Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Bangkok World of Coffee and Tea Expo

I've seen notices for tea and coffee exhibitions in the past, and always intended to check one out, but only now finally did (the World of Coffee and Tea Expo).  Expos are common here in Bangkok, just an unusual version of a sales event, held in huge conference centers based on all sorts of themes.  We've been to similar ones related to electronics, baby goods, books, and travel.  It's not so similar to the tea conventions people frequent in the US, not focused on just that one theme, and this was just one third of a huge event covering a lot of additional food scope. To make a long story short, the scope was limited but some interesting things came up.

Chang beer!  But I wasn't there for that.

I did go to an organic foods event once that had a dozen stalls with people brewing and serving samples of tea, so I expected more of the same.  Novelty in tea selection is limited in general in Thailand, and I didn't expect a lot of foreign-originated sales to be part of it.  I'll describe some of what was there by vendor, easier for a reader to follow.  When first walking in it looked like any other expo, noisy, with lots of people and lots of presentations, and an amusing use of presenter "pretties" to sell all sorts of things.

Dilmah, commercial Ceylon teas

I must be joking, right?  These teas are sold in grocery stores, essentially no different than Twinings (not all of which is crappy tea-bag tea).  I kind of am, but I wasn't seeing a lot of tea when I first walked around, lots more elaborate coffee sales and brewing equipment, and I started to get nervous that this vendor might be what I came to see.  I didn't stop at their presentation area at first, and really did find a few more interesting places before stopping by here to check it out.

Of course they have a broad range of flavored tea-bag teas, none of any interest to me, but in the past I've tried slightly better loose tea from them.  It was still nothing novel or above average, still the kind of tea you need either milk or sugar added to get down, to soften the astringent character.  Taken with milk and sugar their loose tea is much better than Lipton's tea bags, but that's sort of beside the point.

They had a nice demonstration display that seemed to show the other kinds of teas I'd actually be interested in, better loose teas, but they weren't preparing samples of those.  They asked if I'd like to try a pomegranate flavored iced tea (I think it was--something fruity), which I declined.  Looking around some of their loose tea could've been ok, types like Tie Kuan Yin, which they said was also from Sri Lanka.  It would seem odd if the loose Lapsang Souchong and Darjeeling they were selling were also from that country, but we didn't discuss that.  I would guess that they do make teas that the average loose tea drinker really could appreciate, maybe even better Ceylon teas that they would love to have a chance to drink, but I just wasn't seeing it there.

They did give me a tea-bag version of a Ceylon oolong to try, my first, I think.  It wasn't great, and didn't taste like much at all.  I had a Thai oolong sample that I was carrying around to compare it to (Boon Rawd, a commercial producer here, but one that at least makes reasonable loose teas).  That was a light oolong served in a pyramid-style tea-bag, much better than the oolong dust in the Dilmah tea bag, not that I needed a comparison tasting to place either.  I dumped most of the hot water from the Dilmah cup into the Boon Rawd sample cup to get one more infusion out of that bag, which probably would've went at least one more.

Boon Rawd, commercial volume Thai tea maker / plantation

This was what I was expecting to find; a tea maker producing decent lightly oxidized oolongs, teas I'd appreciate more if I'd not already tried a thousand of them.  They also sold flavored teas, and some herbal teas (tisanes, to some), not that I was interested in that.  There's not much more to tell; that one oolong was nice, but not nice enough it stuck in my mind which type it was (Jin Xuan, Four Seasons, etc.; I think the latter).

As for contact they have a website, but for English language a related article might work better, although there isn't much there.  That says they produce 400 tons of tea a year, a good bit, and this blog post says they have a restaurant at their farm.  A visit might be nice but I wouldn't expect much for any better quality specialty teas.

I thought I'd tried decent osmanthus oolong from them before, one of the few floral infused teas I'd find it worthwhile to drink, but now I'm remembering it was from this other commercial producer instead.  That previous floral infused tea was nice but not interesting enough for me to try another sample of one at the expo.  So there wasn't much to report.  If they make a next level of better tea that would be news to me, but at least decent commercial loose teas are a nice gateway offering, a leap forward from what people sell as lemon tea or milk tea (adulterated low-grade black tea).

Specialized Ceylon Tea Supplier for Wholesale and retail  (SNSS)

Nice to see something slightly different; a vendor selling a broader range of Sri Lankan teas.  I tried a few; they were fine.  Better Sri Lankan / Ceylon tea can be something of a revelation, but this was just pretty good.  I tried a range of their black teas and a green tea, and bought the better black tea they had on offer.  It was an amazing value, 100 baht or around $3 for a small amount of tea, surely enough to brew a dozen cups worth though.  If I only liked standard Assamica black teas more I'd have bought the larger size, a really nice tea to have for daily drinking, but not so much if you prefer other styles.

The most interesting tea they carried, a golden tips, they didn't have with them.  Staff said it was unavailable due to limited production due to flooding in Sri Lanka.  Too bad.  They had two white teas in their product line-up, including another more like a silver needle, and that was it besides the broad range of black tea types.  Most of those I wouldn't be interested in, ground teas or finer broken leaf versions, but the one I tried was probably better black tea than most casual drinkers know exists.  That's not really a high bar to clear for specialty tea, but they were well over it.  I guess I could do a review of this tea since I have some to keep trying, but otherwise that covers it for them.

Big Eye Coffee, Nespresso compatible coffee maker compatible tea cartridges

Something different, to me at least.  I've had Thai tea prepared in espresso machines before, so it's not a brand new idea for me, but interesting to see it go the next step.  It took forever to get them to make me a sample, with a language hang-up finally emerging (my Thai is ok for taxi directions, not good for talking through tea tasting).  I had a tough choice:  compare what I'd already tried related to Thai tea, since I'd have a baseline for how that would be, or try something else (there were a few tea types).  I went with Thai tea.

Of course it was a bit astringent.  Thai tea is normally prepared with milk and sugar, usually referring to a black tea (traditionally Assamica) mixed with different herbs.  In modern forms star anise is prominent, but I've read that there were earlier versions; see this related post.

It was ok, nothing special, the process worked.  It would work better if the tea were served with sugar and milk, how Thais take it, almost always iced.  I never did find out if the other teas would be ok or not since I waited 10 to 15 minutes to get that sample, and with my Thai barely enabling me to request a sample I wasn't going to wow anyone by claiming a privileged status as a tea blogger.  Even without a language gap maybe that would've met with a blank look.

At least it's nice to know some coffee drinkers might find it easier to mix dry leaves and hot water, even if a 15 second brew of ground up tea using boiling hot water probably wouldn't work out as well as dumping the leaves and water in a coffee cup for a few minutes.

Related to cost, their website shows these sell for 135 baht for 10 capsules (about $4), on sale from 150 baht.  Obviously that's a much better deal than Starbucks, the same price as one cup of coffee for 10, and a good trade-up for people buying mixed powdered teas for 30 baht / $1 each.  It looks like those machines cost 2600 to 3900 baht ($80 to $120), but that could save people a lot of money if they could kick a coffee shop habit.

It's a bit of a tangent, but in a sense I really don't get powdered tea.  It is a bit like a chocolate milk version of tea, decent for what it is, so it makes just a little sense, but it's not so much like normal tea, definitely a missed opportunity to drink something much better.  I also don't get people being too lazy to make it themselves, since you pay more for someone to stir powder in water and put it in a plastic cup.  I guess that includes the benefit of participating in what Starbucks started, everyone walking around with their drink in the morning, or whenever, and maybe there is some reason why leaving the house with it doesn't work out. 

