Thursday, August 25, 2011

Temper Your Tannins - Tea and Bitterness

What the cha? While Londoners are encouraging each other to combat chaos by rediscovering tea, our United States tea drinking population is starting to resemble the non-Tea party.  It is quite ironic considering how integral the word "united" is to our national identity.

Isn't there an expression, "That’s not my cup of tea”? It seems to imply that for general tea consumption there is more than one cup and opinion available. We tea enthusiasts, unapologetic aficionados and industry professionals all would do well to keep this in mind. Then again, tea is a beverage for which people are prepared to march into war and defend. For the love of steep, let’s not turn our weaponry on each other. There’s been enough war over tea.

Bitterness Shows

The tea plant, Camellia sinensis or Chinese camellia, contains tannins. Even though it is spelled similarly, tannins are not the tannic acid used to cure leather. Tannins are the antioxidant property within tea which cause enough astringency for our mouths to feel dry and pucker into little wrinkles. While every palate is different, we can observe someone’s face to determine if too much tannin turned the tea bitter.

For the daring among us, here’s an experiment:
1.  Steep an Assam black tea for ten (10) minutes
2.  Drink it without milk and sugar
3.  Apologize both to your taste buds and the tea leaves for this exercise

As I observe self-proclaimed tea advocates attempt to tear down an individual, company and/or event, I wonder if the actions result from being personally oversteeped, i.e. bitter. Whenever I encounter a bitter cup of tea, I quickly put it down and promptly make a fresh one to erase the residual bitter aftertaste. 

Bitterness is eradicated when we each spend our time and energy producing something fresh and delicious to share. If the tea industry information we provide is relevant, fresh and uplifting, like tea itself, people will come back for more.

Everyone has a sphere of influence ready to be filled. Rather than be upset when a bitter cup is politely yet firmly declined, choose freshness over bitterness. In other words, please find a cup of tea and sip it.

Get in Where You Fit in

The conversation around tea is growing, whether or not the listener finds it intellectually stimulating, personally relevant, or even logically sound. The question remains as to whether or not we each will choose to participate in what’s already-in-progress. Similar to a Twitter timeline, the dialogue continues and fills any void we had opportunity to input reason. Offer your sphere of influence the tea knowledge you have and keep going forward.
During any discussion, the person who gets heard is not necessarily the one who has the most knowledge or shouts the loudest. The one most heard is the one most respected.

We humans tend to be reciprocal. As we sense that our views are heard, we then are more willing to listen. If we feel demeaned and/or ignored, then we couldn’t care less about the message. Like New York’s Times Square, there is room for multiple voices if we remain aware that none of us has sole right to the shared space. Otherwise, it becomes as cluttered and counterproductive as lost tourists standing in front of the Empire State Building. (Dear tourists: Please stand to the side and look up.)

Tea is ideal for opening communication lines. Let’s drink tea. Here’s to full cups and meaningful conversations!


  1. Thanks for helping get the word out about tannins. I think a lot of people are under this impression that "antioxidants = good", "tannins = bad", which is completely irrational, ignoring the fact that the tannins in tea are antioxidants. And, like just about any biological chemical, they are neither strictly good nor strictly bad.

    I also like the rest of your message in this post as well. I think it particularly true that people are more likely to listen when they feel as though they are being heard. That one insight provides the key to preventing so much conflict in the world...sometimes something as simple as listening is all that is needed.

  2. On listening and being heard, I make an attempt to reply to posts I have read specifically because of the points made by VL. I look at this as a responsibility. Even if it is just a simply Thanks Also thanks Ratetea for the RT that got me to the post

  3. Thanks to you both for taking time and for sharing your perspectives. In all my relationships, I find listening can be more educational than speaking. Sometimes a listening ear is enough.

    May we all enjoy more meaningful conversations (over tea, of course).

  4. I like your post very much , i like to read this article post