Even More About The Willat Effect

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.

9 Responses to “Even More About The Willat Effect”

  1. Scott P. Says:

    I wonder if the rinsing is actually blunting the harshness of hot water versus doing any kind of actual rinsing? Did you rinse then let dry or at least reach room temperature again?

  2. dearieme Says:

    Does it matter whether the water is hard or soft?

  3. Jonathan Shewchuk Says:

    Thanks for these observations; I’ll have to buy a scale and start experimenting.

    How do you brew the Choco Late for 30 minutes without it losing too much heat? Do you brew it in a saucepan on the stove?

  4. Oskar Pearson Says:

    Hi

    Stray thought: My impression is that some cultures (eg: Italian) make it culturally acceptable to share dishes at the table, as their meals often consist of platters which contain numerous types of meat, cheese, bread, pickles, and so forth.

    I think this would thus lead to a culture-wide connoisseur effect… which is what we have in Italy, with huge numbers of specialist cheeses, wines, and so forth.

    Of course this is difficult to prove, but it might be quite nice to create a micro-culture of sharing food with friends and see if people become “more foodie” over time. :)

    Oskar

  5. Seth Roberts Says:

    Oskar, yeah, maybe so. I haven’t noticed the effect from eating different kinds of salami, though. It has to be two types of prosciutto, or two types of mortadella, etc.

  6. Seth Roberts Says:

    Jonathan, I don’t heat the Choco Late while brewing; that might be a good idea. I have brewed chai for 80 minutes keeping it warm in a microwave by using a temperature probe.

  7. Seth Roberts Says:

    Scott, I just “rinse” (= soak, wait, discard hot water) and then immediately add more water.

  8. Kirk Says:

    Reminds me of this quest for the perfect omelet: http://www.gilttaste.com/stories/699-chasing-perfection .

  9. Ludovic Gallant Says:

    An interesting experiment you could try ia brewing the same tea, in the same conditiiba (water, temperature, time) but in different teapots (by exemple ceramic, yixing (clay), kyusus and gaiwan). You will notice some interesting differences in the taste.

    PS: The water temperature makes a huge difference, make sure you never use boiling water on green or white teas. Use a 75 degrees water on Japanese green teas and white teas and a 85 degrees water on Chinese green tea.