Chaidim Specialty Thai tea vendor

It's almost as if I went to this event to meet this guy / vendor, since this was the only specialty tea producer offering unique products there.  I might also include that one Ceylon vendor, since you won't find decent Ceylon in a grocery store or tea shop in Bangkok.  The owner was at the booth, Nedhim Behar, originally from Turkey (cool enough, right?).  He was mostly pitching tea and herb blends, not an unheard of thing here, lemongrass and ginger tisanes or mixes.  Those are nice in their own regards, just not really my thing.  But they did have some decent Thai oolong.

Dong Ding style oolong; looks about right

After trying a nice lightly oxidized oolong--so boring, given that overexposure I already mentioned--I tried a medium oxidized style oolong, a Dong Ding style tea, if that makes more sense (as described in this post).  It was nice; a good feel to it, a good bit of cinnamon, clean flavors, with a decent balance; it really worked.  There was a time when a regional designation applied like that would seem odd to me, but if you mentally add the word "style" it's back to being perfectly fine, so probably as well not to sweat that part.  But then pu'er-style teas sound more interesting as hei cha or dark tea, so maybe it's as well to not use that approach for those.

In retrospect I probably should have asked about buying it, but we got to talking about lots of tangents and then he was busy so I only grabbed the row of sample pyramid-style bag versions and went off.  I could easily say this was the best truly mid-oxidized version of a Thai tea I've tried, but no others come to mind, except one tea that stood out for me hating it, a tea with an off chemical taste.  They just don't do that style here.  I've tried Thai versions of Oriental Beauty (Tea Side and Tea Village vendors sell versions), and that oxidation level is medium, but it's really a different thing.  If more comes up to say about that tea I'll do a separate post, but I'll switch it over to those tangents that I mentioned here.

Dong Ding-style, a little oxidized

The owner, Nedhim, was working on a project to make a version of hojicha, more or less, still sorting out roasting methodology.  It seemed like it needed some tweaking still, that the char was too much, but it's nice when people have cool and innovative ideas that really will work and then they make it happen.  The catch might be building up a demand, but if people are going to be drinking low-grade fairly awful Wuyi Yancha as restaurant tea then they may as well bump that up to a drinkable hojicha variation.  I know, different origins, different flavor profile, probably different restaurants, but to me a comparison makes sense.  If you could try the restaurant-grade Shui Xian I've tried alongside a hojicha it might make sense to you too, or maybe not.

We talked about Thai organic standards, initiated by him selling teas that are certified to US and European organic standards instead.  He said that the US and European standards are more strictly controlled, with much better testing regimens for their certification processes (who would have thought).  The rest of the discussion about organic growing went where you would expect, pros and cons of going that route (teas that are healthier, versus lower production levels, with the added demands of establishing a natural growing environment).

He said that one problem with growing teas organically is that it doesn't really work to mix the two growing styles in a limited area, an interesting line of thought.  One farmer could be spraying chemicals that cross the road to land in the next farm.  It also doesn't mix well having an organic growing environment trying to balance a complete life-cycle of insects and other birds and insects that eat those insects, with the conventional farm trying to wipe out that layer of ecosystem nearby.  Yeah, organic is better.  I wonder how much risk there really is from consuming those chemicals, and I'm not hopeful or naive enough to guess that it's probably none.

As far as cost and offerings of products, the website lists those at retail level.  That Dong Ding style tea costs the same as the others, and at $11 for 50 grams (350 baht; funny translating it back that direction instead), which seems like a pretty good value to me.  The lighter oolongs you might find comparable versions of in grocery stores or Royal Project shops, although many wouldn't be quite as good, but you could waste a lot of time figuring out that mid-roasted Thai oolongs don't come up.

From talking to Nedhim he seems to sell teas in different ways, so if someone wanted to buy kilograms for a different purpose that would probably work out.  For lighter oolongs a trip to the Chiang Rai area--where tea is made in Thailand--would turn up lots of other options, but again the mid-level oxidized and roasted tea might not be so easy to find, even there.

Chaho Japanese tea

One larger display are held Japanese tea dealer in Bangkok; lots of Japanese people live here.  This is a bit of an afterthought, since Japanese teas aren't my favorite.  I actually considered picking up some matcha, as any US based tea lover would have, but I've not acquired a taste for matcha yet, and I'm in no hurry to.  I've bought it before, and since I've participated in two formal Japanese tea ceremonies in the past I'd assume that I've tried ceremonial grade, but I don't naturally love it.  I'm sure if I tried matcha another dozen times I'd stand a chance of acquiring a preference for it, but I've got too much scope to cover now as it is.

I tried a genmaichai there (kind of random--what they had out), and noticed they had an interesting powdered version of hojicha, but it wasn't interesting enough for me to buy it.  I like the idea of hojicha, and the tea can be nice, but I like most other kinds of tea better, so it defeats some of the point of drinking it.  I saw hojicha soft serve ice cream here in a mall not too long ago and probably should have tried that since I'm still curious about it, but it will turn back up again.

I would expect this vendor to sell to commercial customers in addition to direct retail but I didn't discuss that.  Their website mentions some sort of outlet in Silom, near where I work, so that's something I could check out on a lunch break.  I always thought eventually I'd get back to Japanese teas more once I give Chinese teas more of a look, and pu'er has been high on the list but on hold for awhile (I've only tried a couple dozen, barely started as pu'er goes).  Then again I've had an intriguing introduction to teas from Nepal that requires more follow-up, and still haven't ran across better teas from Malaysia, or followed up on better versions from Laos, so maybe it's not time yet.

The rest of the event

Loud!  And crowded.  I only saw half, one of two halls holding the event, and sort of wondered about the other additional food displays event area, but not enough to go over there.  It's a shame that I'm not more interested in food.  I eat it, and I cook, and I'm slightly into regional foods across Asia that came up a lot there, with all sorts of booths covering most of what one could imagine of Asian foods, but I was a bit burned out on the noise and stimulus to try and take it all in.  It would seem to make more sense to only buy foods that weren't already in grocery stores, but such stores cover a lot of range here.  There were probably some really interesting gyoza or sausages or whatever on offer that I missed out on.

I was happy to find as much tea as I did, worth it heading way out to Impact, not really even in Bangkok, instead out in a suburb (Nonthaburi).  Tea awareness and demand here really isn't where coffee is yet, or else there would have been lots more to see and try.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tea evaluation and scoring

Originally published on the TChing site.

News about a tea competition results awhile back started me considering what a tea competition evaluation and scoring process might be like.  As my mind works it would be interesting to compare some of the methodology and evaluation process to the very different but vaguely related process of judging teas against personal preference, when drinking them for enjoyment.  I didn't expect a lot of telling overlap to emerge but did eventually get around to researching the subject.


Obvious enough, but evaluation for a tea competition would involve a few basic steps:

1.  a consistent brewing methodology for evaluation, under carefully defined and controlled conditions

2.  a set of review criteria, categories against which the tea would be evaluated (taste, color, body / mouth-feel, etc.)

3.  a scoring system to enable judging which teas are evaluated as superior (although it seems conceivable that a tiered pass-through process could replace numerical scoring)

Really there would be a lot more to it, related to all sorts of controls of conditions, example integrity controls, methodology to ensure consistent judging related to throwing out some "outlier" results, and so on.

the real thing

I suppose this is a good place to mention that I have absolutely no experience with such a process, which is why researching this subject appealed to me.  The prior categories and functions might benefit from restatement from someone with more experience and training, but that was one goal, to consult and summarize research sources.

I attempted to consult "tea experts" in one place such a request would make sense, in a tea professionals oriented LinkedIn group, but that didn't get far, so hopefully some gaps get flagged once this is published instead (the Cunningham's law idea).

