Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Hello Friends!
So happy to have met with many of you this year, and hope that next year will bring even more get-togethers!  
Am now settled in Chelmsford, MA, near Boston, so when you are in the area, let me know. Here's my “tea” address:
Speaking of tea, have been extra busy this year with tea events. The “tea” thread through the year has been about the aromas of tea: what they are, how they come about, and how they blend with flavors from other plants and foods.
Started in this direction by participating via Skype with members of the US League of Tea Growers ( at their annual meeting in April, hosted by Jason McDonald at The Great Mississippi Tea Company ( During the meeting, members processed Jason’s leaves into tea, which gave me the perfect opportunity to share the chemistry of the formation of tea aromas, and for participants to experience the aromas produced by the leaves as they are processed. It was tremendous fun to be able to interact with everyone as they sniffed the scent samples I had sent down to Jason.  
Jason’s leaves reappeared at World Tea Expo in Las Vegas in June, where they were used in the tea processing workshop. Was invited to repeat some of my presentation on the scents of teas at that workshop. Was fascinated to see how participants related the scents to their experiences creating and sipping teas.
World Tea Expo brought me the opportunity for another presentation, this one a workshop about pairing foods with teas. Jason brought his Black Magnolia tea, and Vikram Mathur of Yatra Teas ( brought three teas, a green (Fatikcherra Estate, Tripura, Autumn Flush),  an oolong (Goomtee Estate, Darjeeling, First Flush) and a black (Halmari Estate, Assam, Second Flush). All these teas were delicious and, importantly, distinctive.  I decided to forego a powerpoint for this presentation—an excellent decision, I think, because it allowed me to interact with the participants more directly. Explained how the trigeminal system works, and how it influences tea/food interactions. Everyone then experienced the interactions for themselves—most amusing was participants’ reactions to pairing a dark chocolate with the green tea…contorted faces and expressions of revulsion, in strong contrast to the response to the same chocolate with the black teas, and all explained by the functions of the trigeminal system.  

Above, a photo of the teas, scones, and trigeminal temperature diagrams at the WTE tea pairing workshop, taken by tea blogger extraordinaire Sara Shacket ( The teas you see are, left to right, Fatikcherra, Goomtee, Halmari, and Black Magnolia.

Repeated the US League of Tea Growers presentation, this time for all tea lovers, at the PA Tea Festival this September, hosted by tea lover and experienced herbalist—she comes from a multi-generation family of herbalists—Susanna Reppert Brill, at her Rosemary House in Mechanicsburg PA, pictured below ( I had met Susanna at a presentation I gave for the Mid-Atlantic Tea Business Association, and was thrilled when she invited me to participate in the Festival.  

What a magical setting! My table was in herb herb and fairy garden, in the shade, with lovely fellow vendors, including a charming person from Dollies Tea Room (Clear Spring, MD, who sold some outrageously beautiful tea party hats (as well as tea, of course), and was so helpful with my table set-up and tear-down.

Here I am at the table, selling my book, Three Basic Teas & How to Enjoy Them. The profit from the sales went to support Direct Relief (, an organization that brought medical supplies and care to victims of this year’s hurricanes and fires, and is still helping with last year’s Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico—mine was a small contribution, but every penny helps!

Photo by Kenneth Haulton, 

To my great surprise I was called back to Cornell in October for a conference on…tea! The Cornell take on tea was historical and sociological—for example the role of the Great Depression and war in elevating tea to a national beverage in South Asia as exports to Europe and the Americas were collapsing. My contribution pointed out the effects of global warming on the aroma compounds in teas. The effects are not good. 

Importantly, the conference sponsored an essay contest in which students were asked to reflect on what they learned at the conference. You can find the winning essays here: 

This year, I also put together a course for the World Tea Academy on creating blended teas using herbs and spices, based on the principles I use for tea and food pairing. The course is part of a curriculum that leads you to become a Certified Tea BlenderTM—check it out at

Coming in 2019: 
The Scents of Tea Kit! Spent most of August through November writing the book and preparing materials for the Kit that Scott Svihula of Hula Consulting ( and I are planning to send to market in time for World Tea Expo 2019—let me know if you want a sneak preview! 

WTE workshop: Jason McDonald and I are planning a workshop for WTE where we process his leaves in four different ways to give four different green teas—be sure to sign up while reduced rates apply—they end January 31st!  (

Wishing you and yours tea-mendous joy and fulfillment through 2019 and beyond!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Smell survey at World Tea Expo 2018

Hello All! -- Here are the results of the Smell Survey we undertook at WTE 2018!

As you can see, each of us has a different take on the nature of the aromas present in tea, so when we each enjoy our favorite tea, no doubt we enjoy it for different reasons!

