A few years ago, I was doing a study abroad in Japan, and I was able to participate in a tea ceremony. There was one instructor, our guide/translator, and a few of us students. At this point, I had taken a few semesters of Japanese, so I could speak alright (I thought).

The instructor made the tea and taught us how to hold the cup, the proper way to drink from it, etc. At the end, she asked for our thoughts, and I decided to try responding in Japanese.

I don't remember everything I said exactly, but I do remember wanting to say something along the lines of "The tea was bitter, yet delicious." I accidentally said this as, 「苦手ですが、美味しかったです。」 I remember the instructor gave me a very surprised look, but our guide quickly realized what I meant and corrected me, noting I meant 苦い, not 苦手.

When I realized what I said, I was afraid I had insulted the instructor, but I'm not entirely sure what I actually said. How would my comment be interpreted?

Did I say the instructor was bad at preparing the tea?
Did I say I was bad at drinking the tea properly?
Did I say I just didn't like tea?
... Or did I say something else?

up vote 19 down vote accepted

「苦手{にがて}ですが、美味{おい}しかったです。」

As a native Japanese-speaker, the only thing I could imagine that sentence was taken to mean would be:

"I don't like matcha (or tea ceremonies) in general, but this one I just had tasted great."

It would be fairly unusual for native speakers to take it to mean anything else.

「苦手」, used in the context of a food/drink item, could only mean that you do not like it. It cannot mean "bitter" regardless of the context. "Bitter" is 「苦{にが}い」.

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