Today I got around to an experiment I've been thinking about for some time:
Will I be able to identify Jingmai and Mangfei sheng in a blind tasting?
In my collection there are two Mangfei - a 2008 produced by Yongde Ziyu (presented here) and a 2012 Mangfei which is already sold out at Bannacha.
From Jingmai I've got a 2010 old arbor made by Guanzizai (this one is also sold out at Bannacha) and a 2012 xiao bing which I have written about previously.
So today I pried 5g from each bing, put them in cups with "name tags" which my wife randomly exchanged for cards labeled A, B, C, D - so I could not identify the teas without checking my wife's notes.
The teas got brewed in identical 100ml gaiwans in order to taste them under approximately equal conditions. Before the brewing got started, I drew up charts listing all the taste impressions I ever had when drinking sheng. For each tea and every single infusion I marked the impressions actually found today - alotting points from 1 for "detectable" over 2 for "pronounced" up to 3 for "dominant".
Gosh, how that appeared to be scientifical. Take a look at this chart (english version coming later for the summary):
Looks so precise and analytical ... but how it spoiled my enjoyment of the teas! Somehow they all showed much sharper acerbity than previously, when I gave each tea my full attention (and loving care instead of analytic scepticism) in single sessions.
Tea B often reminded me of jasmine tea with an airy, light quality - which somehow matched the salty and mineralic aspects of Tea A. I was almost as sure of A being the 2012 Jingmai as I was sure of C being the 2008 Mangfei...
... Man, was I wrong!
When my wife gave me her notes, I just couldn't believe it:
my guess: 2012 Jingmai actually 2012 Mangfei (at least I got the year right)
my guess: 2010 Jingmai actually 2008 Mangfei
my guess: 2008 Mangfei actually 2012 Jingmai (neither year nor origin guessed correctly - but I felt absolutely sure about this one)
my guess: 2012 Mangfei actually 2010 Jingmai
I can comfort myself with the fact that I could determine which teas where from the same region, even if I missed my mark in naming them.
Also I made a ranking of how I liked the teas. From best to least favourite: C, B, D, A
My least favourite is sold out and my second favourite has the lowest price of all four, thats a pleasure. But just my luck: the top tea is the most expensive.
Disappointing overall results of my blind tasting, but a very valuable lesson for me, from which I learned the following:
- Do more blind tasting! Nothing as valuable as this to make sure you taste the tea for what it really is - instead of searching for the "typical taste" read about on the internet.
- Don't overdo it! Having two teas simultaneously should be my limit.
- Don't attempt to be scientific! There is no way to taste one tea free of influences from other teas tasted just before (in a setup like this), even if I try to omit assumptions: there is no obejctivity!
Addendum (12. November 2012):
After having reread my post I find it to be unclear, which I would like to set straight.
"Disappointing overall results" might be taken for saying that I thought the teas were disappointing. Au contraire! I was disappointed by my inability to identify the teas.
When I had the teas individually, I enjoyed them all. For instance the Jingmai from 2010 is in my cup right now - and I taste hardly any bitterness at all, it is more of a caramelized hay character.
In case you are fed up with western tea nerds dabbling in East Asian mysticism: go away now - you'll not like what I'm up to here.
Heart Sutra there is a sequence which is very special and meaningful to me:
照見五蘊皆空 (Japanese: shouken go'un kaikuu) which can be translated as "(Kanjizai) has clearly seen that all 5 aspects of existence and perception are without substance."
Yes, this applies to todays blind tasting too:
How ever I try to look, feel, taste and smell a tea, these impressions might catch my attention for some time, but it does not matter in the long run if it is sweet, beautiful, fragrant or mindboggling. Sensations pass. What really matters is the mindfulness in which I enjoy the tea, without becoming attached.
Well, at least it should.