Thank you so much, Marzi PecenIndependent Tea Consultant, Educator and Writer Extraordinaire, for helping to administer the survey!

Copyright 2018 Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace MD
First of all I would like to thank all of you who participated! This was a pilot survey, so the findings listed here are provisional and await a much larger effort. However even with a small number of participants, some interesting observations emerged.
Rationale for the survey
I was inspired to carry out this survey by three papers I had read. Two discussed the genetics of our responses to ß-damascenone, a smell present in Damask roses, and ß-ionone, characteristic of violets. In the third, threshold responses to each of these aromas were examined.*
Barrels of Kentucky bourbon whiskey; ß-damascenone contributes to Kentucky bourbon's characteristic flavor. Image from Wikipedia.
Both aromas are present in teas: ß-damascenone primarily in black tea, and ß-ionone in all teas. Participants in the survey sniffed both aromas and rated their qualities.
There were 55 participants with usable surveys, of whom 53 indicated gender—29 females and 20 males. The ages ranged from 18 to 74. Ten females and 5 males considered themselves beginners or novices when it comes to tea kowledge, and 19 females and 15 males considered their knowledge to intermediate or expert.
Effect of age on intensity of the aromas
Age came into play, as Plotto and colleagues suggested (see reference below). For their paper they looked at thresholds, the lowest concentration at which people could detect ß-damascenone, and found that people who were 45 years and over had higher thresholds than did younger people. While we didn’t measure thresholds, we did measure the intensity of the sensation given by each aroma. A lower intensity may generally reflect a higher threshold. Therefore I wasn’t surprised to find that the older participants didn’t find the sample of ß-damascenone to be as intense as did younger people. Although Plotto and colleagues didn’t mention any effect of age for ß-ionone, in our study older participants also found ß-ionone to be less intense. 
We do know that age influences our ability to smell, though data I collected many years ago suggests that this decline varies from person to person, with some people retaining their sense of smell into old age. For me at age 75, ß-damascenone is quite intense. I consider myself lucky in this respect! Or perhaps not so lucky, if the smell is unpleasant.** 
Qualities of the aromas
For ß-damascenone, 29 of 53 (55%) who responded to the smell found it to be rose-like and/or floral, while 24 did not find any floral quality in it. In fact some people indicated that it smelled like paint to them! 
Because ß-damascenone is present in black tea, it would have been interesting to see how people whose favorite tea was black responded, but their were only 8 people who cited a black tea as their favorite, so statistical analysis was impossible to carry out. There is a slight suggestion that people who considered black tea their favorite thought ß-damascenone was not quite as strong smelling, but more research is clearly needed, as this may simply be  question of age—in other work I have done, black tea tends to be a favorite of older people.
For ß-ionone, 39 (71%) of 55 participants could not detect any floral quality in the aroma. Instead they found it to be woody and often pungent and sour, as has been reported in the studies cited. ß-ionone is present in all teas derived from Camellia sinensis, so this observation raises the question of whether these off-aromas may be involved in some people’s avoidance of tea. However, clearly people at WTE were not avoiders!
Interestingly, 19 (36%) of 53 participants could not sense the floral qualities of either odor.  Importantly, this phenomenon did not influence their choice of favorite tea.
Bulgarian Rose from the Rose Valley, Bulgaria near Rosino Village. ß-ionone and ß-damascenone both contribute significantly to the aroma of roses.
With apologies to Gertrude Stein and Will Shakespeare, a rose may be a rose, but your rose is not my rose...and a rose by any other name may not smell as sweet to you as it does to me...
Image from Wikipedia.
Favorite teas
As for favorite type of tea: 51 participants stated a favorite type; of these 10 (20%) preferred green, 29 (57%) chose oolong, white, or BaiHao (all floral teas), and only 8 (15%) picked black tea. Interestingly, those who chose oolong/white/BaiHao were signficantly more likely to state that they liked their favorite tea’s aftertaste. People who listed green tea as their favorite were significantly less likely to appreciate its aftertaste—was it because green tea aftertaste tends to be bitter/astringent, or because green tea tends to have relatively little aftertaste when compared with oolong? I cannot tell.
Bottom lines 
  1. What you experience in tea  and what I experience may be radically different, yet our tea preferences may not reflect these differences. 
  2. Oolong/white/BaiHao teas are particularly appreciated for their aftertaste. Can we use this information to spread interest in these teas among the general public? and if so, how?
Those are the results for now—so many unanswered questions!

