Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Upgrading the taste of tea

It's a very normal process that our taste for music, food and tea should change over time. Life is change and would be boring without it. There are three directions possible for such change: up, down or sideways (= better, worse, different). If you drink loose leaves tea, you have already moved up several steps compared to most people. I guess it would be very difficult now to go back to tea bags or artificially scented beverages! While down is not an option, there are so many teas out there that you are likely to go sideways. The challenge is to continue to educate your palate to move up!

I don't mean that one should only drink Da Yu Ling Oolong, Jin Jun Mei red tea, pre-Qingming Xihu Longjing... This is a luxury that only few can afford. What I mean, instead, is to understand what "up" tastes like and then searching this quality in all the teas one drinks daily. Tea quality isn't about a name, a mountain, a season or a source.

Around 4 years ago, I went through this kind of process and gradually replaced many teas and suppliers from my selection. I found new sources that are closer to my sense of what good tea should taste like. Of course, this is a continuous process and each season gives opportunities to select new teas that reflect this ideal.

So, what is this good taste?
It's difficult to define with words, but this won't prevent me from trying! What helps is to have tasted great teas and remember them. From my experience, a great taste has a lot to do with purity, finesse. It's like a solo music player who hits his notes very distinctively, clearly and harmoniously. A clean taste feels like a clean sound. And the music it plays is Mozart or Bach, but not grunge or heavy metal. Needless to say, one has to be very quiet and focused to appreciate this kind of music. Then, if it's really good, you'll discover that behind this clean, feeling, there are many small variations, movements, waves in the taste and aftertaste.

Purity could feel dull, bland. But if your senses are focused on the tea and its preparation, you will start to be amazed by how good tea unfolds its taste. Drinking the brew may feel disappointing at first. It's like warm, sweet water. It glides down the throat without encountering any obstacle. It feels light and clean in the mouth. Then, the whole body feels warm and comfortable. And little by little, there are waves after waves of aftertaste in the mouth. The throat feels soothed and activated. There are no rough tastes, nothing unnatural. The fine fragrances are not in your face, but keep on evolving with grace and depth. They resonate with your past, your soul. Because they don't scream, but softly and clearly speak with a single, pure voice.
A taste of heaven!


Steph said...

I don't drink tea at work anymore. The teas I enjoy require attention that I don't give them at work.

Unknown said...

Very nice post! I'm curious, speaking French as you do, if you have read Francois Jullien. He is to me perhaps the most gifted sinologist working in the field today. One work of his particularly resonates with this post. It's titled, in English, as "In Praise of Blandness" and reaches into the Chinese value of the simple, the unadorned, the quietly resonating, as in guqin music. I bought my copy at Cave's Bookstore in Taizhong some years back. Jullien has more than a few amazing works, not all of them translated into English yet. Here is a link to Jullien (http://warpweftandway.com/2012/09/27/francois-jullien-and-the-hazards-of-chinese-reality/). If you have not read the book already, I suspect it would be a wonderful read that your own life and attitudes would resonate with deeply, specifically as a rich tea process and quality tea are so reflected by simple brilliance and resonance, a quiet, steady unfolding. Blessings!

TeaMasters said...

I didn't know about François Jullien. His book's title seems quite interesting. Rice and bread are food that may appear bland, but there's lot of pleasure to be found in good rice and good bread. What I think is important is to find richness, harmony, 'naturalness' in this bland/pure taste.
Thanks for sharing and upgrading the discourse to Jullien's philosophical level!

Marilyn Miller said...

So true and I do enjoy paying attention.