The ISO standard

If there is such a thing this must wrap it all up, right?  Not so much.  ISO 3103:1980 does cover how to brew tea consistently for evaluation, though, described as such:

The method consists in extracting of soluble substances in dried tea leaf, containing in a porcelain or earthenware pot, by means of freshly boiling water, pouring of the liquor into a white porcelain or earthenware bowl, examination of the organoleptic properties of the infused leaf, and of the liquor with or without milk or both.

It is headed in the right direction, but the Wikipedia excerpt--a sample of partial detail summary, mind you--shows up why it just didn't get there (also noted by the Tea with Gary blog awhile back):

The pot should be white porcelain or glazed earthenware and have a partly serrated edge. It should have a lid that fits loosely inside the pot...
If a small pot is used, it should hold a maximum of 150 ml (±4 ml) and must weigh 118 g (±10 g).
2 grams of tea (measured to ±2% accuracy) per 100 ml boiling water is placed into the pot.
Freshly boiling water is poured into the pot to within 4–6 mm of the brim. Allow 20 seconds for water to cool.
The water should be similar to the drinking water where the tea will be consumed
Brewing time is six minutes....
If the test involves milk, then it is added before pouring the infused tea.
Milk added after the pouring of tea is best tasted when the liquid is between 65 - 80 °C.

It's not as bad as it looks.  One possible way to go is brewing all the teas exactly in the same way and tasting around the broad difference in how personal preference brewing parameters would vary, and my understanding is that this is still essentially a common approach (maybe just not always using this set).

Tasting based on using milk might seem odd but I have it on good authority that some prominent tea purchasers do exactly that, judge teas in an altered final consumption form.  A tea mentor (of sorts) once suggested that it's best to drink tea cooler to taste it, around 60° C, and I'm not certain about any optimum but of course he is right in principle (per my own experience, at least).

More developed standard references

There must be a lot more but Google did identify a few for a starting point.

The World of Tea site reference actually includes the ISO 3103 process as one alternative, and suggests using both that methodology and a second review based on more conventional brewing parameters, partially defined as such:

Tea Type
Time for First Steeping
Green Tea
160F/ C
1min  (Yellow and White teas omitted)
Oolong Tea
190F/ 88C
Black Tea
205F/ 96C

The article goes on to suggest evaluating the following criteria, along with reviewing leaf appearance:

1.What color is the liquor?
2. What does the liquor smell like? (How does it change from steep to steep?)
3. What does the liquor taste like? (How does it change from steep to steep?)
4. How many steepings can the tea withstand and still produce acceptable flavor?

So far so good; reasonable brewing and evaluation guidelines.  I'd hoped for a bit more on scoring, some summary rating process, but regardless of what a reference set up for that it would be hard to really improve on a subjective over-all evaluation that compared teas directly.  Direct evaluation of limited samples might just be limited when attempting to judge a large number of teas, or to combine multiple judgments from different judges.

This also seems like a good place for an aside about how limiting the number of factors evaluated would also limit the completeness.  For example, that methodology suggested review against liquor color, liquor smell, taste, and number of steepings, four factors (and a good start).  A more general Tea Vicious reference on how to evaluate teas suggests some others (only partially cited, with their section on methodology omitted entirely):

  • How does the inside of the mug lid smell?
  • Does the aroma linger? Which part of it lingers longer? Which shorter?
  • Does any part of the aroma remind you of another substance?
  • Does any part of the taste come first and some other later?
  • What do the different parts of the taste remind you of?
  • Which part of your tongue gives you the sensation of the taste?
  • How does the taste stay?
  • Does the taste change during the process of tasting?
  • What is the texture of the tea liquor?

That would be way too much criteria for judging a lot of teas against each other but the general concepts of feel and finish (aftertaste) might be retained.

Maybe as well to cite a bit of two other references, and then wrap this up.  One from Tearroir provided an example of the type of scoring system I'd expected:

Each tea receives a base of 60 points, and we award each tea up to 40 points based on the following categories:
Color and appearance of tea pre-brew: 5 points
Aroma: 5 points
Flavor and Mid Palate: 10 points
Mouthfeel and Finish: 10 Points
Overall quality level: 10 points

The engineer side of me loves this approach.  Based on how I evaluate teas myself, related only to preference, I'm not so convinced a lot wouldn't drop out in trying to weight groupings like this though, that it might fail to fully capture how a few strengths or weaknesses can really determine impression.  I just tried a Hong Shui tea with an amazing range of great flavor characteristics, and a slight sourness issue that corresponded to how the feel was presented, so even the break-down might not be so simple.

Lastly, the North American Tea Championship, related to the World Tea News / Academy / Expo, provides another good example of evaluation methodology, which they summarize as such:

Each submission into the class is evaluated blind and through organoleptic analysis of the following characteristics: dry leaf, brewed color, brewed aroma, brewed flavor, brewed mouth-feel and brewed harmony. An overall numerical value on a 100-point scale is then calculated based on the ratings of each characteristic above.

Nice!  They just don't mention how the actual scoring is calculated, but they do include a fascinating description of how they make judging more consistent by throwing out inconsistent / outlier scores (and you really should read that if you happen to love statistical sampling process).  A sample of brewing parameters makes it clear they go with brewing methodology closer to ordinary brewing:

CategoryTypeTempMinutesWeight Special
AssamOrigin AuthenticBoil 52.5g
Breakfast BlendOrigin AuthenticBoil 52.5g
Bai Hao/ Oriental BeautyBreakfast BlendBoil2/42.5gSteep open bowl; 2 infusions; 3 cupping bowls per tea
ChaiMasala ChaiBoil 3gAdd 20% warm milk/sugar mix

That partial citation of "Signature Famous Teas" doesn't do parameter choices review justice but it's probably saying enough to add that green teas are cited as between 175 and 180, depending on type.  Interesting to also note World of Tea went down to 160 on their guidelines for green tea brewing; make of the difference what you will.

That last reference didn't really seem intended to give the full details of the methodology and evaluation process but it's nice they passed on that much.


I had intended to circle this back more to a comparison against how people drink and evaluate teas for enjoyment but it seems as well not do much with that.  It's just different.  

It's interesting to consider how flaws in tea might factor in to these approaches, or how individual positive aspects might be rated versus a balance of aspects in a tea, but it also seems as well I that don't muddle the review here with too much of my own speculation.  Besides, with more expert input or research about this much content I could always write up a "part two" post and ramble on in that one.  Scoring systems never went far in these references; lots more room to add to that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Two classic oolongs from the Trident Booksellers and Cafe in Boulder, CO

One thing I haven't been able to master in blogging is writing a short, simple tea review, the standard form for most such writing.  I'll fail here too, but since Peter Jones of the Trident Bookstore was kind enough to share some exceptional tea samples it's a good opportunity to practice towards that.  I'll review and compare two very different standard oolong types, one from China and the other Taiwan, a dark roasted Tie Kuan Yin and medium-level oxidized and roasted Qingxin.  In an earlier related post, on a Gyokuro Japanese green tea, I definitely drifted way off on a tangent about a scent-based taste element experiment.

The general point here is that better teas are out there, with a context of oolongs being my favorite general category of teas (for some reason for most tea enthusiasts it usually seems to be those or pu'er).  The idea isn't to provide an in-depth analysis of either tea, or to do justice to describing the origin locations and types, since that would take the usual wordy in-depth review to even start on.

There are places in Bangkok (where I live) where you can walk into a cafe and try some nice tea, many more than existed two or three years ago, but it's still not a universal thing here.  A cafe has to really work at it to identify and offer good versions or else selection can be spotty at best, and Peter has obviously put the work in.  He also sent a sample of a good Longjing (Dragonwell), which would be hard to review since the list of flavors approach doesn't capture what a good Longjing is like.  To some extent the flavor can be described (related to toasted rice, or nuts, maybe an element of fresh cut hay, etc.) but the effect of freshness that comes across is hard to capture.

