Gongfu cha is an interactive pleasure for our 5 senses. Here is an incomplete list of ways to observe, evaluate and appretiate tea (adapted from Teaparker's tasting form):
Shape of dry leaves: Put the leaves you intend to brew on a small plate or in a tea cup. Then look at the leaves, their color, their shape...
Color of the tea (in the cup): Is this a beautiful, lively color?
Clarity of the tea: How shiny, how pure is the tea brew?
Open tea leaves: first look at them all in the gaibei, then, after the last brew, take a few and observe them on the small plate or on the reverse side of the gaibei's lid. Can you see the degree of fermentation on the edge, for oolong, and if it was picked by machine (red oxidation at the cut) or by hand?
Dry leaves: smell the leaves before you brew them. You can smell them before and after you put them in the heated gaiwan.
The gaibei's lid: lots of fragrant smells accumulate below the lid. Smell and you'll know when the tea is ready. You can also smell it after you pour the tea out.
The tea: interestingly, the brew doesn't smell as strong as the lid or the empty glass!
The hot tea leaves: after pouring the tea from the gaibei. Again, a different smell! You can also smell the empty gaibei: a strong smell means that the leaves could have been brewed a few more times.
The empty cup: you can use it as a wen xiang bei! The empty pitcher can also be used as a big wen xiang bei!
Sweet: on the tip of the tongue.
Lingering mellow taste: How does it evolve over time?
Acidity/astringency: on the back and on the sides of the tongue. What defect does the tea have?
Yun/cloudiness: How is the finish? Are there any special feelings after the tea has left your mouth?
Dry feeling: do you experience dryness in the mouth and throat?
You, the person brewing the tea is entitled to touch the tea leaves with (clean) hands. What does this contact tell you about the tea? (For me, a 'heavy', compact leave is a sign for a good quality tea.)
Then there is the pleasure of touching the porcelain and to feel it in your mouth. Do you notice how a cup with a different shape will change the taste and pleasure of the tea? And can you find which cup is best for your tea (I tend to prefer old and thin cups).
It's the sound of soon to boil water, and then the flowing in the gaibei and the cups. It's also the sound of tea bags, of porcelain. And then it's the sound of silence during the tasting...
Beyond the senses, tea is also a cultural and spiritual pleasure that can open the doors to many other areas. This we shall see an other time.