Next year we’ll do a more extensive survey, so let me know what kinds of questions you would like to ask!
* Here are the articles:
  • Jeremy F. McRae et al. Identification of Regions Associated with Variation in Sensitivity to Food- Related Odors in the Human Genome. Current Biology 23, 1596–1600, August 19, 2013, 
  • Sara R. Jaeger et al. A Mendelian Trait for Olfactory Sensitivity Affects Odor Experience and Food Selection. Current Biology 23, 1601–1605, August 19, 2013. A. 
  • A. Plotto, K.W. Barnes, K.L. Goodner.   Specific Anosmia Observed for β-Ionone, but not for α-Ionone: Significance for Flavor Research. Journal of Food Science. Vol. 71,  401-406 Nr. 5, 2006. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2006.00047.x.

** On the other hand, one decline I have noticed in my sense of smell is a decline in my ability to smell sulfur compounds. In the cross-sectional study that we (Willemien Steengracht MD and I, for her medical thesis at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam) carried out, the most notable decline in senstivity by age was in sensitivity to the smell of natural gas, i.e. mercaptans. Skunk smell consists of mercaptans—I have observed that I am slower than my daughters to perceive the aroma of skunk roadkill as we approach and pass over it. 

For those of us who are getting older: we probably shouldn't rely on our sense of smell to warn us of a gas leak...

Monday, July 2, 2018

World Tea Expo 2018 Workshop Post 3: how can we pair foods and teas in a food service situation?

In Post 2, we discussed how specific foods go well (or poorly) with specific teas. In this post: the main underlying question that came up in the course of the workshop—please please comment on the answers we developed!

That question is: what is the most efficient way to ensure that your guests pair tea with foods successfully, so that both tea and food shine? At fancy afternoon tea services, people are served a slew of foods, often in a three-tier curate, and then are asked to choose a pot of tea to accompany the foods. Inevitably there will be foods that don't go well with the tea a person has chosen:

What to do?

The solution I proposed was to have different curates, depending on what tea a person chooses. 

This idea was immediately shot down as utterly impractical. Just as an example, suppose each person at a table chose a different tea—how many curates would that entail? Can you just imagine what that table would look like?!!!

So the next thought that came to mind was to offer the same foods but as tapas, so each person could first choose their tea, then choose the tapas that would go with that tea. In general you would only need four or maybe five sets of tapas—you would serve what you would otherwise put on a curate in separate small dishes.  

This seemed to the workshop to be a workable plan—a Tea & Tapas Bar. (Worth noting: tapas are considered a major dining trend for 2018—

Or maybe a Wine, Tea, and Tapas Bar? Such an arrangement would suit me! I don't drink wine because it makes me sick—surely there is a large number of people who, like me, feel out of place at a wine and tapas bar because they don't drink wine. Don't you think they would enjoy tea, especially when served in wine glasses! At the workshop we thought so!

Photo by Mel Turner from
Here are two places I know of where tea is successfully served in wine glasses (tell us about more!):

• For those of you in the Boston area: L'Espalier under the aegis of Tea Sommelier Cynthia Gold.
• For all of you in Benelux: Kristin van Eetvelt's—see

==>>> Even though Kristin's webpage is in Flemish, you can appreciate the photos of her approach to tea and food service! TAKE A LOOK AT THE VIDEO! (no words, just music and Kristin and guests and chef and tea and food). And please contact her with your questions—her website is in Flemish, but she speaks and writes English, and the word for "Contact" in Flemish is..."Contact"...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Such fun at World Tea Expo 2018! - Post #2—Workshop Part 2: teas and scones and chocolate

==>> If you were at World Tea Expo 2018, TAKE THE SURVEY!!! PLEASE!!! You will find the link in an email.

In the first post in this series I described our discussion of the trigeminal system and how teas and foods fit into the temperature response scheme of this system.

After we sampled the four teas,* we tasted them with food. Centerplate, the catering company at the Convention Center, provided three different kinds of scones: blueberry, raisin, and chocolate; with three different preserves from Bonne Maman: blueberry, strawberry, and raspberry.

This is not a picture of an actual scone from the workshop, though they looked like this one, but with some sugar crystals on the  outside...I meant to photograph an actual scone, but got distracted by eating them...despite sitting around, they were really quite good! And the preserves we used were in little pots, like this one. Photo by Sam Edwards on

To everyone's delight, the blueberry scones with blueberry jam brought out the refreshingly grassy qualities of the green tea. By contrast the flavors of the other teas were destroyed by this combination. 

Instead, the first flush Darjeeling sang harmoniously with the raisin scones and the strawberry jam, while the two black teas (Halmari Assam and Black Magnolia) were even more delicious when paired with the chocolate scones with raspberry jam.