Most of the original supplier information is missing, who actually made the teas, which is fair for sales from a cafe, a different sourcing paradigm than online sales where comparing this information makes more sense.  It's odd reviewing teas sent as samples that isn't under that typing but as mentioned in that first review this was more about sharing tea, an outgrowth of ongoing Facebook tea group discussion than a marketing initiative.  It makes more sense if you know "tea people."

Anyone near Boulder could go to this store, or to another shop on a similar page, and get the rest of the experience, since writing doesn't do it justice anyway.  People living out of range of such shops have their work cut out for them.  They could just stick to coffee, but never mind about tea-bags, which truly are the tea equivalent of instant coffee (which can be ok, but it's not the same thing).

Dark roasted Tie Kuan Yin from Anxi, China (winter harvest version)

Oddly I've not tried many versions of this style of tea, although I have drank lots of the lighter style, and just as oddly the last I remember prior to this was a few months back.  I might start by saying the appearance of the tea is a bit unconventional, as unusually small and dark rolled balls, with more tasting notes following.

The smell of the dry tea is mineral intensive, something like slate, with a lot of roasted element coming across.  One predominant taste element stands out initially:  roasted popcorn.  This is somewhat new to me.  The tea even has a buttery taste and feel to it to go with that, but the next steeps should draw out even more sweetness and complexity.

The next infusion still has that unusual aspect but it's transitioning to a more conventional roasted tea range, with a light, fresh, smooth taste joining in.  This aspect is the same as found in many lighter oolongs, on the less oxidized end of the spectrum, typically prepared as lightly roasted as well.  The flavors are clean and complex, with some floral and light mineral elements joined by traces of what could be fruit.  It's a lot going on for me to express all of it as a list, even with the Gongfu style brewing enabling better experience of the subtle aspects and flavor transitions.

The sweetness really keeps developing through the infusions, with the dark roasted influence shifting to a more familiar expression, one I struggle with describing as other reviews tend to.  It reminds me of black ink, or it could be seen as closer to perfume, even an element found in liquors.  Although the tea is still very sweet and there is more there related to those other lighter ranges the taste of that element is still predominant.  There is still a trace of roasted popcorn but more floral aspects pick up, maybe in the range of a rose. But then I'm not that great with memory of flower scents, so maybe not that.

brewed leaves:  quite dark

An underlying mineral taste is like some variation of rock, never so easy to pin down, maybe granite, and the earth is like a darker wood, maybe not as dark as a mahogany, let's say teak.  It would be understandable for someone else to "get" more floral, since that's still there, or to get hung up on the roast element,  the aromatic component, which really does stand out.  The feel is full and the taste lingers long after drinking, signs of a good tea.  I'm not so sure of the impact of the winter harvest element indicated on the package.

All in all it's a nice tea, interesting, but that heavy roast would make or break it for people depending on their preference related to such things.  Without ever trying one made like this that would be hard to guess at, but trying this tea would let someone know right away.  Dark roasted and lightly oxidized oolongs are not the most typical combination, but this is one conventional style, perhaps most often seen in this form, as TKY.

Nantou Qingxin Taiwanese mid-roasted oolong

There is so much going on with this tea, and so much back-story, that it really deserves it's own post, but in the interest of developing brevity and cutting it back for readers' sake I won't.  But I will start with some background.

Is this Dong Ding, one of the best known types of Taiwanese oolongs?  Maybe.  Per this Hojo (vendor) reference:

The authentic Dong Ding oolong comes from a village called Lugu (鹿谷) in Nantou County of Taiwan. Lugu is a village where the Dong Ding Mountain is located. The altitude of the Dong Ding Mountain is lower than other famous tea growing areas in Taiwan like Ali Shan or Li Shan. However, in judging the quality of tea, altitude is not an important indicator...

I've tried what was presented as Thai Dong Ding before, which is way off, since it's really supposed to be a very limited regional designation, the name of a mountain in a different country.  They must have meant the tea was made from the same plant in a similar style, or something such, but of course growing location does affect the tea.  Sometimes "mountain" in tea region naming is used to describe a narrowly defined mountainous area, not something like Mt. Fuji, so it can just depend.  In this prior post I cover some background on Taiwanese cultivars (really talking about a tea from Myanmar in that, but the plant-type subject overlaps there), and there is more detail in this other post.  That second includes the best reference on Taiwanese cultivars I've yet seen but the site was down at the time of writing this, hopefully just for an update of some sort.

Note that Qingxin is being referred to as Chin-hsin in those post references.  It's very handy how China updated and made their transliteration system consistent some years back, with the only draw-back being that the change-over in convention made reading older materials tricky.  Of course Taiwan doesn't feel a need to be on exactly the same page, so they didn't follow suit.  Or at least that's my understanding; I'm no linguist, and I don't read any version of Chinese language.

Dong Ding, or teas sold as Dong Ding, are typically medium roasted (almost nothing in Wikipedia about them, but maybe it's worth a look, with more about the region).  But this example from What-Cha, described as 30 % oxidized and 50% roasted, looks quite green in comparison, doesn't it?  I can't really fill in the most complete background about conventions from personal knowledge, and can only say that finding a good example of a truly medium level of oxidation and roast is not as easy as it might seem.  This Trident tea should be just a typical example in that regard, but in fact lighter versions can be relatively common.  Finding one with a good medium balance depends on your sourcing choices are working out well.

The tea is very nice.  It's a bit judgmental on my part, but for my preferences it's really on the next level compared to the Tie Kuan Yin, a very well made tea.  I didn't seem to make detailed tasting notes--one tends to lose track--but I've tried it a couple of times now, and made some notes in my mind last time, not really the most secure place to be keeping those.

The tea is rich and full in feel, with a nice flavor profile centered around aspects like roasted almond--the main one--and butternut squash.  The taste actually does have a buttery quality to it, in addition to the feel sort of going there, probably closer to a lightly browned butter versus some lighter oolongs tending towards regular butter.  Those basic tastes are not that far from sweet potato but I don't really get that, and it seems more common to notice it in black teas.

And that's about it; not much content in the mental notes.  As I tried this tea I didn't notice a lot of range of different flavors in terms of a long list, with aspects coming across as an integrated but limited range of different flavors.  What was there was complex and very pleasant, if all that makes sense.  It struck me as the kind of tea one wishes they could find and drink regularly, a step above what most might consider everyday tea.  In some regards it reminds me of one of my favorite teas, the Red Buffalo roasted oolong from Hatvala in Vietnam.  That tea's taste range is a little different, more cinnamon and cocoa than roasted almond and butternut squash, probably with not quite as rich a feel, but the general range and effect related to the oxidation and mid-roast could still be comparable.

This kind of tea works well for lots of types of brewing.  Prepared Gongfu style one could coax out some additional aspects and witness some degree of flavors transition, although perhaps not as pronounced as some other types would enable.  The nice feel and flavors comes across well prepared at different strengths (I checked), and it wouldn't lose much for preparing it Western style compared to some teas that do better with a more limited range of preparation parameters.

brewed leaves:  a little dark

It seems insulting to a tea this good to say it but it would hold up to brewing Grandpa style well, being prepared in a tea bottle and drank at different strengths as unchecked brewing time lets those transition.  For most teas made that way the general point is ease of preparation, not making the most of a good tea, and the main concern is them having limited astringency enabling that to work out.  For this tea one could also appreciate the variation in how it came across brewed differently, and not just accept that it did sort of work to cut preparation steps, or make the tea travel better.

