Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tea conversions and lights on the road

The churches in France (and most of Europe) are old and beautiful. And yet, they remain empty most of the time.

My first random thought was such a place would allow for a very inspirational tea experience!... It would be a celebration of life and beauty.

Second, I thought the empty churches would benefit from the strategy of many sports coaches: the best defense is offense. New members are like fresh blood for an organism. They bring their enthousiasm, curiosity and a necessary renewal of old practices.

During my European trip, I made tea for friends and family, for tea fans and complete novices. The Cha Xi with my readers in Paris was great. Our common tea passion let us quickly connect. (That was easy, since I was 'preaching to the choir').

The bigger challenge was brewing for people with little or no real tea experience. Is it possible to 'convert' them to tea?

I still remember being laughed at, some years ago, as I was showing a gongfu cha preparation. Several readers and tea bloggers have reported similar experiences. But fear of ridicule shouldn't stop us to spread tea happiness. (Also, more fans of quality teas mean more incentives for farmers to produce better teas).

It's a special satisfaction when my tea helps a complete beginner catch interest. Here is some advice that worked well:

- Timing and mood are essential. Make the demonstration when everybody has time and wants tea (or a warm beverage at least). If your friends have only 10 minutes to spare or have just finished drinking a (large) cup of latte, don't even try!

- The gradual approach: use your tea skills to improve the current tea your friend is brewing. The older we get the more difficult it's to change our habits. So, instead of teaching a whole new way of brewing, try to change the one thing that will produce the most dramatic improvement. For my parents, I switched from tap to mineral water. For my grand father, I upgrade his scented red leaves to high quality (unscented) red tea. This is also why I like high quality OB and red teas in such occasions, because people are already somewhat familiar with their fragrances.

- The 'miracles': try to leave an impression and generate curiosity by performing some tricks. For instance, show how a layer of dry high mountain Oolong will end up filling the whole space of your vessel. Show how big and whole the Oolong leaves become. Or use many leaves and keep on brewing them quickly many times ; it will seem as if they could go on forever. Or choose one of your best teas so that it will taste so much better than regular tea...
The coolest 'miracle' for me -the one that got me interested- is to have 2 people brew the same tea with the same water and feel that it tastes (and smells) different. If your tea tastes much better than the novice's, he may want to learn where your 'powers' come from!

Converting friends to tea isn't easy, but the joy of sharing is worth the try. I hope nobody minds the religious vocabulary I used in this article. Tea isn't a religion. It doesn't tell us The Meaning of Life. It's simply about turning a basic need, thirst, into a pleasure for all our senses. Tea is happiness:
Cha Dao, the way of tea, can be dark and difficult to find when we're alone. It's much easier to find your way when the light is shining. Teaparker has guided my way for the last 6 years. My blog may have helped some of you. And, maybe, it's now time for you to shine some light around you...
Sharing experience: This September, I propose that you share your 'conversion' attempts with us. What worked? What didn't? How did you feel as a teacher?... As usual, I will find ways to 'reward' the best accounts (and the most 'conversions'!). (Either send me an e-mail or post a comment).

Note: all these pictures were taken on the same day! Coincidence (or fate?) made them connect so neatly for this article. Maybe He's a tea drinker too!???

PS: Un lecteur parisien me dit ne pas trouver de passionnés dans son entourage. Il aimerait faire du thé avec des amateurs expérimentés afin de progresser. S'il y a des intéressés, faites-le moi savoir par e-mail.


lars said...

very interesting

Anonymous said...

cher Stéphane,
une petite question sur ta théiére splendide en argent:quelle est sa principale qualité outre sa beauté?
J AI PU REMARQUER que tu l as utilisé pour un oriental beauty qui demande une température plutot clémente pour faire ressortir ses extraordinaires fragrances complexes amples...ALORS MYSTéRE?
quelle est son prix?

Jason M. Cohen said...

Dear Stéphane,

I have my Gong Fu set in a college dorm. (Freshman, The Pennsylvania State University)
It makes for interesting conversations.
I usually have one to three people in for tea at a time, often from my Chinese Language class as they already have an interest in the culture.
Most people are incredulous at first, but after the first ceremony, while not about to start brewing on there own, they are "converted".
People ask to have tea all the time!
I have plans to start a Gong Fu club on campus. At first I was unsure of interest, but people are interested!
I do get the occasional "What is that?... Right... Tea..."
But never outright ridicule.

All the Best,

En Kopp Zen said...

I find this post very important, because in my experience there´s some load of moral responsibility being a tea guide.

So important I think, that it has made me reflect and wrote down some thoughts about it to share with interested tea learner/guides:


Thank you.

TeaMasters said...

