Steepster Poll: Rating Methodology: Personal Preference or Flavor Accuracy?
There are 2 ways to go about rating teas: based on personal preference or accuracy of the flavor… Which do you use?
Are you referring to the accepted flavour profile of a tea, and how well the particular tea in question stacks up, as flavour accuracy?
And personal preference trumping accepted flavour profiles?
lol It seems as if we’re going in circles of misunderstanding… it depends on what you mean by “accepted flavour profile” lol. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you have a green based raspberry tea that has a strong, not fake, raspberry aroma and flavor as well as a good green tea base… but you don’t really care for raspberry- What criteria would you use to rate it? Or if you have a good quality unflavored black tea, but like me, just don’t care for blacks?
By accepted flavour profile, I simply mean what the tea is supposed to taste like. There is a classic flavour profile or basic parameters for Keemun tea. For lack of precision, lets go with the wikipedia entry for Keemun:
“The aroma of Keemun is fruity, with hints of pine, dried plum and floweriness (but not at all as floral as Darjeeling tea) which creates the very distinctive and balanced taste. It also displays a hint of orchid fragrance and the so-called ’China tea sweetness. The tea can have a more bitter taste and the smokiness can be more defined depending on the variety and how it was processed.”
Now I could judge the tea based on those general parameters. How well does it stack up to the “accepted” flavour composition.
I could also base it on my preference for Keemun or black teas in general.
But in general, my tasting notes are all about how I react to the tea. I can give kudos to the standard, or lack of it, and I can explain my preference for drinking the tea in question.
But in the end, it is all about how much I enjoy tasting it. But I also try to add a disclaimer about my dislike does not mean that the tea is not representative of what it should taste like.
My perspective is more like a venn diagram.
I need to adjust my rating scale in my profile to reflect it, but I review and rate teas from an objective perspective based on flavor accuracy (i.e. “This tea is…” point of view) rather than the “I like/don’t like” this tea. I feel objectivism in tea reviews is EXTREMELY important because no two tea drinkers tastes are exactly the same so one person’s personal opinon doesn’t really mean that there’s a good chance a person will like or dislike a given tea based on it. As a reader seeking feedback from teas I would rather see a 5 from a person who just doesn’t like the flavor rather than a 100 because a person doesn’t like the main flavored that is supposed to be in the tea, but is in actuality very weak so that is how I rate my own teas. I’ve also found that this method has benefited me as a tea drinker beacause I’m learning to drop my prejudices and reservations about certain teas- and I’ve been rewarded for that more than once by finding a tea I genuinely love (which of course may or may not be because the flavors are what the company says they should be).
Part of what you are focusing in on is the complexity of explaining your perspective on the tea. Objectivity and subjectivity are both part of the experience. They bring balance humanity, and honesty to life in a tasting note. An honest and mature tasting note can include both subjective and objective elements; it is a good approach.
I definitely agree Spot52, but I see tasting notes as more of a review so I focus more on what the tea is first and then explain if and why I like it (or don’t). That being said, I base the rating completely on the my perception of the flavor accuracy, and do not factor in my own personal preference at all. The only exception may be something like matcha. If I have two matchas that taste the same, but one needs to be sifted in order to be enjoyed more fully, then I will rate the one that requires sifting a little lower.
I do not think that there is a right or wrong way to do tasting notes. When I evaluate tasting notes, I tend to focus in on the comments made. It helps me gain perspective on how that person reacts to the experience offered by the tea. And based on what they write, I decide how much of a personal connection I want to extend to their rating. There are obviously some styles I connect with and respond. But in the end, I have to base my preferences on how closely I connect with the reviewer.
Of course some of this discussion may be a disconnect due to my disposition towards unflavoured teas. And that is where my general idea of what a tea should taste like comes in. There are general parameters for Japanese Sencha, it is just part of the process. This has nothing to do with what a company says a tea should taste like. And then there are subtleties that factor in on the taste as well (such as soil composition, climate, elevation, the crop etc.). And these variable elements are added to the standard that comes from the processing. But also balancing out the claims made by a company, and my palate, play a role as well. If they claim smokey notes, and I taste none of them, I will say if I thought it met the hype.
Maybe I am just rambling at this point. But it is fair to say that how we all approach tasting notes is subjective. I do not think there is a right or wrong way to do it, I leave the validity of the note up to my own discernment.
