Piotr Miga Spills the Tea on Being a Resident Supertaster
By Melissa Bryant
By virtue of his ability to perceive taste at very sensitive levels, Tea Forté’s Master Tea Blender and Quality Assurance Manager, Piotr Miga, identifies with the estimated 40 percent of the U.S. population, who, according to Dr. Linda Bartoshuk, are “supertasters.” Dr. Bartoshuk coined the term supertasters during her time at Yale Medical School in the early1990s after she discovered approximately one in four people were born with certain genes that enabled them to experience an unusually elevated response to tastes. Such individuals, like Miga, have up to twice as many taste buds as the average person, causing them to perceive sugary foods as sweeter, salty foods as saltier, and bitter foods wholly unappetizing.
It’s no surprise supertasters are often labeled as picky eaters. Yet, ironically, it is their acute sense of taste which makes them ideal candidates for careers in the food and beverage industry as flavorists and sommeliers.
Upon graduating from the University of Connecticut with a degree in Biological Sciences (Pre-Med), Miga gained acceptance into medical school but took an interesting career-path change. “I decided to defer for six months and take a job offer I received upon graduation with a flavor company,” he told International Opulence. “I was actually not aware of having these abilities because I didn’t have a real point of reference until I started working in flavor manufacturing and realized my sensory abilities are actually very uncommon.
“I spent my early career working with the best flavor chemists in the world, where I honed my organoleptic abilities and understood my talent as a supertaster. Since then, I haven’t looked back.”
Finding the Right Balance
Today, Miga heads tea development, profile assessment and quality control at Tea Forté — a luxury tea brand, and exclusive tea purveyor for the James Beard Foundation, celebrated for its handcrafted blends and elegantly designed accessories. He spends a large part of his workday with the company’s tea suppliers, developing tea and tweaking products through pilot trials. To test the products, Miga mimics a suction vacuum, quickly ingesting a sip of tea before letting it settle on the tip, side and back of his tongue.
“One tea can go through a number of trials, where it is tested, fine-tuned and re-tested, before receiving final approval,” he said. “In the flavor industry, the standard is very low dilutions usually at around 0.1 percent of the original flavor strength. In the tea industry, you want to get the actual taste to 100 percent when doing a pilot trial, although in tea development it is not uncommon to test the tea at a much stronger dose than it’s actually tasted by the end customer. Supertasting comes in handy in this because you are able to perceive delicate notes that may get omitted by less experienced tasters and are not easily detected. It also gives you the advantage to make the flavors a lot more complex, refined and ultimately more enjoyable.”
Miga’s Cup of Tea
Always on the hunt for new ways to reimagine the tea experience, Miga draws inspiration for novelty flavors from his travels, personal preferences, customer requests and industry trends. All this to say, tea connoisseurs may one day be sipping specialty flavors incorporating sumac, Indian gooseberries, baobab fruit, purple corn, and sorghum—all ingredients Miga is interested in working with.
For now, we can expect more practical interpretations such as the new Hanami collection inspired by the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival, featuring a blend of tart cherries, flowers, and organic green tea.
“We always want to be the first to bring something new to the customer and the market as a whole, be it a new collection, such as our Bleu teas which utilize unique qualities of butterfly pea flowers, or [introducing] not just one, but five types of Matcha teas.”
In mid-February, Tea Forté’s Hanami won a silver medal at the 2018 Global Tea Championship. Shop Tea Forté’s Hanami teaware, tea blends and other products