Blind Tasting – Balancing Expectation with Reality

Let’s play a game. What are your first thoughts when I mention the following terms?

  • Lincang
  • Wet storage
  • Xiaguan
  • Mini tuocha
  • Lao Banzhang

What did you think? Did you have some initial expectation of what the imaginary tea might taste like? You might have said “bitter” for Lincang or “forest floor” for wet storage. Regardless of your specific thoughts, most people have some sort of expectation when the label of a tea makes a certain claim.

What’s the Problem?

Humans, to a fault, develop expectations for all of our senses. We are conditioned to expect things, and this is even true with word association. If a label says “Yiwu,” you might have a certain expectation. That is independent of the fact that Yiwu is a huge area comprised of different elevations, soil conditions, water sources, weather, etc. that all affect the potential of the leaves. Then, on top of that, there is the processing, compression, and age of the tea.

The point here is this:

  1. When I hear “Yiwu,” I think of the flavor notes of wood, floral, and mineral; and
  2. Yiwu is much more than just a flavor profile and can be many other tastes.

This is the problem inherent in our tea drinking experience. The more we taste, the more expectations we create.

So, what do we do?

It’s good to judge a tea based on its label; however, the flip side is that it’s also unfair to judge a tea based on its label. There’s the difference between accurately portraying the tea (i.e., something is marked gushu when it’s really not), and accurately portraying the taste of the tea.

I love white wrapper cakes. I love unmarked samples. These items force you to think about the tea. Maybe you make some parallels to other teas that you have tried or a region with a similar profile, but the point is that you still don’t know one way or another.

Make your tasting fair. Give your tea a chance. If you want to enjoy the experience, stop worrying about what kind of tea it is. Sure, we all want to know what that 2000 Xigui sheng tastes like, but we also don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into having a specific expectation for the tea.

Mix up your samples. Taste things blindly. Put samples into umarked bags. Put the sample into your gaiwan without looking at the label. Taste it first, then look at the label to be pleasantly surprised by the answer.

There’s nothing wrong with labels – just don’t let those labels influence your experience. Oh, and don’t let other people’s opinions shape your brewing experience either, but I’ll save that topic for another day.


Until the next cup.


Greetings to all and welcome to the inaugural post of A Guy with Gaiwan!

Who am I?

Several of you will recognize me from the tea communities of Steepster and Instagram. I go by “kieblera5”, “kiebs”, or “that puerh addict.” Kidding on the last one, I think… I love puerh tea – both shou and sheng, though my preference is towards a nice dark cup of shou. My favorite teas include 2000 Green Peacock Sheng from Essence of Tea, 2001 CNNP Orange Mark Shou from White2Tea (no longer available), and a large number of other delicious teas.

What’s the point?

Okay, cynic. Why am I making a tea blog? Well, I’ve wanted to write about my experiences with tea, keep track of my tasting notes/pictures, and organize it all for my enjoyment. Naturally, a blog is a pretty good place for these musings. I’m also interested in all aspects of puerh education – from production to the Chinese language used to describe it. This blog is my education. I hope you are also educated by it.

Since this blog is about puerh education, this means one thing – I am learning. I am not an expert. I do not speak or read Chinese (yet). If you have a comment, question, concern, or I’m just straight up wrong, please let me know – I can always fix a post and your helpful comments only aid in my education.

Cat swimming in shou
My maneki neko taking a bath in some shupu

What am I drinking? Parameters?

In reviews, I try for “standard ratios” to get a similar experience across the board. This means 6g/100ml for sheng and 8g/100ml for shou unless otherwise stated. I also brew all of my tea at 205F/96C. I’ll be drinking a ton of tea for this site at all stages of aging. You might find reviews of unreleased teas, out of stock teas, and random maocha samples from friendly vendors. No puerh is safe from my gaiwan.

What else?

This blog is for education, not profit. In that same regard, I don’t pull punches when reviewing teas – no one is buying a favorable review. I’m also just one puerh addict in a community full of tea lovers – my opinion doesn’t speak for anyone else and you are more than entitled to think I have poor taste.

If you’re the social type, you can follow my blog here or my posts on Instagram. I also love sharing tea, so don’t hesitate to get to know me and/or ask for a sample of something that I’m raving about. I’ll also be posting a few unique “theme days” after I get a few weeks of blogging under my belt. Stay tuned for more.

Until the next cup.