A Tea Addict's Journal

Lessons from a whisky masterclass

April 16, 2013 · 3 Comments

I dabble in drinking some whisky now and then. It has, interestingly, some similarities with tea drinking. In particular, I find the experience of drinking and analyzing whiskies to be quite similar to the process that you do with tea, except, very crucially, whisky has alcohol (and also can be consumed straight out of the bottle – and a relatively consistent experience, at that). So, I don’t drink much of it, but I like it.

I also think there are things we can learn, or not learn, from those who drink whiskies. Long time readers probably know that I’m not a big fan of tasting notes, and especially, I’m very skeptical of tasting notes that are full of flavour descriptors – hay, tobacco, straw, etc etc, abound in notes for puerh from many people. I’ve never had hay, or straw, or tobacco, so none of those things really mean all that much to me, and I’m not even sure it means all that much to many people (not to mention that I have a hard time believing tobacco is all the same – it’s like some tobacco smoker describing a flavour as “tea”). So, I generally try to avoid those things. Sweet and sour I use, and sometimes fruity or coolness or smoke, but that’s because I think it is a more elemental, basic sense – I try to avoid things that are quite specific. My vanilla is not really your vanilla.

So it is a rather pleasant surprise to see someone in the whisky review community who is talking about this very issue, and he does so in a very clear, straightforward manner. For those interested:

It’s slightly long, at 15 minutes, but he’s addressing the same issues – don’t just drink with your nose and your tongue. Pay attention to the body, the way the whisky (or in our case, tea) behaves in your mouth, the way it interacts with your body, the finish – how long it lasts and how deep it penetrates down your throat. So on, so forth. Most Taiwanese oolongs, for example, share some similar flavours, but what separates the good from the great are these bodily reactions/responses to the tea that cannot be captured by flavour descriptors. As I’ve said before, drink with your body.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • mark causey // April 16, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Reply

    i also follow ralfy.com and drink whisky and scotch for forty plus years. drinking tea when i take a break from liquor, but finding loose leaf high quality tea in just the last 15 years. i find a lot of the same taste profiles in both. using both nose and taste buds to enjoy as much as an old man can. you will find as you get older your sense smell and taste are not as sharp as when you are young. but i did not have the money for the better things in life then, so i try harder now.

  • JakubT // April 17, 2013 at 11:34 am | Reply

    Indeed, is fun to look for parallels in pu and whiskey (and wine).

    On one hand, I agree it is not always overly helpful to use too much taste description (on the other hand, I do it, to an extent). However, there are two things to consider:
    a) When you read someone’s notes, drink the teas he writes about, you can generally understand what he means – and if he then writes about something you don’t have, you may have a good idea of what it’s like.
    b) In wine, there is a rather standardized set of tastes which, once created, works reasonably well. Not that implementing such a standardization would be simple with tea, but I am not sure it may not work in future.

  • psychanaut // April 18, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Reply

    Yep, my experience with drinking and talking about tea in a more serious manner was first person, in Taiwan, before ever discovering any tea blogs, and upon first reading many of these, I found it quite bizarre the amount of people who constantly referred to these multitude of flavor notes, using other foods as stand-ins for descriptions, as well as people minutely listing the seconds they brew each infusion..have never done either of those, and never seen people do or talk about tea in these ways in Taiwan.

    You should read this article: http://www.newstatesman.com/food/2009/01/corallo-chocolate-cocoa-sao

    abou the guy who makes the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted.

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