A photo taken before we tasted the scones, but you can get an idea of the set-up.
Photo by Jo from Tea Blending Sisters ( 
Perhaps the most dreadful pairing was chip-like dark chocolate wafers with green tea. We all laughed as the chorus of ughs and eeuws and yucks spread through the room as each person tasted the combination. Not to mention the faces everyone made!

Whereupon I suggested cleaning out the bad flavors with good ones, by pairing the black teas with the chocolate wafers. 

So good indeed! especially when scooping up some raspberry jam with the wafer, taking a bite, and then sipping the tea. This process brought out the maltiness and coffee-like qualities of the Assam (confession time: a coffee malted milkshake/frappe with chocolate syrup is one of my all time favorites), while the Black Magnolia accentuated the deliciously tart qualities of the chocolate and raspberries.

The reasons for these reactions: blueberries activate the same cool/cold receptors on the trigeminal nerve in mouth and nose as does the green tea; Darjeelings, like oolongs, activate the warm receptors, as do strawberries and raisins; while the "hot" receptors are activated by dark chocolate, raspberries, and black teas. When you try to activate the hot and the cold receptors simultaneously by pairing green tea with chocolate, the clash is inevitable.

The take-home lesson of this phase of the workshop was: not all scones go with all teas. The pretty three-tiered curates, replete with scones and jams and bonbons, does a disservice to both tea and food. You will inevitably encounter a tea/food combination that makes one or the other taste dreadful. 

Better to have some way to serve teas and foods so that they pair successfully. 

After some discussion we came to the conclusion that a tapas tea bar with suggestions for pairing would be the answer.

Oh, and we didn't stop there—more about pairing and menu building in my next post!

* Here are the teas again:

From Yatra Tea (

Clean liquor, with a savory aroma of cooked greens, and robust notes of vegetable broth.

Fatikcherra was the first estate in Tripura to produce organic tea in 1998. The estate itself is surrounded by dense forests of tropical trees, including teak, sal, and bamboo. The area experiences heavy rainfall, especially between June and September (the Monsoon season).
The tea industry in this eastern state of India was started by the people of East Bengal. Tripura is the 5th largest tea producing state in India, after Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu & Kerala.

Golden liquor, flowery fragrance, and crisp, well-rounded taste.

Goomtee is as iconic a Darjeeling estate as they come, its tryst with tea dating back to 1899. Hilly slopes at altitudes ranging from 3,000 to 6,000 ft. are abundant with teas of the China variety. Blessed with moderately cool temperature and adequate rainfall, Goomtee consistently produces Darjeeling tea of the highest quality.

Bright ruby liquor, notes of caramel, delicious malty flavor. 

Located in the Moran Belt on the rich, fertile plains of Upper Assam, above the Brahmaputra river, Halmari's consistent commitment to producing quality Assam teas has rendered it one of the best tea estates in the world. By their own admission, production of top quality tea didn't commence until the 1980s. Since then, Halmari has rightly earned the title of top producer in Assam.
The limited production GTGFOP1 grade tea is an award winning, pure, Orthodox tea with an abundance of chunky, golden tips. An iconic tea with global appeal! 


and the tea from The Great Mississippi Tea Company:


Jason says: " “Black Magnolia” is a unique black tea produced using a heated oxidation process that adds a Maillard Browning step similar to pan firing an Oolong."    

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Such fun at World Tea Expo 2018! - Post #1—Workshop Part 1

Such fun at World Tea Expo 2018!

In this post I'll tell you about the beginning of the workshop I hosted, "Learn to Pair Teas with Food & Build Menus from Scratch."

Thanks so much to Jo from Tea Blending Sisters ( for the photos of the workshop!

Here's Jeni Dodd introducing me—so pleased that I got to see Jeni!  As you may remember, dear readers, Jeni specializes in Nepali tea, and hosted the elegant tasting with Cynthia Gold at L'Espalier in Boston a couple of months ago—see my write-up "Nepali Tea at the Sunday Tea Tasting" dated 2/7/18 on this blog.

First we tried the cinnamon-mint experiment. It consistently amazes! You put a cinnamon candy in your mouth, and get the cinnamon flavor going. Then you take it out and replace it with a mint. The cinnamon flavor is immediately replaced with mint. Then take the mint out and wait...the cinnamon comes back!

Mint and cinnamon candies. Photo by Marzi Pecen.

It's an illustration of the competition among trigeminal receptors, that comes to the fore later in the workshop when we tasted green tea with chocolate. More about that in a coming post.

Why this experiment works has to do with the functions of the trigeminal nerve. This nerve not only registers texture and temperature, it also responds to chemicals. In the case of the candies, it registers the cinnamon as "hot"—and it takes a beat or two for this effect to register. Then when you replace the cinnamon with mint, the mint's "coolness" quickly takes over, and the cinnamon disappears, but only temporarily. The "hot" chemicals in cinnamon are still attached to their receptors on the trigeminal nerve, so once the mint leaves its receptors (which are quick on-quick off) you can sense the cinnamon again, and then it too finally fades away.

