice milky, malty tea that’s rich and sweet. It’s all about the gentle, kind flavors. Afternoon, I’ve been working, my senses are overloaded, and I need something to shake me up and break through the noise, so then I go for smoky tea or one with a citrus punch. Evenings, I’ve put our baby to bed. It’s really quiet so I can taste more again. I’m ready to unwind and soothe rather than stimulate my senses so I want to avoid powerful flavor or caffeine. That’s when I can enjoy more layered yet subtle rooibos or herbal blends. If I drink the wrong tea at the wrong time of day, the experience can be really unpleasant.
Sound is another big influence on the way things taste.Let me tell you what happens when we do tea tastings or events at loud restaurants or bars or hotels. If we’re tasting a subtle, elegant tea, no one can taste anything. It’s true. With music cranking, crowds of people laughing and talking over the kitchen and service clatter, you just can’t notice the nuances of an aged oolong or the layers of an herbal infusion. In those cases, the teas that people can actually taste are the bold, super tannic, smoky, spicy blends. Whether you’re eating or drinking alone, with a friend, or with 20 of your closest friends you’ll notice that your perception of flavor changes too, largely due to sound.
Let’s talk about climate.This morning in LA, we are enjoying an aged oolong we call Castalia. It tastes especially amazing on this gray, chilly morning. This tea has a slightly roasted flavor that is warming, and that flavor itself is a subtle complement to the weather. The usual Los Angeles weather of bright sunlight and dry, hot air would overwhelm the subtle tasting notes of this tea. But not today.
A while ago, we were visiting San Francisco and our friends at Vive la Tarte told us how Mood Indigo, a smoky orange vanilla black tea, it a customer favorite. Really? We tasted it there and sure enough, the flavor is an extraordinary compliment to chilly, foggy mornings. In LA, it’s much less popular. The perfumy orange vanilla incense vibe of this tea can be overpowering in the hot, arid LA climate.
Metropolitan is an intensely tannic, vibrant citrus tea that I think tastes best on the coldest of winter mornings here in LA. That’s a brisk 48 degrees. Yet, it’s a hit among our friends in the Colorado mountains. Again, it’s not only what you drink that matters, it’s where you drink it.
There are other factors that we’ll talk about in future posts. For instance, the condition of your palate, genetic sensitivity to bitterness, age, memory and whether you’re a man or a woman. Stay tuned.
– Gina, August cofounder
What tastes great where you live? Details please! We want to know all about your flavor experiences with August where you live. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or share your story on Facebook.