I didn't really notice it changing in flavor profile a lot as I prepared it different ways, with the browned butter versus roasted almond and the rest shifting in proportions to some degree, but the tea was nice enough that it would be a labor of love to become more familiar with it and explore it's potential.  I suppose to some extent my preference for this tea over the first relates to a preference for this style, for balancing a medium level of oxidation and roast versus others appreciating the freshness and more pronounced floral aspects that lighter oolongs can exhibit.


Different teas are different?  Preference dictates which teas one would prefer best, but finding good versions makes all the difference in giving different styles a fair judgement.  Dark roasted Tie Kuan Yin is sort of out of style compared to the "nuclear green" versions (more on that in a related tea blog here, and there are other types he doesn't go into), but for Dong Ding and closely related Taiwanese oolongs being such a standard type finding a good version is not at all a given.  I visited with a tea friend here not so long ago who had just came back from vacation in Taiwan and I don't think we tried any teas as nice as this second one.  At some point it's about both seeking out the better tea examples and then paying a market price for them, since a high demand for good versions is out there.

As a contrast, both the supply and awareness and related demand for those Indonesian teas I just kept going on about is very limited.  Those were the opposite, non-standard types that most people generally don't know exist, potentially much harder to find since there are so few made.  I may have even helped screw that up by spreading the word, but plantations like Toba Wangi will help maintain the balance by producing more of them.  Oddly Taiwan has been moving in the other direction, in related news stories, dropping back production by completely removing some high-mountain farms based on public lands use due to erosion concerns.  This popular article makes it sound worse than it is, and this blog post clarifies the actual status a good bit.  But then all that is tangent, a story for another post, if I even get to it.

For me it's best to not worry too much about which teas I need to try, to take them as they come, but it is nice experiencing both novel teas and good versions of classic types, like these two.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Review of a Thai jasmine black tea

I didn't really like the tea, but I'll review it since the tea brings up some interesting related discussion.  Tea blog reviews are generally positive, with some exceptions, and there is a story to be told about bad tea too, maybe more story in some cases.  One could get the impression that most tea is very nice, that it's just a matter of finding that set of trusted suppliers to only buy tea versions that you like, and there could be something to that.  But for me gambling on tea that might not be good is part of it all.

At any rate, the related website is here, and the Facebook page is here, for Doi Dhamma Tea.  I can't really endorse other teas I didn't try but their lightly oxidized oolongs are probably pretty good but not great, since that describes most Thai oolongs I've tried.


We visited a beach in the South of Thailand not long ago (nice down there), and I found this tea in a mall shop on the way back.  The tea is from the North of Thailand, as essentially all tea here seems to be, unless it's from China.  I tried a sample of white tea from Thailand in the shop, the first example I've ever seen of such a thing (besides one or two silver needle-types, but this wasn't that).  But I didn't really like that white tea either.  It looked interesting, like a bit of a broken-up version of a Bai Mu Dan, not completely unlike that White Beauty from Toba Wangi in Indonesia, but nowhere near as good.  Since they were kind enough to offer samples I wanted to also buy some, and a jasmine black tea looked and smelled ok, and the cost was relatively insignificant, so I bought that.

I almost tried a jasmine black tea from Hatvala (a Vietnamese tea supplier) that probably would have been much nicer, but in discussing floral blends with the owner last year I mentioned not really liking jasmine green tea, so he didn't send a sample.  Later in the year I tried jasmine black tea in Indonesia, ordinary commercial tea grades of it, and liked that much better than typical jasmine green teas.  To be fair some green tea versions do manage a flavor balance much better than others.

Surely it's just personal preference but the balance of that unusual level of floral sweetness in jasmine flowers, which can have a bit of nail-polish remover overtone to it, seems to work better with black tea for me.  Maybe it's just that green teas can already have vegetal-aspect and astringency issues, although they needn't, and it usually doesn't work for me to add that particular taste element to that mix.

At any rate it seemed a safe bet, that even if the black tea wasn't a great version or the jasmine wasn't well balanced the tea would still be ok.  The cost was so low it wasn't much of a gamble (150 baht / $5 for what looked to be 50 grams of tea, but then foreign language labeling doesn't help with
identifying product details).


Even prior to tasting the brewed tea it looked off, the wrong color.  Black tea should be reddish, or even a darker reddish if brewed strong, but this was gold, in the range of a mid-oxidized oolong.  The taste wasn't bad related to the jasmine input, just not completely positive, but it seemed that it would have worked out much better coupled with a true black tea, one that is fully oxidized.  The jasmine aspect wasn't perfectly balanced but not awful, not "off" in ways it can be, especially when it's too intense.

Upon reflection part of what I didn't like was related to expectations, and the tea is better if one thinks of it as a jasmine oolong, even though that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.  The effect is typical of oolongs, a bit smooth, with a medium body.  Related to taste the jasmine could be interpreted as crowding out the rest of the profile rather than letting it blend together, but it does taste natural, just a bit strong for my preference in balance.  I think this was what I really liked about the jasmine black teas I've tried, that the extra astringency and fuller flavor of black tea balances that slightly intense and unusual input of jasmine better, even aside from issues of getting flavors levels tuned properly.  It sounds harsh describing that jasmine range as "nail polish remover," probably not necessarily like that when done well, but it's definitely different.  I don't love floral teas in general but I've liked osmanthus oolong versions a little better.

not fully oxidized, not a black tea

I was curious about how the tea would stand as an oolong without the jasmine but that taste wasn't subtle enough to make it easy to mentally subtract the effect.  At a guess it wouldn't make for a really good oolong without the jasmine either, not really surprising given that they were attempting black tea processing and just missed it, since the processing steps aren't necessarily identical.  Come to think of it maybe I should try roasting this.

I tried mixing it with a real black tea, a version I bought a lot of from Hatvala last year (their Wild Boar), and it was much better.  I was a bit shocked to taste two different tea types mixed together at first, essentially blending oolong, black tea, and a floral component, although again it's probably not really a true oolong in terms of conventional processing.  But once I moved past that mild "tea blending abomination" feeling from mixing tea types and let expectations settle the experience was much more positive.  I still think I would prefer a true black tea as a base, not the blend of two types, but the mix worked better than I thought it would.  I was only left to consider if I liked it better than the Wild Boar black tea alone--maybe not a necessary question--and I probably don't.

Gambling on teas; like kissing frogs to find a prince (except that would make me the princess)

Why not just order good quality, well-described tea from trusted sources, or sources one would be likely to trust, which could be discarded as options if they don't work out?  I try tea for different reasons, for the experience of exceptional teas, and also just to try new things.  And I really like finding something nice I would have never had a chance to try if I only played it safer.  Such cases are rare.  It's a lot more typical to find really ordinary teas, or badly flawed versions, or teas that are interesting but not good.

I once bought a nice black tea in a grocery store in Siem Reap, Cambodia that came across as a little rough but with an interesting character, a bit smoky, with some sweetness and an unusual flavor profile.  It cost next to nothing, and it should have been awful given where I'd bought it, but it was interesting, and nice, not the same as any other tea I've tried.

Related to Thai tea options, I've already mentioned my own favorite Thai tea vendors, with Tea Side standing out as finding the most unusual teas, and some of the best.  The Tea Village shop and online store does a good job of finding good or decent teas, really almost offered as two different sets, with a divide in pricing and product descriptions relatively clearly identifying which are decent basics and which are more interesting.  For physical shops I've tried nice versions from the Monsoon shop in Chiang Mai, and their owner has been chasing sustainable local teas and experimenting with natural flavored blends, and it's a good place to try what a local Assamica black tea is like (maybe what you'd expect, if you have really good imagination and intuition).  Beyond that any mall shop could have great teas tucked away but they would seem much more likely not to.