Here I am explaining the temperature scale and the different trigeminal nerve receptors that correspond to the different temperatures. We discussed both the different words that you could apply to the different sensations in the mouth, such as "refreshing" at the cool end and "sizzling" at the hot, and the different kinds of food that elicit these sensations.

Then it came time to taste the teas. Here we are with the tasting sheets, where we could record the sensations we experienced with the different teas.

We had three teas from the Yatra Tea Company, offered by our friend Vikram Mathur and Black Magnolia, a tea from  friend Jason McDonald's Great Mississippi Tea Company.

We started with Vikram's green tea, a Fatikcherry from Tripura, India. On purpose, I had it brewed at highly too high a temperature and for slightly too long, in order to bring the catechins out of the leaf. As a result, the tea was slightly bitter and astringent, but still delicious. How delicious it really was we brought out by putting a tiny bit of salt on the tip of the tongue and then tasting the tea: audible "wows" came from the group—the astringency disappeared and refreshing herbal qualities of the tea came to the fore! It was clear to everyone that this tea activated the cool/cold receptors.

Next came Vikram's Goomtee Estate First Flush Darjeeling, which was deliciously delicate. I asked which of the following words best applied to this tea—refreshing, soothing, or hearty—and everyone picked soothing, which it definitely was. This observation reflected the fact that Darjeelings, like oolongs, activate the medium warm temperature receptors—a range that is slightly warmer than body temperature, a range that we find soothing.

The third of Vikram's teas was a Halmari Estate Second Flush Assam, a rich Assam that everyone declared was "hearty." This observation reflects the fact that Assams like this one activate the hotter end of the trigeminal temperature spectrum, and give an energizing sensation.

Finally we enjoyed Jason's Black Magnolia tea. It too was declared hearty, but in a way quite different from the Assam. I think it's because (at least to me) the Assam was sweeter, and the Black Magnolia more toasty.

Jason carries out a heated oxidation step when he makes "Black Magnolia." This step results in Maillard browning, a process whereby sugars in the leaf attach to amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) in the leaf. As a result there are lower amounts of free sugars and sweet amino acids in the brew, so it tastes less sweet. When you toast bread the same reactions occur, hence the perception that "Black Magnolia" is toasty.

Bottom line, you should taste these teas for yourself to appreciate the differences—they are all really special!

In the next post, the pairings!


Here are description of the teas from Yatra Tea (
Clean liquor, with a savory aroma of cooked greens, and robust notes of vegetable broth.
Fatikcherra was the first estate in Tripura to produce organic tea in 1998. The estate itself is surrounded by dense forests of tropical trees, including teak, sal, and bamboo. The area experiences heavy rainfall, especially between June and September (the Monsoon season).
The tea industry in this eastern state of India was started by the people of East Bengal. Tripura is the 5th largest tea producing state in India, after Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu & Kerala.

Golden liquor, flowery fragrance, and crisp, well-rounded taste.
Goomtee is as iconic a Darjeeling estate as they come, its tryst with tea dating back to 1899. Hilly slopes at altitudes ranging from 3,000 to 6,000 ft. are abundant with teas of the China variety. Blessed with moderately cool temperature and adequate rainfall, Goomtee consistently produces Darjeeling tea of the highest quality.

Bright ruby liquor, notes of caramel, delicious malty flavor.
Located in the Moran Belt on the rich, fertile plains of Upper Assam, above the Brahmaputra river, Halmari's consistent commitment to producing quality Assam teas has rendered it one of the best tea estates in the world. By their own admission, production of top quality tea didn't commence until the 1980s. Since then, Halmari has rightly earned the title of top producer in Assam.
The limited production GTGFOP1 grade tea is an award winning, pure, Orthodox tea with an abundance of chunky, golden tips. An iconic tea with global appeal! 


and the tea from The Great Mississippi Tea Company (
Jason says: " “Black Magnolia” is a unique black tea produced using a heated oxidation process that adds a Maillard Browning step similar to pan firing an Oolong."    

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A delicious tea pairing: Lapsang Souchong and cheddar cheese

Sara got together with her friends Georgia and Gee again, the time to try out pairings of black teas with tea sandwiches, and as before the results are fascinating! 

Here are their blog websites:

...and here are the teas and the sandwiches, from Sara's blog

The three black teas chosen were about as different as possible! In this post, I'll talk about the first tea, an atypical Lapsang Souchong. 

