How to Enjoy Tea When You Can’t Taste

After losing my sense of taste while having COVID, I’ve pulled together some tips on how to enjoy tea when you can’t taste anything.

I read about people who lost their sense of smell and taste while they had COVID-19. For me, however, it was hard to fully appreciate what that would be like until I also temporarily lost these senses. Tea is an important part of my life. So, I was determined to find a way to continue to enjoy tea when I couldn’t taste or smell it.

Colorful gold and blue teacup and saucer on vibrant red cloth
Colorful teaware and accessories can brighten
tea time and the mood.

Losing My Taste and Smell

I always imagined that people who lost their sense of smell and taste while sick with COVID-19 had really bad cases. So, when I had a relatively mild case–not much congestion, only a mild cough for a few days–I was surprised when I noticed that my sense of smell and taste were really diminished.

I was making some masala chai–thinking to load up on healthy herbs and spices–and immediately noted that I couldn’t smell the fresh ginger root that was so fragrant the day before. I could only very faintly smell the cinnamon, too! The most disconcerting revelation that day was sampling maple syrup, which usually has a really robust flavor to me. No taste AT ALL! It had zero flavor or even sweetness.

The next day, I more or less lost all my sense of smell and taste except for salty and sour. Strangely, tea tasted mildly salty to me. (I tried a malty East Frisian blend and a normally fragrant Dan Cong. Nothing but mildly salty! Surely black tea with rose and bergamot would register some flavor or aroma. Nope!) The day after that, even tasting table salt was unreliable. I couldn’t smell much of anything. How could I enjoy my tea when I couldn’t enjoy the taste or aroma?

Enjoying Tea by Adding Color

Most tea drinkers love the taste of tea. I say “most” because I have met a few people who don’t enjoy tea but drink it for potential health benefits. That’s not me. I’m a tea drinker first and foremost because I love the taste of many, many teas. So, I needed to rethink how to bring pleasure to a “tasteless” tea session.

At the same time, tea has become so much more than a tasty beverage to me. It can be meditative or social. Mindful tea sessions, in particular, have been incredibly helpful in bringing me into the fullness of the present moment. And, I usually start those sessions by paying attention to the aroma of the dry leaves and how their aroma, and eventually flavor, release in the hot water over time. So, enjoying tea time when I couldn’t taste or smell the leaves or the tea broth became the goal.

I’m a visual person. And, I love robust colors. My tea time lately had focused on teaware with muted colors. (I love them, too, now.) So, I tapped back into my love of color and chose some of my boldly colored teacups. Then, I went searching for a bright cloth for the tea table. I found a piece of gorgeous red fabric I bought a few years ago. YES!

Black, white, and gold teacup and saucer on a bright red table cloth. Tea is pouring into the cup. Adding color can help you enjoy tea when you can't taste.
Contrasting black, white, and gold teaware on a red tablecloth adds visual interest to tea time.

Enjoying Tea with Touch and Sound

But, I didn’t want this tea time to be only about the teaware and accessories. So, I focused on appreciating the tactile pleasures of the tea leaves. To do so, I put my dried tea leaves in a small dish, washed and dried my hands, and gently ran my fingers through them. (I learned to better appreciate touching tea leaves from tea sessions guided by Sooz from Being Tea. Thanks, Sooz! I highly recommend this practice.)

Entangled and elegant tea leaves held between two fingers can bring pleasure when you can't taste tea
Touching and admiring tea leaves can
deepen your relationship to tea.

Additionally, I reminded myself that I was already a big fan of the sounds of preparing and pouring tea. This was another avenue to enjoy tea when I couldn’t taste it. Thus, I gently called my attention to the hiss and patter of the water heating in the kettle and the whoosh of the dried leaves sliding into the teapot. I then focused on the gurgle of the steeped tea pouring into my cup. (If you are interested, you can check out my post on “Tea Soundscapes and Mindfulness.” )

I’m not going to sugar coat this experience: it was still disappointing to bring the cup to my nose and lips and not smell or taste much of anything. But, enjoying the other aspects of tea time still brought me a lot of pleasure. It also provided a meaningful encounter with my dear friend, Tea.

In summary, colorful teaware and accessories, as well as attention to the feel of the leaves and the sounds of preparing my cuppa, helped me enjoy tea when I couldn’t taste it. The pleasure of giving my tea pets a little tea shower didn’t hurt either! (Check out my post: “What Can a Tea Pet Can Add to Your Practice.”)

Have you ever lost your sense of taste and smell? How did YOU navigate that?

2 replies on “How to Enjoy Tea When You Can’t Taste”

What a lovely article! Loved reading it, Traci. There are certain tisanes that have a beautiful color but no real aroma or taste, and my husband will often say to me, “just enjoy it for the color” 🙂

Thanks for reading and sharing that, Taniya! I can see enjoying a tisane for similar reasons–“eye candy.” <3

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