But all that is too easy, just going with what you know (after a few years of searching).  I'm still tempted by teas I see in lots of places, even in gas stations.  "Ordinary" Thai teas can turn up there, "ordinary" meaning decent Jin Xuan lighter oolongs, perfect as a gateway to better teas but typically nothing exceptional.  Or at least that's how it worked out for me, with those.  Now I'm a bit spoiled by exposure and preference development, and that level that one can find in grocery stores just doesn't cut it, certainly also true of tea in gas stations.  

Great teas are a completely different subject, with nothing to do with all this, except the part about curated versions, back to what those few Thai vendors carry, and all three vendors know which teas are which.  There is very little tea produced in Thailand on that next level and random luck usually won't cause your path to cross those better examples, not even in huge local markets, although maybe there, at least in the North.  Or at least that's generally true; there's a tea shop in the Chiang Mai airport that sells versions from local producers, and there's probably a few hidden gems in there.  It would take someone time and effort to find them, even with the staff providing tastes of brewed samples, and it would probably really help to speak Thai to communicate with them.

sea view in Samui island; a decent place to make sand castles

Personal preference also complicates all this.  There's a good chance that someone else might spit that Cambodian black tea that I liked back out based on differences in what they like.  The Tea Side vendor didn't seem to be as blown away with one of the black tea version samples he provided as I was (their Jin Xuan based black tea--crazy how good).

I'll keep gambling, and the rare exceptional finds will make it worth keeping that up.  Or at least it will except to my wife, who has had it with the tea reserves piling up at our house, and really doesn't care if a tea is next to free and interesting looking.  In the meantime if anyone reading this in Bangkok would really love to try a moderately oxidized black tea / jasmine blend we should talk.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Kant on tea tasting

A fellow tea blogger suggested that rather than referring to the input of fellow bloggers on how tasting works--in this post, which I thought turned out well--I should have checked with Kant instead.  Immanuel Kant, that is, the 18th century German philosopher (he lived 1724 to 1804).  Strange, right?  Especially if one has studied aesthetics related to the works of Kant, which by chance I have, if only a little.

But I did look into it.  It turns out that what he has to say is not informative, and definitely not helpful, but it could be of interest to some.  It never really completely comes together since review of his philosophy of aesthetics to some extent requires review of much of the rest of his philosophy.  I won't do his thinking justice but I'll wade into it all for just a couple of thousand words worth of review.  Even though he sheds no light on the subject some of the framing issues that come up are interesting, especially if one is into philosophy.

looks like a tea drinker (photo credit)

Starting point:  Kant's most relevant citation (probably)

As chance has it there is a passage relating to wine appreciation in "Critique of the Power of Judgment" that provides a good starting point, so lets let Kant himself have the first word:

Comparison of the Beautiful with the Pleasant and the Good by means of the above characteristic

As regards the Pleasant every one is content that his judgement, which he bases upon private feeling, and by which he says of an object that it pleases him, should be limited merely to his own person

Thus he is quite contented that if he says “Canary wine is pleasant,” another man may correct his expression and remind him that he ought to say “It is pleasant to me.” And this is the case not only as regards the taste of the tongue, the palate, and the throat, but for whatever is pleasant to any one’s eyes and ears... One man likes the tone of wind instruments, another that of strings. To strive here with the design of reproving as incorrect another man’s judgement which is different from our own, as if the judgments were logically opposed, would be folly. As regards the pleasant therefore the fundamental proposition is valid, every one has his own taste (the taste of Sense).

The case is quite different with the Beautiful. It would (on the contrary) be laughable if a man who imagined anything to his own taste, thought to justify himself by saying: “This object (the house we see, the coat that person wears, the concert we hear, the poem submitted to our judgement) is beautiful for me.” For he must not call it beautiful if it merely pleases himself. 

Many things may have for him charm and pleasantness; no one troubles himself at that; but if he gives out anything as beautiful, he supposes in others the same satisfaction — he judges not merely for himself, but for every one, and speaks of beauty as if it were a property of things.

Note that this is a limited publicly available translation of that work (with a different translation of more of it here), but if someone were really interested they could seek out a full version, complete with a long introduction and Kant's own Preface.  Or the internet being what it is, someone could review all sorts of supplementary summaries.

Beginning to evaluate that

Seems simple enough, doesn't it; he's dividing subjective taste judgments, which only relate to personal preference concerns (how much we happen to like something, which describes all that applies to wine, and presumably tea) from an objective evaluation of what is beautiful, which for him is a completely different thing.  To back up just a bit, our modern concepts of subjective and objective are really grounded in the thinking of people like Kant.  Modern common-sense definitions won't directly apply to what he is saying, because those very concepts have evolved from his work and have changed over time, so the context of language and concepts themselves have changed over time.  And of course he was really writing in an older version of German.

To back up further, I did get a bachelor degree in philosophy, and a master's, after finishing a degree in industrial engineering earlier (all kind of a long story).  The focus was on Buddhism, though, so overlapping a good bit with religion, and well outside the scope of aesthetics.  Kant's works came up in a few classes, only in one dedicated just to reviewing one of his works (Critique of Pure Reason, a read I can't recommend), and aesthetics only in one grad-level class.  So I've been introduced to some related ideas, but barely.  I've studied his ethics in more detail, but metaphysics (in the "Pure Reason" work) is really the basis for everything he's going on about, the starting point, the context the rest sort of relies on.

Given that I'll pass the torch to an online summary that seems to do really well framing that passage out, except that nothing in under ten pages really starts in on the context for the ideas:

Kant thought that both “mouth taste” and genuine aesthetic appreciation are based on an individual’s subjective experience of pleasure. But with “mouth taste” there is no reflection involved and no imaginative involvement, just an immediate response. The pleasure comes first and then we judge based on the amount of pleasure experienced whether we find the flavors “agreeable” or “disagreeable”. 

Thus, our judgments about food and wine are based entirely on our subjective, idiosyncratic, sensuous  preferences. 

By contrast, when we experience paintings or music aesthetically, contemplation ensues whereby our rational and imaginative capacities engage in “free play.” Our pleasure is not an immediate response to the object but comes after the contemplation and is thus based on it. We respond not just to whether the object is pleasing but to how the object engages our cognitive capacities of understanding and imagination. This yields a judgment that is not merely a subjective preference but involves a more universal form of appreciation.

So this goes a little further, but the same divide just comes up, with limited explanation as to why there is this distinction, what framework it is based on.  The author can't really fill in the gaps in all the details, and it's perhaps less clear because he's disagreeing with a perspective that he's therefore not fully describing, but he does go on to explain it:

So what does the contemplation of painting or music supply that cannot be accomplished by savoring food? According to Kant, such genuine aesthetic contemplation results in (1) disinterested satisfaction, and (2) must involve the “free play” of the imagination and the understanding....

Once we are free of the distracting influence of desire, we can contemplate the way the object causes the free play of the imagination and understanding which gives rise to a disinterested form of pleasure or satisfaction.

Because our judgment is disinterested, and because we all share the faculties of the imagination and understanding, we are, therefore, justified in expecting others to find the object pleasing as well. We think that others should agree...  although Kant insists there is no rule or way of proving via argument that the object is beautiful.

Since is it not our desires speaking through our genuine aesthetic judgments but rather our shared cognitive faculties, aesthetic judgments aspire to be universal. The problem for mouth taste is that it is inherently linked to desire and personal preference, and is thus never disinterested, unlike the satisfaction we get from music or painting.

For Kant we just enjoy wine, or foods, or tea, but appreciation for beauty is a more complex cognitive function, one that takes on a different form, and can be universal.  From there this author ends up only dealing with part of the framework of Kant's argument, and starts to reject the distinction between pleasure and appreciation, saying that we can't divide the two as Kant is doing.  Fair enough.