What makes Lapsang Souchong different from other WuYi teas is that it is smoked over a pinewood fire. When carried to completion, the tea leaf's chemicals are replaced with ones from the burning pine wood. However I gather that the particular Lapsang Souchong that Sara, Georgia and Jee chose was less smoked, so retains some of the original black tea flavors that the Joseph Wesley Tea company (source of the tea) characterizes as "malty plum and chocolate."

Sara waxed enthusiastic about pairing this tea with a cheddar cheese sandwich with Branston pickle on whole wheat bread, and Georgia and Jee concurred. 

Before I go into why this combo works so well, a word about Branston pickle for those of us on this side of "The Pond." Branston pickle is a form of sweet/sour chutney made with dried chopped up vegetables (especially cauliflower and rutabaga), vinegar, tomato, lemon, apple, and spices, including mustard.* It is the classic accompaniment for cheddar cheese—when I had my first ploughman's lunch in England I went gaga over this combination!

So why then does the trio of Lapsang Souchong, cheddar, and Branston pickle work so well?

I like to think that it's because these three play with your hot and cold receptors in a fascinating, not to say dazzling, way.

First to the cool/cold receptors: 

As we will see below, most of the characteristic compounds of aged cheddar cheese activate the warm and hot receptors. However, Sara mentions that the cheese was "tangy," an effect that comes from activation of TRPA1, the cold receptor. Which chemical in the cheddar does this I don't know, but amazingly, this cheese has a large amount of linalool, a characteristic compound of tea that activates the cool/cold receptors. 

Next, the major compounds in pine smoke (and therefore in this tea), such as alpha-pinene and alpha-terpineol, also activate the cool/cold receptors—when you walk through a pine woods you can feel the coolness from these chemicals activating the same receptors in your skin as you have in your mouth. 

Finally, cauliflower, rutabaga (aka swede), and mustard—and in fact all the Brassicas—are characterized by chemicals that activate the cold receptor TRPA1. And the apple and lemon juice in the Branston pickle are both on the cool/cold side, too.

Summing up the cool/cold side of the equation: all the elements of this pairing activate the cool/cold receptors, so amp up the volume of all these flavors together. 

So what about the hot receptors? How do they come into play?

Both tea and cheddar have several chemicals in common that activate the warm and especially the hot receptors, including (believe it or not!) the characteristic volatile from damask roses that I talked about in my previous blogpost: beta-damascenone.** 

As Sara, Jee, and Georgia all noted, the cheddar also had a nutty flavor. This flavor comes from chemicals called pyrazines, that are present in the tea as well as the cheddar. As you might guess from their name ("pyr-" means "fire" in Greek—think of a "pyre") these chemicals are formed via Maillard reactions at temperatures at and above 100ºC (=boiling water temperature). And of course the Branston pickle was boiled as well—it's brown color comes from Maillard reactions. And by the way, good quality whole wheat bread is especially rich in Maillard browning products, too—that's why it tastes nutty.

So all in all there are a number of compounds in this pairing that will activate the warm/hot end of the temperature spectrum.

Which now brings me to the question of balance: there are three compounds in this combination that (I believe) serve to harmonize the combination of tea and sandwich successfully. These are vinegar, sugar, and fat. You'll notice that all these are responsible for tastes, and it's the interactions of these tastes with the temperature sensations via the trigeminal nerve (responsible for hot and cold) that may bring together this pairing.

Vinegar is sour, which is to say that it will activate receptors for sour in taste buds. At sufficient concentrations it will also activate the hot receptor TRPV1—you may have felt the burning sensation when you taste a vinaigrette. However, the same amount of vinegar when combined with oil will not cause a burning sensation because the fat turns off TRPV1. You will simply get the sourness. Then add some sugar to the mix, and even the sourness is tamped. 

In the case of this pairing, the fat to dampen the hot receptors comes from the cheese—cheddar has a high fat content—and the sugars to decrease the sourness come from the pickle and the bread. The net effect is to shift the overall flavor profile to the cool/cold side when you first bite into the sandwich and sip the tea. Then if you wait a short while, the cool/cold effect dissipates and there is a warm afterglow because the hot receptor, with its slow-on slow-off response, remains activated after you have swallowed food and drink. Re-sip the tea and take a bite of sandwich, and the whole process starts over again. 

As Sara said:

"It's a lovely pairing, so easy to eat that I could have it every week and not get tired of it."

An aside: my first taste of Lapsang Souchong when I was a young girl, was accompanied by cheddar and a slice of delicious, and now I know why!

* Data from For more about the pickle, see

** T.K. Singh, M.A. Drake, and K.R. Cadwallader. Flavor of Cheddar Cheese: a Chemical and Sensory Perspective. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. Vol. 2, pages 166-189, 2003.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Damask roses and black tea

So excited to be going to World Tea Expo, where I hope to carry out an experiment!

