Comparison is never an easy thing particularly when a bit of subjectivity is involved. Especially when it comes to tasting, how can I be sure one tea tastes better than the other? For sure there is no matrix or objective scale to be used, just follow your tongue.
Unfortunately the tongue can be deceived by the mind and the mind by others. Many times, before we even start to brew a tea, we have preconceived notions about how it should taste based on its reputation, tasting notes, price and our (mis)understanding about the tea in question. Any attempts at a tea tasting/comparison is really academic then.
One experiment I had that yielded surprising results is blind tasting. My wife and I would pick maybe 3-5 tea of the same varietal- for example Tieguanyin- then pit them against each other.
My wife would then measure out the same quantity of tea leaves, place them in a receptacle- usually a plate or equivalent- and label them simply: i.e. ‘A’, ‘B’ etc while making notes on which vendor these tea leaves come from.
I would then take the plates and line up a similar brewing utensil and change the order of the tea leaves and label them: i.e. ‘A’ would be 2, ‘B’ would be 5, ‘C’ would be 1 and so on.
That way, neither one of us knows for sure where the tea leaves come from and we would taste the tea completely unencumbered by any perceptions we already formed of the tea.
I would brew the tea with the same parameters (of course steeping time and water temperature might vary slightly since I can’t pour every pot exactly the same time but the differential is negligible) and then we would start tasting the tea.
We make notes to avoid influencing each other and after 3 brews, we would compare notes and then combine our knowledge to uncover which vendor those teas came from.
The first time we tried it, we were amazed at what we found. Some highly regarded teas actually brought up the rear in terms of ranking while cheaper teas outranked higher teas.
Very often, our mind tells our taste buds and noses that a certain tea is going to be awesome based on popular reviews, critical acclaim, price (and by association perceived value) or clever marketing from the vendors. I would reckon this to be the same if you were tasting any food and beverage but particularly for specialty items where we are afraid of being seen as having ‘unsophisticated palates’ or ignorant.
Hence, when a tea has consistent high reviews and the drinker is new to certain types of tea, he or she is afraid of voicing out his or her candid assessment for fear of appearing silly.
Blind tasting free us from those encumbrances. It also frees us for searching for certain tasting notes that reviewers have mentioned and appreciate it on its own merit.
If you have a like-minded friend or family member, I encourage you to do try it, you may have quite unexpected results!