But really that's just part of what Kant was building up, and to fairly reject his ideas one really should try to spell out what they are, which is a bit difficult.  It's already obvious here that Kant is not just separating the experience causally (that pleasure and appreciation are split in two, one said to cause the other, instead of just being parts of a whole) but he's also breaking down mental functions, here into imagination and understanding, both of which are supporting judgement.  But those are really just parts of a more complicated scheme of intellectual components.

It's not so clear that Kant is saying that wine appreciation means less here, that it is less important for taking a different form, but he is definitely describing it as a less complicated activity.  It's perhaps less interesting in terms of the lack of analysis steps, for him, for not involving the same degree of mental faculties, and could not be the same for all people.  That last part works, to a limited extent, but the limits of saying that judgments about wine tastes can't apply in the same way for everyone (and food and tea, presumably) are not so simple or clear.

Citing other modern thinkers that say something else doesn't work well--what that author did next in that work--because the context of what both are saying could easily be quite different.  The real disagreement is likely to lie in both related contexts, differences in how they see aesthetic appreciation working in general, and related mental processing steps, and not as much in their conclusions.  Modern philosophers might well be working with ideas derived from Kant's, in part, but a school of thought or two removed, so with substantial background context changes.  All the same, even if the structure of the reasoning and the cognitive modeling is quite different I suppose to some limited extent it still can make sense to compare conclusions, eg. if wine or tea appreciation related judgments really can be relatively universal or not (the same for everyone).  Even if preferences vary common sense would seem to say some common elements of judgments should be common for everyone, especially among well informed and skilled participants.

How can we drag all this back into the scope of common sense, a framework of how people experience things that we could actually relate to?  We sort of can't.  If you really want to engage Kant's ideas you can't just select a passage about wine tasting, as I did, and expect that to be self-explanatory.  To the extent that you actually can do that Kant is saying that taste preferences are completely subjective, just up to the whims and preferences of an individual.  For Kant things don't get more interesting or objective than that until you look into other subjects, like art, or the beauty found in nature, a sunset or flower or whatever else, because the processing of appreciation is completely different for those.

But we can shuffle around what he said, adjust it, and try to change and extend what he was saying about flowers and art back to wine tasting (or tea), although that would take some deeper review first.  Of course it is a little odd to even attempt to make Kant's thinking work better than Kant himself did.  I'll look into both following, a bit more on context, and possible adjustment, but it's rougher going from here.

Going deeper:  a citation about where Kant was coming from

If I've not already lost you this part will get to be a stretch.  Don't hurt yourself on the unfamiliar terminology; the next citation is only intended to get a general point across.  One can't read something about a priori principles without knowing what those are (something related to starting points, basic ideas, but not quite that), and in a sense all that is beside the point.  I'm just trying to point towards a larger context that grounds the ideas, not to describe it, even though drifting into that a little is the point of this section.  Suffice it to say that much more gets left out about the rest of Kant's thinking than is included.

Let's take a look at an academic summary of this general scope (and again, just give it a scan, there is no fundamental key to human cognition to be unraveled in the passage):

b. The Central Problems of the Critique of Judgment

...The basic, explicit purpose of Kant's Critique of Judgment is to investigate whether the 'power' (also translated as 'faculty' - and we will use the latter here) of judgment provides itself with an priori principle. In earlier work, Kant had pretty much assumed that judgment was simply a name for the combined operation of other, more fundamental, mental faculties. Now, Kant has been led to speculate that the operation of judgment might be organized and directed by a fundamental a priori principle that is unique to it. The third Critique sets out to explore the validity and implications of such a hypothesis.

In the third Critique, Kant's account of judgment begins with the definition of judgment as the subsumption of a particular under a universal (Introduction IV). If, in general, the faculty of understanding is that which supplies concepts (universals), and reason is that which draws inferences (constructs syllogisms, for example), then judgment 'mediates' between the understanding and reason by allowing individual acts of subsumption to occur (cf. e.g. Introduction III). This leads Kant to a further distinction between determinate and reflective judgments (Introduction IV). In the former, the concept is sufficient to determine the particular - meaning that the concept contains sufficient information for the identification of any particular instance of it. In such a case, judgment's work is fairly straightforward (and Kant felt he had dealt adequately with such judgments in the Critique of Pure Reason). 

Thus the latter (where the judgment has to proceed without a concept, sometimes in order to form a new concept) forms the greater philosophical problem here...  are there judgments that neither begin nor end with determinate concepts? This explains why a book about judgment should have so much to say about aesthetics: Kant takes aesthetic judgments to be a particularly interesting form of reflective judgments.

Not much of an explanation, right?  My intention was really to introduce that there is a larger framework of ideas these simple ideas about wine tasting really are based on.  A divide into subjective liking and objective judgement of beauty doesn't work without more reference, and that divide doesn't really address what's going on, for Kant.  Short summaries of what Kant meant by one branch of his thinking positioned against the rest tend to vary, so this is definitely no last word, and it wouldn't be so unusual for philosophers to disagree with even other general summaries of what works were trying to do.

Of course the point was about Kant saying that most of the last set of ideas doesn't even apply to food or beverage tasting anyway.  Related to these ideas, from his wine example, Kant is saying that evaluating a tea--or any food--is not an "aesthetic judgment" which is "an interesting form of reflective judgment."  It's more like someone having a favorite color, or liking a certain type of movie genre, for him just an inclination, so there's no need to go on about mental models and cognitive theories, related to that scope.

seems related, but the terms don't all match; read further in one more source

Back to my own take

It's hard to say how much sense this does or doesn't make without basing that on some other theory of aesthetics, since one would be assumed in anything I would say.  Is judgement of taste all universal, applied correctly in the same way to everyone, so that the most informed people would naturally agree, or subjective, naturally different for different people?  It seems like common sense leans towards the latter now, but really people could go either way.  Or maybe most wouldn't be likely to have thought all this through.

Related to tea tasting, to stick with the theme a little, one would expect that well-informed tea tasters could evaluate lots of things about a tea consistently, even objectively, for example if one is true-to-type, or of a high quality level, and even describe characteristics quite similarly.  Maybe only preference would tend to shift around judgment a little, or some finer points in descriptions, and we'd might naturally assume that experts could easily place the input of their own preference related to other objective factors.  A wine scoring system really depends on this being possible, or any food related judgment in general, if we accept that an expert can have a relatively final, justified and correct opinion.

Regarding a related tangent in philosophy, the general idea that "it's all relative" is appropriately enough called relativism.  It's an attractive perspective.  Philosophers tend to hate it because eventually it makes what they are talking about not make as much sense, since it all sort of breaks down to that at some point, that frameworks of ideas are just vague descriptions and approaches that vary by person.  Or maybe that's just true within analytic philosophy, the branch I studied under last, the main category of approach embraced in the US and England.  People push this line of consideration in unusual directions, examining lots of test cases in minute detail, questioning things like "do we all mean the same thing by "red"?"  Of course that's a light wavelength range, so an easy one, but discussions move on to considering boundary conditions, and color blindness, and make it more complicated.  When preference related cases come up that's a different thing, or ethical judgments, and so on.  

The other main general branch of philosophy is Continental, relatively distinct, more common in other parts of Europe, although to some extent the two would probably mix in some modern thinking.  Terminology differences hold the ideas apart as much as separate approaches or assumptions or methodology, and the scope of problems seen as interesting is different.  Oddly the normal scope of consideration typically doesn't stray to broad general questions like "what is the meaning of life?" so much; too hard to break into a workable problem.  Even Continental philosophy would seem to not work well based on extreme forms of relativism, but since I didn't really study under that general branch much I probably shouldn't even conclude that, maybe that's common enough.

