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Why good quality tea should be neither for adults only, nor for special occasions.
« Giving something true and real to children », that was the message from my previous post : the educational necessity to have children use delicate, breakable items.
That is the same thing with taste. Being able to taste and smell can be learnt, just like beauty and elegance.
A child who has always eaten cheap milk chocolate will not be able to enjoy plain, dark chocolate, even of good quality. Why not ? Because all olfactory and taste receptors will be unable – uneducated, untrained – to detect the various flavors and aromas under the bitterness. He/she will perceive bitterness only, one of the least enjoyed tastes, for a very simple reason : bitterness very often means danger, many poisons being bitter…
Moreover, a child is naturally attracted to sweetness. Breast milk is sweet, it is a very soothing taste. The problem is that sweetness hides all other flavors.
A child is not able to enjoy good tea. So, what is the point of giving him or her some ?
Well, that’s what some adults think. Children do NOT need quality, it is like casting pearls before swine.
I completely disagree with this opinion, you would have guessed it ! Giving something true to children, is helping them discover the diversity of flavors and aromas of foods and beverages ; it is making them aware that tea is not simply a hot beverage made of a crappy caramel-colored dust bag you throw in a hot water mug, and mixed with milk, sugar, cream, lemon… This hot liquid can be comforting, but it is not tea.
My 10-year-old princess is a sugar-junkie. But, after a few weeks of homemade cakes, cookies, chocolate spreads, even she acknowledged that the previous sweet food she used to love, was way too sweet. She adds no sugar in her hot chocolate (oat milk and pure cocoa powder, unsweetened). She is still crazy about sugar and still craves junk food, mais she is able to enjoy nearly unsweetened courses. This is evidence that taste can be trained.
As for me, I have noticed that, in the days when I drink a lot (a lot, really!) of coffee, my taste cells are less sensitive to subtle flavors. I want chili pepper, sugar, salt : very strong tastes.
On the other hand, when I come back to tea, I need more refined and more delicate tastes. After a few weeks of intensive training, I am again able to feel flavors and aromas I could no longer perceive.
How to make children discover tea ?
- Enjoy it yourself. It is the number 1 rule for any subject you want your children to explore !! I am unable to help my children enjoy tennis, because I hate this sport. Cycling, I can. Reading ? No comment !!
- Choose good quality teas, by going to specialized tea stores with them, or by ordering on specialized websites.
- Ask them if they want to have tea, or, better, if they want to prepare it with you.
- Let them free to refuse : it is perfectly acceptable not to like tea !
- Make the time of tea a sensory experiment : what they see (how the leaves look, and how they dance in hot water, how they open), smell (the fragrance of dry leaves first, then of the liquor), feel (texture, thickness, softness of leaves, first dry, then brewed) taste (fruity, bitter, fresh, chocolate, grassy, and so on), hear (the sound of water on dry leaves, and the sound of tea in the cups).
Avoid flavored teas.
The aromas are soooo strong, most of the time, that they cover the taste of tea. Moreover, the tea leaves used to process flavored teas are mostly poor quality ones : flavoring was created so as not to waste bad quality leaves…
And do I need to precise that aromas are awful for one’s health ?
Taste cannot be trained with artificial aromas and flavors…
Don’t add sweetener or milk to tea.
Yes, this is a tough one ! Most tea drinkers in France (and in the Western world) like their tea sweet. I do the same with tea made from cheap teabags, or with mint-flavored gunpowder tea. But, in this particular case, sugar is part of the recipe, it is a special way to make tea.
Sugar, honey, lemon, milk or cream, change and pervert the taste of tea.
And it is really really a shame to add it to good quality teas (oolongs, darjeelings, qimen, sencha, long jing, and so on). Just like adding water to wine. If you want to make a French person angry, try it !!
Bitterness and astringency belong to tea, and trying to avoid them is to deprive oneself from delicate and various flavors that belong to tea as well : yellow fruits, flowers, dry fruits, grass, earth, and so on.
Begin with easy to enjoy teas.
If you start right away with ripe puerh, you are pretty sure to disgust the child with the wild animal, leather and humus fragrances… You can always try and tell him/her that it smells like his/her teddy, I am not sure he/she would love to drink a teddy brew !
A fruity oolong, like a Mi Lan Xiang, or a flowery one, like a Tie Guan Yin, green teas (sencha, Long jing) are very easy to enjoy. And if you are lucky enough to have Silver Needles, this white tea made of very soft and plushy pekoes, this is absolute luxury !
And admiring the leaves while they open, is something magical…
Consider your child as if she or he was an adult guest. Take him or her seriously. If he or she is little, or has small hands, use a small cup. That’s all.
When I make some tea, I ask my childrend if they feel like sharing it with me. My younger daughter usually accepts, and so does her brother (though he is not often at home right now).
First step : watching the dry leaves, touching them, smelling them… Then, we do the same with leaves that dance in the water. We admire the liquor, its shades. We smell, with closed eyes. Smelling is soooo important !
Then, and only then, only after all this, we taste. On the first times, she would drink too quickly. Never mind ! After a few tea sessions, she understood it is better to take time.
With her, I try and find flavors and fragrances, shades in the liquor…
In other words, I make every tea session a special time !
Uhh… tea contains caffeine ! I do not want my children to spend a sleepless night or get addicted to tea/coffee/softdrinks !!
Neither do I, don’t worry !!
First, tea is only for moments when we have plenty of time, in other words weekend or during school breaks. Tea requires time ! So, it is far from an daily activity.
Second, my little tea lover does not always share my tea moments : she does not feel like it, or she has something more interesting to do.
She is allowed to drink tea in the morning only (or at the beginning of the afternoon), which gives plenty of time for caffeine to be eliminated by her body.
She is allowed only two doll-size teacups. I explained her the effects of caffeine to her body, and she is very serious about it. (But not about everything, she is only 8 and a perfectly normal child, thank you!)
Some teas contain more caffeine than others. I would recommend avoiding black teas and green teas. On the other hand, oolongs are soothing ; they contain caffeine, but they also contain more theanine than other teas, a relaxing molecule.
Learning tea is training one’s nose, one’s eye, one’s palate. It is enhancing one’s observation ability and one’s curiosity, one’s mind-openess. Aren’t these skills and qualities absolutely necessary all life long ?
Teaching one’s children tea – or learning tea with them – is, as well – or mainly ? – sharing time with them, creating memories.
For this reason only, tea is necessary and should be part of a child’s education, just like mastering one’s mother tongue, maths or swimming !