I have had tea daily for the last ten years, ever since I discovered the Shangri-La Diet. A few weeks ago, I started doing side-by-side comparisons of similar teas or the same tea prepared two ways (e.g., different brewing times). Would the Willat Effect make me a tea connoisseur?
Since then I have done at least one side-by-side comparison every day. It’s almost as easy as making an ordinary cup of tea and a lot more fun. These comparisons have taught me more about tea preparation than the previous ten years. I’ve learned:
1. The black tea I have (an Earl-Grey variant) tastes better when brewed for 3.5 minutes than 4.0 minutes.
2. The black tea tastes better when I use 1.5 grams of tea than when I use 2.0 grams of tea. (After starting these comparisons, I bought a scale for weighing tea.)
3. One of the green teas I have tastes better when “rinsed” for 30 seconds before brewing 1 minute than when simply brewed for 1 minute. In China, this preference (rinse green tea before brewing) is common. I was reminded of it by this comment and Paul Jaminet’s post about tea. Black tea is different, as I noted earlier.
4. I have a caffeine-free tea blend called Choco Late made of cacao husks, vanilla, and rooibos. The package says brew 5 minutes. Which is nonsense. It tastes better (fuller, more rounded) when brewed 30 minutes than when brewed 15 minutes. (I’ve noticed the same thing with caffeine-free chai blends. Enormous brewing times, like 60 minutes, produce much better results than short times.)
5. My most interesting discovery is when I brew Choco Late for 30 minutes it tastes so good I no longer want to sweeten it. It is pleasant enough already and sweetness would distract from the complexity, fullness, and slight bitterness. (At first I wrote “lovely complexity, fullness …”) I was shocked when I noticed this. It has never happened before.
This tea-selling website mentions the Willat Effect under the heading “Do you want to be a tea connoisseur?” I hope this means the idea will spread among the fancy-food community. They have a lot to gain from better understanding of how to make people connoisseurs. Many times I have asked people in that community what makes someone a connoisseur? The usual answer is education. In my case, Willat-Effect comparisons (side-by-side comparisons of similar teas) were far more powerful than reading about tea, drinking a variety of teas, going on tea tours, going to ordinary tea tastings (where you taste a wide range of teas), and talking about tea with experts. I have been to five or six Fancy Food Shows and have visited thousands of booths. Exactly one booth offered side-by-side comparisons of similar products. It was their product made with and without a special ingredient.
Willat-Effect comparisons are mini-science. They aren’t quantitative but they include three other things central to science: 1. Close comparisons. This is the essence of experimentation. 2. You don’t know the answer. 3. You care about the answer.