This early August, the English Tearoom in Stuttgart invited me to their tea shop to introduce top quality Oolongs to some of their most passionate customers.
Lynn and Christian, the British owners, have opened their shop 2-3 years ago, if I remember well. The interior decoration is very cute and exactly what you would expect from an English tea room : cups with Prince Williams and Kate are available for sale along all kinds of very British porcelain! The teas are mostly scented like in a typical western tea shop.
This isn't exactly the place where one expects to hear or teach about gongfu cha and Oolongs! At first sight, my task seemed difficult. But if you checked behind the counter, on the most central shelf, you'd see some unscented Taiwanese Oolongs (from my selection)! Lynn and Michael are still in a discovery stage where they try to upgrade the quality of the teas that they drink and sell. They are open to learn more about tea and to pass this information to their most curious customers. And with this kind of attitude, it was actually very easy to talk about my tea experience and knowledge from Taiwan.
At what temperature should tea brew? was one of the questions we discussed. Most participants were quite surprised to me use just boiled water. (Some suggested to use 85 degrees Celcius). But water temperature is just one factor affecting the brew and the right temperature alone won't guarantee a great cup. So, I showed them and explained each step of a brew with a gaiwan. Then, I let everybody try by himself.
They all made mistakes and produced subpar brews. They were not so aware of it, at first, but the comparison with my brew made it quite obvious. I told them it's my fault, because I did teach them well enough!! But actually, this is part of the learning process. You must first realize there's something wrong before you can learn to improve.
Each participant could compare his brew with the others and taste the small differences. The problem with most was that the tea leaves hadn't opened sufficiently. But most importantly, they saw how important the brewing technique is and how sensitive the leaves are to slight changes.
When I showed them my brewing for a second time, they paid much more attention to those details. Tasting my cup compared to theirs also opened their eyes and taste buds to what they could get from the leaves and hadn't.
We're all still learning. Each day and each tea provides an opportunity to become more focused, try new moves and improve. It's just easier to do so with a teacher by your side!
The tea fun starts when you realize that what you learned helps you make better tea. This also leads you to find higher quality tea to taste how great tea can taste. Then, it's not a matter of English, Chinese, Japanese or Taiwanese tea, it's just a matter of good tea!