Friday, November 04, 2016

The wine tasting approach for tea

2007 summer 'perfect' Oriental Beauty
Last week, I met Olivier, a regular reader of my blog, for a series of 3 tea classes. He's a Parisian gourmet with a deep understanding of wine and fine cuisine. A mathematician by profession, he represents the quintessential French elite. I mean it in a positive way, since I know that this word has been abused in the current election cycle. For me, the highest aspiration for a French is to combine a Cartesian spirit, a rational mind, with a passion for the most refined pleasures (art, music and the palate). And Olivier is a true embodiment of this French ideal!
He has eaten in Michelin starred restaurants, drunk Chateau Margaux and countless great wines, visited the most acclaimed tea houses of Paris and Taipei... With such a demanding student, I really had to raise my game!
That's the reason why I unleashed my dragon and phoenix silver teapot! Silver has the highest thermal conductivity of all metals and therefore is able to squeeze the most flavors out of tea leaves brewed in it. The drawback is that you also get most of the flaws of a tea. That's why it's best used with the highest leaf quality.
So, I brewed my summer 2007 'perfect' Oriental Beauty in this teapot. It's the OB with the most wonderful fragrances I have ever encountered. Since 2007, almost every year I visit the farmer who made it to see if he was able to make one just as perfect. In vain, so far.
For me, this tea represents the ultimate Dong Fang Mei Ren / Wu Si Cha / Bai Hao Oolong (3 synonyms of Oriental Beauty). And I was glad to share this experience with somebody who knows the magic taste of a Sauternes and a Tokay Aszu.
I only have a few leaves left in this qinghua lion jar covered by a simple cup. It's interesting to taste the slow aging of the tea. Actually, thanks to its quality and the silver kettle + teapot, the freshness of the aromas are emphasized. This is how aged tea should taste like: full of life with a hint of smoothness and depth! It's like old art objects. These artifacts don't amaze us because they are old, but because they still talk to us despite the fact that they were created long time ago! They are eternal.
In 10-20 years I will still remember drinking this amazingly fragrant, sharp and honey sweet Oolong!
The leaves are mostly buds and with aging their color continues to redden through post oxidation. And the brew has such a pure golden hue...
After the perfect OB, we went back to the ultimate learning tool, the gaiwan, and I shared my tricks on how to pour the water on the leaves.
Since it was a class about high oxidized Oolongs, we brewed my 2016 spring organic Concubine Oolong from Feng Huang (Dong Ding).
Very focused and a quick learner, Olivier pours the tea in the cups without any splash.
Tea learning is a humbling experience. I am the first to admit that I am rarely 100% satisfied with my brews. It's difficult to brew a tea to its full potential. It takes a lot of preparation, practice and attention to details. Each tea has a different character and calls for a slight twist in the brewing method. This young concubine Oolong, for instance, benefits from the storage in a porcelain jar to refine its aromas. And it requires very hot water to open up its ball shaped leaves.
The brewing adds a complexity to tea that wine doesn't have. But the tasting experience is very similar. You categorize both by region, year, cultivar (grape), soil, process. You look at its color, you describe its fragrance and you analyze its taste and aftertaste.
Eye, nose and palate provide the inputs. The brain connects the dots. And then the heart experiences the joy!
Merci Olivier! It was my pleasure to meet you!


Olivier said...

Stephane, se fut un plaisir partage et j'ai beaucoups appris pendant ces trois cours :)
Pour moi ta premiere infusion etait parfaite car elle nous a permis de prendre conscience de la magie de ce the, du lieux et des autres facettes des thes suivants pour comprendre ce qu apporte la morsure de l'insecte et ou est la specificite de l'OB!
( Et du reste le fait que lors de 5 Chaxi pour 1 the tu es dit que le plus reussi etait celui de ta collegue et non le tien est la marque des vrais grands experts et aussi parfaitement representatif de ce qu'est pour moi l'esprit du the ).
Si je repasse a Taipei l'annee prochaine je reprendrai volontier d'autres cours et sinon un verre a Paris si tu passes en France !

TeaMasters said...

Merci pour ce feedback et pour ton invitation! Je te tiendrai au courant de mes projets en France lorsque le moment viendra.