I completely agree that there is not right or wrong way to do tasting notes, I didn’t say there was. I’m just curious as to our method to our maddness:) I think it helps to know how a person things when writing tasting notes and choosing ratings. There’s no wrong way just as there’s no wrong way to drink or prepare tea (although if someone is displeased w/ a tea I may offer suggestions for improvement). I personally tend to disconnect the rating of a tea from the tasting note because I know that I base one (the rating) on more objective critera and the other (the tasting note) on more subjective criteria. This of course, in actuality is pointless and impossible since not everyone thinks that way lol.
(I also must state that if we were able to give the tea separate ratings every time we drank a tea in addition to the general rating that I would be much more liberal with my ratings and would envoke much more emotion and personal preference in it as well as the preparation/parameters of that particular cuppa.)
And in no way was I trying to say that you made a claim of a right or wrong way. And even as objective as we try to be with a rating, our perspective on what meets the criteria may also be quite different. I know the strength of bergamont can really impact my rating of an earl grey. Because my perspective on a large amount of bergamont can differ from anyone elses. It is somewhat an exercise in futility. But it is always interesting to hear how people process such ideas and critiques. In truth, I would still say that my ratings are a mishmash encompassing my experience. I think the explanation of the experience is more insightful than my number. Of course the smiley to yucky face may impact the way we use the rating system.
I try to rate based on how a tea stacks up in terms of how many distinct flavors or textures are outright obvious, how many infusions are yielded (taking tea category and preparation into account), how flexible the tea is in parameter shift to produce complex and unoffensive flavors, and then I skew the rating based on overall impression or “wow factor”.
I’ve managed to develop a bit of dislike for judging a tea or coffee’s “quality”, especially using a singular numerical value. Like you said – everyone has their own preferences and if the purpose of assigning a score is to pander to other’s preferences then what point is there to quantitative values for subjective appreciation? When I sell people a coffee or tea, I’ve found it far more useful and reliable to relate the overall impression and reasoning behind that impression, even though it’s generally frowned upon to rely on a subjective scale rather than an objective one. I contend that it works better for me to say something like “This stands out to me – it has a sharp, lively acidity, a rich body, and mellow astringency with flavors of blabdidyblahblah” versus scoring it according to how it’s supposed to taste like “I score this Keemun a 93 since it tastes like Keemun should”. I mean, if you base things on how somethings “supposed” to taste like, what would you rate something a company says is supposed to taste like burned rubber and cow dung? That’s what one should sort of expect of a long term wet-storage dark tea… doesn’t make it deserving of a decent score in my mind, but some people like that, so I’d skew the score based on the balance of that taste.
I’ve sort of taken on the “flavor star” method of using the spider-web looking plot graph, assigning particular most-obvious notes for each point and taking a baseline score according to the median balance of those characteristics, giving a correction based on whether certain teas are acceptable for certain extremes. For instance, Lapsang Souchong will be given much more grace in scoring for toastiness than a Long Jing will. I don’t usually go about actually plotting the points though, and just write down my impressions and use a mental graph as the basis of what I’ll skew with my “overall impression”.
The reason I dislike following a set rubric for numerical scoring is it is not flexible. What interests me most about tea is uniqueness of flavors from year to year and between localities or different producers in the same area. I feel scoring based on balance and impression – if you score at all – allows for greater appreciation of experimental teas or crop variation. Really light bodied and vegetal Keemun shouldn’t really be penalized if it has greater range of flavor than its more traditional kin, just like yellow and brown tinged green tea leaves shouldn’t be discriminated against just based upon appearance.
I see a lot of people (coffee buyers are even worse than the wine snobs) who really get caught up in scoring, but they base everything on a single rubric with a 10point cupper’s correction if there’s acceptable deviation and it’s all based on a set “ideal” profile. This doesn’t allow for exotics and winds up getting really weird when a particular product actually meets all criteria. A 98.9 objective score? 100? Really? I do not believe in the concept of perfection in anything. It sets a cap, saying you can do no better while some people really don’t care for it at all and love what is scored at a 60. I happen to love aged and monsooned coffees that are technically defective and thus unscorable. Subjective scores allow for infinite ceiling and variable placement based on impression, so if I give something a 100 and later taste something I thought was even more extraordinary I do not have to devalue the earlier wondrous offering.
Just my 2 cents…
I rate it on quality, but sometimes personal preference comes in to play but I will note that I am not a fan of that particular flavor BUT that I think the quality of the tea is good. Hmm I guess it’s a mixture of both, but I know I will not like some flavors that other may like so if I think it’s of good quality then I will note on my tasting not that (for example) “if you REALLY love a smoky tea, then this would probably be for you”.