Thursday, February 14, 2008

Back home drinking tea

Chinese food during Lunar New Year can be a total disaster if you go to one of the few open and therefore overcrowded restaurant (we made that mistake last Saturday evening). But when skilled and loving family members cook a variety of tasty Chinese dishes at home, then it's as good as it gets for me in Taiwan.

Si, Xiang, Wei are the 3 basic principles for food. They are the first 3 words that a Chinese cook learns. And they also apply for tea:
- Si - color: a nice presentation, matching colors... are a feast for eye. It's the first impression we have of something or someone and we all know how difficult it is to change one's first impression. See, for instance, how pleasant it is to watch the picture of this teapot.

- Xiang - smell: the second impression comes as we smell the fragrance of the food/tea. Our nose can be trained to recognize thousands of different smells. This complexity and the many connections in the brain can create wonderful sensations: it can bring back memories or transport us to exotic places within seconds.

- Wei - taste: last, but not least, the food/tea enters the mouth. Here, we hope to confirm the first two impressions. Like in love, that's when 2 become 1, when food/tea becomes part of you. How pleasant is this fusion?

The 'Si Xiang Wei' saying conveys more than just an emphasis on 3 different senses. Spoken together, it shows that there must be a balance, a harmony between these 3 pleasures. If you brew your leaves to get the most out of them in terms of flavors and taste, that's also when you would want to organize your set as beautifully as possible. It's a way to celebrate and honor these wonderful leaves. Of course, beauty is a matter of taste and everybody has a different idea of what it looks like. It can be quite simple or very elaborate. It also depends on your mood and the time you can spend brewing tea.

A beautiful tea setting is raising expectations about the tea. Only a beautiful tea will fit such an occasion. A cheap tea or even a tea bag would ruin it the same way a cheap hamburger on a silver platter still only smells and tastes like a cheap hamburger! The disappointment would just be bigger. But if you can match or exceed those high expectations, then this will make this tea even more special, more complete.

I’ve got to make some tea now. My Valentine is waiting!

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Welcome home, Stephane. It is good to have you back. I've been missing your postings.

Best wishes,
Israel

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stephane said...

Thanks Israel,

It's very nice of you to drop this line. Thanks.
Actually, I intended to write a shorter post explaining that with the unusually long cold weather in Taiwan, I intend to drink more tea and write less. I guess I got carried away.

Steven,

I've resent an e-mail to you. Maybe check your spam folder if you don't see it. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Anonymous said...

Stephane,

Sorry to say, but I have no messages via my e-address from you. Please try again.

I am using the comment option only because I don't believe I have any other means of contacting you. If you have an e-address to facilitate the transaction, please let me know.

Steve Owyoung
sdowyoung@sbcglobal.net

Stephane said...

Steven,

My e-mail is stephane_erler@yahoo.com
I'm sorry to hear that my messages don't arrive to your box. Do you continue to receive other mails?

Bigelow Tea said...

I love thinking about tea in terms of harmony and balance existing among the three senses - color, smell and taste.

Julie for Bigelow Tea

James Byrd said...

I love the tasting notes and your blog. I would be honored if you would add my blog to your list, www.teaandbiscuitco.blogspot.com

Ryan H said...

This is a very important point you make:

"A cheap tea or even a tea bag would ruin it the same way a cheap hamburger on a silver platter still only smells and tastes like a cheap hamburger! The disappointment would just be bigger. But if you can match or exceed those high expectations, then this will make this tea even more special, more complete."

I wonder how many people miss out on the many great and flavorful teas available because they vchose based on price and not quality and freshness? I really appreciate your blog.

-Ryan, SilverLeafTea.com

cecil250 said...

on the other hand chinese green tea got so expensive in the last years, if not impossible to get. do you have a similar experience?

Stephane said...

Welcome to the tea professionals! I'm glad to see that you appretiate my blog and view it as a source of information and inspiration.

Tea and biscuit, I have a sweet myself and your blog will provide interesting discussions on which sweets to eat with which tea, I guess. So far, my links are more focused on more or less 'traditional' Chinese gongfu cha. Maybe I should add another set of links for tea blogs with different approaches.

Cecil,
Chinese greens are not easily available in Taiwan either. 2 years ago, tea friends of mine brought back some real, Qingmin Qian Bi Luo Chun and Long Jin from China. The prices they paid to the farmers were (much) higher than for Gao Shan Oolong.
China's tea drinkers are now affording the best leaves and this drives prices higher. I'm currently surveying Taiwan's green teas to see if I can provide some reasonable alternative.

cecil250 said...

i heard from someone that actually in assam they try to produce "china green"...ok if it has this classis sweet taste that i appreciate so much about some chinese teas-i would support it! interesting what you say about taiwan greens-i never had the pleasure to try one.
china prices-are they rising for pu-erh`s too? until now it was not so difficult to get very tasty qualities for acceptable rates, but one taiwanese friend of mine told me that pu-erh is fashion in china now too ..
anyway, thnk for your reply. bi lou chun (first flush) hmmmmmmmm!