In the graduate aesthetics class I took they were so far along the curve of studying these ideas in certain ways that they really didn't want to get mired in the details of why most schools of thought related to aesthetics didn't really work.  They weren't completely rejecting Kant, but then they didn't want to run through all of the related background either, to cite critical flaws that made throwing out the ideas make sense.  In other types of aesthetics classes, or maybe more prevalent in earlier philosophy of aesthetics, questions like the relationship of beauty in nature and that in art were covered at length, but not so much in that class.

They didn't want to define beauty in that class, or make it objective or subjective.  Since in a sense the context of the class really did imply that it had to be objective to some degree we kept circling back to why that would be.  One option stood out, but it was a bit strange:  by inter-subjective agreement.  Put another way, good art is good because art critics say it is, or beauty is defined by consensus among informed opinions.  It kind of works.  Is good tea good because tea experts say it is (or market demand, or something such)?  Why not, but then that wouldn't have been quite as clear in the class scope.

It that one sentence I've mixed two completely different ideas, introducing common opinion versus expert opinions (the market demand mention).  If art critics are definitively defining beauty then the general public isn't, because most people wouldn't know which trends in fine art are currently in fashion and which aren't, or even the relevant history.  This seems to be paralleled by the divide in clothing in fashion shows and what people actually buy to wear, and so on.  One issue in extending this thinking to tea might be the narrowness in the range of people that love tea that fit in between the category of those drinking it made from tea bags and those that might be considered experts.  But it still can work, potentially; good tea could possibly be defined as what the most informed tea drinkers, the experts, regard as good tea.

Kant's instinct that taste judgment of food or tea is just a gut feeling, an emotional response, is actually close enough to a more relativist approach.  The other part about there being that other separate, objective, higher level appreciation of beauty is the opposite of that.  But it's conceivable that someone could adjust his line of thought a bit and consider how that second set of ideas could apply to the first case, to food tasting, if he'd set it all up a little differently.

Helping Kant make more sense

This is where things get strange, unless that was two sections ago, in which case it just keeps getting worse.  In philosophy classes they had an odd practice of breaking apart what people said and trying to get it to make more sense than it did.  Usually that involved keeping most of the framework, the underlying context the philosopher had set up, and then revising some conclusions or finer points to get it all to work better, to be more consistent.

But why?  Why not.  Philosophy classes weren't about making a lot of sense; a good bit of it was the intellectual equivalent of jogging in place.  Maybe it meant something, or maybe not, but it wasn't supposed to be like running for the purpose of travel.  Sometimes you couldn't keep almost all of the framework and then just adjust conclusions, and you needed to do a bit more touch-up to make it all less absurd, and maybe then you were really "doing philosophy."

seems reasonable (source)

We wouldn't have any luck with that here because there is no way I'm going to adjust Kant's framework of ideas to be workable, or wrap my own mind around them, or to even describe them.  I can't really pin down what Kant was doing with Beauty as a true aesthetic judgment versus expressing Pleasantness as a statement of inclination, in order to try to redefine tea tasting from one category to the other.

The only thing I could do is discuss context a bit further.  Kant did pretty well on his own anyway, to be fair, he just might have been a little clearer, and his work never really was accepted as a final explanation as he'd framed it.

For me it's hard to relate to his separation of beauty (which would seem to apply mostly to art and beauty found in nature) and appreciation of other things like food.  The division of appreciating something because it causes pleasure and it causing pleasure because I appreciate it also doesn't seem to work.  It's not senseless to express a difference, as it seems at first, but it also doesn't really seem to work.  But then I'm not really attached to a framework of objective, independent ideas existing outside of my own perspective either, completely separate from individual perceptions, and Kant really was.

Kant was saying interesting things--not interesting to everyone, but interesting on some level--about how we couldn't directly know the properties of "things in themselves," but that we really could break down our relationship to ideas and mental activities relating to analysis as a set of clearly defined mental functions.  Or relatively clearly; later people argued at length about what he meant by most of it, and it's not so difficult to find opposing interpretations that seem to be talking about different things based on the same narrow set of ideas within the works.  I remember interpreting a finer point for that one aesthetics class, pointing out what I thought he meant, with the main question being why didn't he actually say that, or say something else instead.  It had seemed he just loosely piled a few related concepts together instead of saying whatever he actually meant.  My classmates just looked at me with glazed eyes, although they seemed to have some idea of what I was trying to say.

To me digging deeper into perception and self and frameworks for ideas is not necessarily nonsense.  It's a bit tempting to start into what Buddhism says related to all this, much closer to my own take, but suffice it to say that it's nothing as simple as most sources would claim.  Or maybe it really is, only complicated by most people getting it wrong, and there being lots of different takes.  It doesn't help that the teachings themselves actually are quite diverse, both the received, supposedly original words of the Buddha, and many more later ideas based on those.  Buddhism interpreted as modern analytical philosophy is not useful, in my opinion.  

If it helps fill in my own perspective I believe that reality is a construct, as we experience it, based on a relatively real external set of physical objects (funny how diverse a concept like "real" can become though).  How could someone not believe that physical objects are real?  Maybe as well not to go into that.  Lots of ideas and schools of thought end up being a bit complicated, typically not rejecting something that basic, but the finer points of the more unusual things they do say can be hard to pin down.  In a strange way what I've just said, that "reality is a construct," could be interpreted as both a summary of Buddhist thinking or as Kant's own thinking, but in two completely different senses, so that would work out in two completely different forms.  But it's hard to be clearer about all that, to go a level deeper.


So do I think that tea tasting can be objectively and correctly described or perceived?  I really don't know, but that is something I think about, sometimes.  For the most part I suppose I think it can be, but I also think that you can't really remove subjective preference aspects.  I also suspect that taste elements can't actually be fully described because those taste components really can be complex, but what I mean by that is limited.  Lets go with an example:  I've been told that when a wine tastes like something, lets say cherries, there can be actual molecular components in wine that are exactly the same as those found in cherries.  How is that possible?  Maybe I've understood wrong, but apparently strange things are possible, and yeast acting on grape juice and tea leaves processed in interesting ways really can achieve complex, amazing, real results.  In the end identical or very similar flavor related compounds can come from different sources.  

But a wine or a tea tasting like cherry, which I've just accepted is possible, based on identifying a "cherry" scent / flavor molecule, wouldn't contain only one type of molecule.  Even cherry juice wouldn't, really, but maybe as well not to question that too far.  Besides, flavors are just one aspect of tea and wine anyway, and things get more complicated from there.  Feel is a lot more complicated, and it doesn't seem to relate to one simple cause.  It's sort of how it all comes together that makes it work, or else work out really well, or fail entirely.

At a glance what Kant is saying may seem clearly wrong because it's too complicated, and all those mental functions and parts couldn't exist without us knowing about it, but I'm not so sure that works.  If we accept the old Freudian psycho-analysis model of ego-id-superego we wouldn't necessarily experience these aspects of self, and using a related complicated internal mental framework to process and describe sensations could feel simple.  In modern times we might be more inclined towards brain-area-functional models, and we wouldn't necessarily experience that interplay of mental capacities either, at least in the sense of noticing if it was complicated or simple.

Kant deserves a lot of credit for giving us a starting point for lots of different ideas, but that can be hard to appreciate.  Probably a good bit of what we now take to be a basis for an ordinary worldview can be traced back to origins in his thinking, or to prior influences that led him to make connections and set up those models, although describing the linkages would take some doing.

It doesn't seem like we can do much with his idea of beauty, extending those ideas back to cover taste, without going a lot further.  For me the experience of enjoying tea is as simple as can be, but converting that experience into a description is a different kind of experience.  I can't say what goes on inside my mind while it happens.  To some extent the experience itself seems to change over time, along with my descriptions of what teas are like, so there may be more to understand that I'm not aware of.