It worked. Side-by-side tea comparisons are fun, easy, and have taught me a lot. When I drink tea I notice more and like it more. I do about three comparisons per day. I blogged about the first results here. The most useful idea about these comparisons came from Carl Willat himself: Compare the same tea brewed differently (e.g., different amounts of tea, different brewing times, different water temperatures). Most of my comparisons vary amount of tea or brewing time.
These many comparisons have had several effects:
1. Yeah, I’m a snob. No more cheap tea. Yeah, I’m more nerdy about it.
2. I bought a scale (Camry EHA901, $12 in America) with a precision of 0.01 gram. No more heaping teaspoons. Mostly I use 1.5 grams of tea with about 170 ml water. For dense tea, 1.5 grams is roughly 1 teaspoon. Standard-size teabags contain about 2 g of tea.
3. Much different brewing times than recommended. The black tea I have now is Ahmad Tea English Tea No. 1 (in spite of the name, not expensive). The tin says “infuse 4-6 minutes.” I used to brew it (and all black tea) 5 minutes, now I prefer less than 3 minutes. I found that 2.75 minutes is better than 3 minutes. Around 3 minutes it starts getting bitter — I never noticed! Another example is American Tea Room‘s Choco Late, which contains cacao husks, vanilla, and rooibos. The package says brew 5 minutes. I prefer 30 minutes — 30 minutes tastes better than 20 minutes, I have found several times.
4. To make the comparisons as sensitive as possible I want to start with equal tea pots, so I need to clean them well after each use. This became boring. I could eliminate cleaning by using tea bags. I bought ordinary-size empty tea bags. Side-by-side comparisons (same tea, bagged versus loose) showed they made the flavor much worse. Too bad I’d bought 200. I bought much larger tea bags to use as liners rather than bags. That worked fine — no cleaning needed, taste just as good. However, they are too large, so I shorten them. The concept of a disposable tea liner (instead of tea bag) seems to be new. I cannot find any for sale. My connoisseurship has not only caused me to spend much more on tea, it has made me want an interesting new product. Tea pot makers could sell liners specially designed for their pots. Continuing revenue, like razor blades.
5. I stopped adding artificial sweetener (e.g., Splenda) to black tea. Now I prefer it without sweetener. I continue to add cream to black tea. This is the most surprising and intriguing change. Maybe sweetness is a distraction from the complexity of the flavor (which I now notice more and derive more pleasure from), but creaminess is not. I imagine the same thing is behind Richard Stallman’s “If it is tea I really like, I like it without milk and sugar.” And maybe the same thing is behind all sorts of artistic expression that strike outsiders as harsh and unpleasant. A few years ago I went to a BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) concert and was stunned how unpleasant it was. Yet the composer (who performed it) surely enjoyed it.
Regular readers know I think connoisseurship evolved because it increased technological innovation. My experience so far supports this. Thanks to the Willat Effect, I am more of a connoisseur. As a result of this change, I am spending more on high-end artisanal goods (expensive tea) and precision manufacturing (precision scale) and I want a new product (disposable tea liners).
People think of connoisseurs as having higher standards. The word connoisseur seems to mean exactly that. Iin some obvious ways, they do. Yet the sweetener change (I no longer want sweetener) is in a way a lowering of standards. Sweetness is pleasant. I no longer require, or even want, my tea to be sweet. As far as I can tell, something like this is true throughout the arts. Connoisseurs make unusual demands, yes, but in some ways they are easier to please than non-connoisseurs. Indie films are less pleasant than mainstream films. Yet film connoisseurs like them more. To most people, indie films are also much cheaper and more experimental than mainstream films. By supporting them — by preferring them — film connoisseurs are supporting innovation. The connoisseurs have lowered their standards for film in the sense that they can enjoy cheaper films. A friend of mine attends the San Francisco International Film Festival each year. He enjoys it. I wouldn’t. The SF film festival films don’t cost much, yet they have a certain innovative quality. (I”m not a film connoisseur, I barely understand it.) The source of pleasure has shifted from conventional sources (plot, music, dialogue, gorgeous actors, sets, and landscapes) to something else, perhaps novelty and complexity.