L'argent conduit le mieux la chaleur et est neutre. C'est ce qui donne un thé pur et intense.
Bien vu, c'est bien du OB. Mais cet Oolong de qualité top est d'une qualité telle qu'il supporte l'eau proche de l'ebullition. Il en a même besoin pour donner tous ses aromes.
Sinon, je n'en ai pas à vendre actuellement. Peut-être à la fin de l'année. Envoie-moi un e-mail si tu es intéressé.

TeaMasters said...

I remember Penn State has a dairy dept making excellent ice cream... Anyway, congratulations on your initiative. I like it very much.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience on your blog.

Anonymous said...

Cher Stéphane,
merci pour ta réponse concernant la théiére en argent et ses vertus pour traduire un oriental beauty d une grande qualité...JE VOIS CE QuE TU VEUX DIRE:une certaine vivacité pour cette magnifique liqueur; divine.
Pourrais tu ns rappeler comment te joindre pour passer commande je n y arrive pas avec ton adresse?!*

Antoine said...

J'ai remarqué que les personnes s'intéressant à la cuisine et à la recherche de goûts nouveaux sont toujours partants pour essayer un thé qu'ils ne connaissent pas.

J'ai la chance d'avoir plusieurs amis proches qui apprécient le thé, mais dont le niveau de connaissance à ce sujet n'est pas uniforme.

Lors de soupers d'amis, je sers toujours plusieurs thés, dont au moins un plus "suprenant" que les autres. Exemple type:

1 vert japonais
1 Wulong frais
1 wulong plus oxydé (Bai Hao, le plus souvent)
1 Pu-erh
(Je leur laisse le soin d'apporter un thé Chai massala ou un vert de chine pour rassurer les plus hésitants)

La plupart de ces thés passent d'habitude très bien, sauf le pu-erh qui... débalance une bonne moitié des convives. Chacun a une préférérence marquée pour un de ces thés.

À ma grande surprise, j'ai préparé un soir un Wulong vieilli (Wu He 1983) aux notes automnales de champignons et de racines ... et tout le monde a adoré! Les Wulongs bien torréfiés plaisent aussi souvent aux amateurs de café, qui y retrouvent certains repères gustatifs.

Comme quoi, il y a au moins un thé pour chacun, et au moins une personne pour chaque thé!

IzzyInBliss said...

Dear Stéphane,

A couple weeks ago I had a "tea tasting" party with a couple of friends at home. It was lovely, although I realized that 11 teas may be a bit much for one sitting! I kept referring to your site and the pamphlets I brought home from Lock Cha Tea House in Hong Kong, to do a good brewing job. While I think I fared alright, especially on the Oolongs, I kinda massacred the greens and the whites :-(

Anyway, thank you for being an inspiration, and feeding my tea obsessions!

Here's a link to some pix and more details about my tea tasting.



Marilyn Miller said...

I had a friend call a couple days ago asking very good questions about tea and I thought "now here is a new convert". It is very exciting.

Question - If my husband and I were to travel to Taiwan next year, how difficult would it be for us to visit a tea plantation and experience tea on our own and get around? Thinking about this time of the year in 2010.

TeaMasters said...

Mon adresse est: stephane_erler@yahoo.com

Merci pour ton témoignage. Tu as raison de remarquer que les Oolongs très torréfiés (comme mon Tie Guan Yin de 2005) sont proches du café.

Ton approche par la gastronomie est très bonne, surtout si tu fais bien attention à bien accorder les thés avec tes mets.

geneviève meylan said...

j'apprécie beaucoup tout ce que tu nous communique sur ton blog car c'est une expérience vivante et personnelle.
pour ma part beaucoup de mes amis ne s'intéressent pas au thé à part une ou deux exceptions bien sûr !dans ce cas on s'organisent une session de dégustation . chacune apporte ses découvertes et on passe de l'un à l'autre thé en partageant notre ressenti etc. c'est très sympa mais au-delà de 5 thés je n'arrive plus à assimiler !
sinon grâce à tous ces blogs d'enthousiastes et bien il se crée des liens et le partage se vit plutôt ainsi pour moi !

TeaMasters said...

Thanks for sharing. You have found out that 11 teas were too many. I'm sure you were very curious to try them all. However, the quality of the brews seems to have suffered. I hope that others will learn from this: it's better to succeed with just a couple of (great) teas.

Fall (october) is generally a good season in Taiwan. It should also be easy to go to Pinglin (from Taipei) to visit its tea museum and plantations that are around this small town.
Farmers are very welcoming in general, especially if you display a great interest in tea.

TeaMasters said...

Merci Ginkgo,
Tu confirmes aussi, comme Isabella, que quantité et qualité ne vont pas de pair.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to encourage you to not be too shy with such posts. A grand cathedral is a wonderful place to convert new people to the tea experience. And no, here in the West tea isn't exactly a "religion." But my message is all about tea faith. So I know you're doing the right thing by spreading the word in this way. --Spirituality of Tea