Damask rose. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

One of the characteristic chemicals in black tea is β-damascenone, a member of the category of chemicals called rose ketone, because it is characteristic of roses—damask roses in particular, as you can guess from the name.*

According to William Luebke, this chemical has a "natural sweet fruity rose plumr grape raspberry sugar" odor, while according to Gerard Mosciano it has a "Woody, sweet, fruity, earthy with green floral nuances" odor.** To me it has a warm, sweet, deep, rich, dusty-rose odor reminding of the women's powders of my youth.

Turns out that the smell of β-damascenone is significantly more intense to some people that others.  This difference has been attributed primarily to a single nucleotide difference rs2220004.*** Unfortunately, neither 23andme nor Ancestry DNA report results for this snp, so I can't tell you whether my impression is the one attributed to the ability to smell the compound.

However, I do not "get" the green or the woody or the earthy, so perhaps I only sense part of the aroma, even at the high concentrations at which I sniffed it just now. According to McRae and his colleagues, about 1 in 10 people of European descent have the version of the snp that is less able to smell the compound. That said, β-damascenone appears to activate a number of different odor receptors, and it may be that a change in one of these receptors can alter the perception profile of the odorant without changing its perceived intensity.

At WTE I'm planning to go around with a small vial of β-damascenone and have people tell me what they smell, and see whether people do in fact describe it differently.

So exciting!

* The damask rose is one of the "Old Roses"—early hybrids whose origins and cultivation histories are the subject of much speculation. Genetic data suggest that the damask rose developed in Central Asia, but when it was brought to the Middle East and Europe is unknown. It probably gets its name from Damascus in Syria, which was under siege during the second crusade in 1148. Crusaders may have then brought the rose back to France and given it its name, though the plant was known in Europe before then. Damask roses are the major source of rose oils, rose water, and rose sugar, known as golab, and in other sweet dishes, an ingredient in ras al hanout, and in a number of  culinary delights from the Middle East, India, and Central Asia.

** As reported in the Good Scents Company website:

*** Jeremy F. McRae, Sara R. Jaeger, Christina M. Bava, Michelle K. Beresford, Denise Hunter, Yilin Jia, Sok Leang Chheang, David Jin, Mei Peng, Joanna C. Gamble, Kelly R. Atkinson, Lauren G. Axten, Amy G. Paisley, Liam Williams, Leah Tooman, Benedicte Pineau, Simon A. Rouse, Richard D. Newcomb. Identification of Regions Associated with Variation in Sensitivity to Food-Related Odors in the Human Genome. Current Biology, Volume 23, Issue 16, 2013, Pages 1596-1600, ISSN 0960-9822,

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Indian green tea

After a successful tasting experience at the Foundation Kitchen the other day, have been trying out the teas for my Skill Building Workshop "Learn to Pair Teas & Build Menus from Scratch."

Today I turned my attention to the green tea we are offering: Yatra Tea's Fatikcherra Estate, Tripura, Autumn Flush 2017.
After our tasting at the Foundation Kitchen.
For more about this ever so useful space for food start-ups in Somerville MA, go to

Tripura is a tiny land-locked state of Northeast India, bordered on three sides by Bangladesh, and by the Indian states Assam and Mizoram to the East. It is impoverished, but at the same time it has an extraordinary literacy rate according to Wikipedia—about 95%. In other words, it has huge human potential, but because transport in and out of the state is so difficult, economic growth is slow.

The marker points to a school in Fatikcherra. I added the approximate Eastern border of Tripura to the Google map because it is very faint in the original. As you can see Tripura is in a difficult geographic position when it comes to economic development.

That said, tea is one of Tripura's two main cash crops, the other being natural rubber.

This green tea is organically produced, and GSFTFOP1, in other words high quality. The use of assamica leaves gives the tea a slightly malty as well as a vegetal taste. Furthermore it is autumn flush, harvested right after the monsoons, so a quite dark green/brown color (doesn't show up well in the photo below, but you can see the liquor is light colored).  Because the leaves have abundant catechins (catechins act as a sunscreen) the tea is somewhat bitter/astringent, but paired with the right foods (or a tiny tiny tiny bit of salt) its herbaceous qualities come to the fore, and to my mind it is delicious. It's not really anything like a Chinese or Japanese green tea, but I think it will be a lot of fun to taste and try with foods.

Here's my test brew, at 165ºF for 1.5 minutes.
I will reveal the results of our pairing tests at World Tea Expo, but if you can't go to the event, I'll be posting about it here in late June/early July, after I get back from Las Vegas plus a short vacation with grandchildren.

