We drink tea for all kinds of reasons. The reasons seem so contradictory that maybe they are just pretexts to enjoy this hot beverage. In winter, we say we drink tea to warm up, and in summer we drink to cool down! Those who experience stress (at work or elsewhere) say they drink tea to relax, and those who feel tired brew a cup to feel a boost of energy! City folks want to experience the scents of nature in a cup of tea, while the ladies in the countryside want to enjoy the civilized refinement of afternoon tea.
Here is another contradictory reason to enjoy tea: with the same cup you can feel that you are traveling through time and/or space, but you can also feel more at home where you are now!
I was thinking of this contradiction as I met with L., my Hungarian guest who lives in Mexico and travels the world for his job! He loves Oolong and visits tea houses in all the cities he travels. I started our mountain tea party with a Sung dynasty style mo cha. I wanted him to try something new, since this was the first matcha he ever had.
The whisked green powder tastes smooth and warm in the Jianyang bowl. It's a very different experience compared to the (astringent) green teas he had before, he said.
This was a cold and rainy day, but I was determined to share a traditional tea outdoors with L. We found refuge under an octagonal hut in the hills near Taipei.
I started to light the charcoal in the nilu to heat the water in the silver kettle. During that time, I set up this winter Chaxi. After the Sung style tea, this Chaxi includes a pear shaped Yixing zhuni teapot, 3 dragon cups, 3 copper Cha Tuo, the celadon ever made by David Louveau and the same Jianyang bowl. The tea is my 2012 Oriental Beauty, stored in a porcelain jar.
Silver kettle and zhuni teapot combine high water temperature and excellent heat retention. This helps open up the tea buds and extract the finest aromas from the leaves.
I let L. prepare the second brew of this tea. His gestures are precise and careful. The tea tastes very mellow and light at first. The mouth feel is very pure and sweet. And then comes a very pleasing and elegant aftertaste. The fragrance is much closer to a woman perfume than to tea!
We exchange many thoughts and feelings before and after each brew. But each preparation is silent. We are absorbed by the 'show' of these accessories and the boiling water passing from one vessel to another.
Each brew is slightly different and cause of wonder how little changes in our brewing can have such impact on the tea.
One thing is certain: there's no place we'd rather be now than under this wooden hut in the rain! A Chaxi focuses your attention to the present moment and the place you are now. That may be why tea also resonates so well with us, two Europeans who have left our country of birth. Home isn't (only) where our loved one is, but also where we invest all your energy to create a beautiful setting and enjoy life's simple pleasures. We don't long to be elsewhere anymore. We accept our simple conditions, because we find so much joy and meaning with each cup. Our tea journey helps us create a feeling of home around our cup of tea, wherever we are.
Or is it the opposite: tea stimulates our desire to travel and discover always new, exotic aromas on our taste buds? Maybe the magic of tea is that it combines all these contradictions.
Or maybe they are just good excuses to enjoy another cup of tea! Cheers!
My name is Stéphane Erler. I live in Taiwan since 1996 and have been studying tea with Teaparker. He's a worldwide tea expert and author of over 30 tea books. The study of tea isn't just theoretical, but it's also rooted in daily practice. It's a path of continuous improvement. As my brewing technique improves I get access to better teas and better accessories. These things go hand in hand. My blog documents my learning since 2004. And I have set up an online tea boutique with my selection of top quality teas, accessories and tea culture.