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.