Meanwhile, here is a video from Fatikcherra—Ganesh dance—watch for the "elephant" at the end:

(Incidentally, World Tea Expo is less than a month away!)

=>>> Have made minor revisions/corrections to "Three Basic Teas & How to Enjoy Them." The book will be available again on Amazon by May 23rd.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Green tea catechins and liver damage

A report* about possible toxicity for the liver of green tea catechins at high doses has raised concerns among Friends of Pairteas, so I looked into the matter this week.

In the US green tea catechins are available over the counter as supplements. Drugs considered dietary supplements are not regulated in the US in any significant way for either safety, effectiveness, or dosage limits. 

Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the major catechin in green tea. Image from Wikipedia.

A major problem in determining whether green tea extracts have any effect, either beneficial or adverse: people differ tremendously in how much catechin a person absorbs from a given dose of supplement (or brewed green tea, for that matter). One person may have up to 6 times more catechins in their blood than the next person with a given dosage!**

The reason for this huge difference may lie, at least in part, in genetic differences in a person's capacity to transport drugs and the products of their metabolism for excretion in the liver and kidney. When certain drugs fail to be cleared from cells due to transport problems they can damage mitochondria, and ultimately lead to cell death. This phenomenon may explain why catechins, which are metabolized and excreted by the liver, may cause liver damage.

The question is then: how much catechin is needed to cause damage? and how severe is that damage? and one more question: do catechins interact with other drugs/suplements?

We don't know the answers to any of these questions. 

The European white paper stems from a spate of case reports and animal studies that have suggested that liver damage with catechin supplements may occur. In the case of animals, huge doses were delivered over multiple years, so these studies should not be extrapolated to humans. 

With respect to humans, one study of case reports that really scared me concerned a supplement called Slimquick®, where a person had to have a liver transplant.*** 

But case reports are problematic because you can't exclude the possibility that other issues, such as disease, the use of other medications or supplements, or even the purity of the catechin supplements, aren't the real cause of problems. 

These are the reasons why Isomura and colleagues decided to review human randomized control trials of catechins.**** In these trials, catechin supplementation was compared directly with placebo or no treatment, so that one could decide with some degree of certainty that the catechins were responsible for any adverse effects. 

Of the 34 usable trials reviewed by Isomura and colleagues, liver-related adverse effects were found in only four. There were 8 adverse events among the people received catechins and one event in a person receiving a placebo.

Of these four trials with adverse effects, only one involved healthy volunteers. Of the others, one involved women with breast cancer, one men with prostate cancer, and the third post-menopausal women who may have taken other medications. In other words, we cannot say whether any of the condition in these three trials may have contributed to the adverse events. 

Furthermore, adverse events in these trials consisted of elevation of liver enzymes, but no active disease. That said, elevation of liver enzymes are indeed an indication of active liver damage. The liver happens to have a rather large, though not infinite, capacity to experience damage without long-term consequences. 

Bottom line: we really don't know at this point whether catechin supplements cause liver damage, to whom, and at what dose. But the amounts in your favorite cup of green tea come nowhere close to the amounts in supplements. 

My advice: enjoy your green tea as a drink in a cup for its taste and avoid "magical" supplements that promise life-changing effects. Liver disease would indeed be life-changing!

Incidentally, Cornell University hosts a National Institutes of Health database where you can look at the toxic effects of different drugs and supplements on the liver:

Longing tea steeping in a gaiwan. Image from Wikipedia.

* EFSA ANS Panel (EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food), Younes M, Aggett P, Aguilar F, Crebelli R, Dusemund B, Filipič M, Frutos MJ, Galtier P, Gott D, Gundert‐Remy U, Lambré C, Leblanc J‐C, Lillegaard IT, Moldeus P, Mortensen A, Oskarsson A, Stankovic I, Waalkens‐Berendsen I, Woutersen RA, Andrade RJ, Fortes C, Mosesso P, Restani P, Arcella D, Pizzo F, Smeraldi C and Wright M, 2018. Scientific Opinion on the safety of green tea catechins. EFSA Journal 2018;16(4):523. 9, 89 pp.

** Scholl C, Lepper A, Lehr T, et al. Population nutrikinetics of green tea extract. Atkin SL, ed. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(2):e0193074. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0193074.

*** Zheng, E.X., Rossi, S., Fontana, R.J. et al. Risk of Liver Injury Associated with Green Tea Extract in SLIMQUICK® Weight Loss Products: Results from the DILIN Prospective StudyDrug Saf (2016) 39: 749.

**** Isomura T, Suzuki S, Origasa H, et al. Liver-related safety assessment of green tea extracts in humans: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016;70(11):1221-1229. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2016.78.