A cup of tea and a tetsubin teapot

There are several types of memory, and memorizing a new way to do something can take time. 

A Memory Setback 

I went to the dentist today to have partial braces reinstalled on my teeth. I had a wonderful few months eating garden fresh sweet corn on the cob, apples, popcorn and caramel with abandon when my braces were off. It is back to eating “braces friendly” food again. I am blessed to be able to have braces and that this is just a minor technicality, a slight disappointment and nothing more serious. 

The reason I am back in partial braces is due to memory. Not mine but my teeth’s memory is the issue at hand. To be more specific, the periodontal ligament (PDL) that is around teeth can sometimes forget the new placement, the new status quo. Evidently, in some people, teeth can go back to a pre-braces location in a few weeks after braces are removed from the teeth. I was told that I am one of those people who have tooth ligament memory issues. So, back to braces. Oh well, I am grateful that is all it is. 

A Myriad Of Memories 

There are old memories that our brain catalogs as a long term memory, there are new memories that are cataloged as short term memory. Our muscles can be comparable in so much as muscles remember muscle movements. The muscles can remember what they had previously done and revert back to the old ways of stretching and moving. This is often referred to as muscle memory. It takes training and time to condition muscles into a new way of moving. I am back into braces to train and condition the periodontal ligaments to stretch in new ways so that the ligaments cease to pull my teeth into old placements. 

Similarly to our other muscles remembering specific forms of movement, our brain (which is a muscle) can catalog different smells and tastes into our memory. When we experience a smell, or taste a specific flavor, our brain knows what that is and reminds us that we have had that specific taste or have smelled that exact smell previously. 

There are actually five different types of sensory memory; iconic memory (visual), echoing memory (auditory), haptic memory (touch), gustatory memory (taste), and olfactory memory (smell). Sensory memory is extremely short; only lasting a fleeting few seconds, approximately anywhere from a half a second to possibly seconds. This type of memory is linked to perception and the five senses. These sensory memories are eventually cast aside or integrated into short term memory if the sensory input is essential, or important to remember.

Tea Memories 

Tea And The Brain's Memory Abilities

In reference to tea and memories, the two are conjoined. Tea masters, tea blenders, tea growers, tea auctioneers, tea tasters or anyone else who tastes tea on a regular basis has muscle (the brain) and sensory (the five senses) memory regarding specific tastes of teas. Basically, when smelling and tasting tea, the brain registers in a split second the sensory stimuli, having associated the stimuli as familiar, the brain retrieves the long term memory associated with that particular tea. Incidentally, the sense of smell can be more strongly associated with a specific memory and more readily conjure up emotions than with any of the other four senses. This is why smelling something can immediately remind one of a specific memory, which can linger longer than other memories associated with other senses. Memories can be associated with the taste of a specific tea. I, for one, think of sailing, the ocean, and the beach when I taste a Gyokuro green tea. The briney and brothy taste, and the slight seaweed aroma of the green tea immediately reminds me of a day of sailing. 

The Importance Of Memorizing Tea Tastes 

Industry tea tasters most often taste tea daily. For example, a tea taster alone can taste hundreds of teas in one day. Rigorous tea tasting daily helps the taster know what a specific tea tastes like by training the brain to register and remember the tea flavor profile, and aroma. Another reason a tea taster tastes copious amounts of tea daily is to train the brain to register slight deviations in taste and aroma. A taster can detect defects in teas, subtle nuances in flavor or aroma. In selling teas at auction, to wholesalers or small batch teas to customers directly, a knowledgeable tea taster can help to ensure quality integrity and consistency of the tea profile in the batch of processed tea. 

As another example, say a tea blender wants to create a specific blend of tea. They contact their tea wholesaler, a tea auctioneer, or the tea garden staff directly, and order kilos of Keemun black tea. The tea has already been tasted and sampled by tea tasters and deemed acceptable for sale. Ideally, when the tea is shipped to the blender, they would in turn taste the tea to ensure it measures up to their memories of what a Keemun tastes like; a mellow and smooth mouth feel, with a slight hint of chocolate and or wine. 

Sensory memories can aid in the tea industry’s processing of tea. During the processing of tea, the senses are utilized to check the aroma of tea leaves (are the leaves giving off a floral note, an earthy note, a hay like note) that should be there according to the memory profile for the type of tea processed. Feeling the leaves allows the tea processor to detect if they feel dry enough, using previous memories of correct leaf feel, for the next stage of processing. Memory is used throughout the entire process of growing, processing, and blending tea, even tea consumption. A tea drinker uses memory to help anticipate the wonderful taste and smell of the tea they just purchased. Opening up a package of tea that the tea drinker is familiar with, the senses instantaneously register the sensory stimuli. Next, the memory of how the tea is supposed to taste and smell is recalled, alerting the tea drinker that they have had this tea before and know what the taste and smell ought to be. The expectation of a familiar and wonderful tasting cup of tea awaits the tea drinker. The senses and memory recall work in simpatico to bring about an enjoyable experience while drinking tea! 

I am glad to report that I can still enjoy a cup of tea regardless of my partial braces, thanks to my sensory memory and other memories. Whether my teeth move in position for chewing correctly or not, I am still going to enjoy garden fresh sweet corn on the cob, apples, popcorn and caramel! 

Going through life enjoying tea, 



Clause,Chris and Shannon Gossett-Webb. Sensory Memory.

Nall, Rachel. Everything You Want To Know About Sensory Memory. February,

About The Author

A photo of Leslie on the patio wearing a pink cardiganLeslie Sundberg is a World Tea Academy Certified Tea Specialist, a World Tea Academy Apprentice Tea Sommelier, a Specialty Tea Institute Level IV trained Tea Specialist, and a Tea and Business Etiquette Specialist. On any given day, Leslie can be found teaching, speaking or sharing in the joys of a cup of tea.  No matter what Leslie is doing or where she is, one thing remains constant: 4:00 in the afternoon is tea time!

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