Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Conversation.

It's obvious, writing tasting reviews on this blog has not been top priority. Thinking of what to write that is worth a fellow reader's enjoyment has been hard. Passing my own standard of writing an educational tea article has been even harder. 

Been more than a year now and I did a couple of drafts but at the end, they weren't important enough to post. Perhaps I am too aware of the fact that other tea forums and bloggers have developed a system of reviewing tea like a broken record. Systematic approaches to tea practice feels like a presentation to me; a pretty little show... or a ceremony. 

Most tea drinkers have a murky idea between Chinese tea tasting 品茗 and ceremony at our tea room tastings. I have to make clear that we aren't performing a ceremony. Instead, I just want them to listen and enjoy the tea.

Last week, the day before my business trip to Italy, a young gentleman made a reservation with his parent for a basic tea tasting. I was surprised when I first saw the young man passing our security camera. "He must be under age", I thought to myself as I welcomed them inside and sat them at the tasting table. Curious, I asked, "How did you find me?" He replied with a smile, "I did much research online." I said, "this is a very private tearoom and it's hard to find but you found it. I hope it will be memorable."

Three teas were requested in advance. All oolong. Brewed in order with gaiwan, Yixing and gaiwan. I asked what tea he liked, how often he drink and with what technique. He respectfully answered in such a clear and thoughtful way, so I started to open up.

Taiwanese oolong was his usual choice, so I paired up an Anxi Xiping TiKwanYan, the mother of Min Nan oolong (most Taiwanese oolong are considered Min Nan tea). Every step of the way, I asked him what I am doing, and with patience and concentration, he answered with a very clear mind. "The next cup is always the better cup.", I said. It is very important that we do not box ourselves into a system while brewing. The water is alive, so is the tea and the person who is brewing it. Its like a conversation with a friend rather then talking to a computer. In most cases, the tea is talking to a computer, if we only focus on the system.

I was amazed and overjoyed to see such a young soul have a humble discipline towards Chinese tea practice. His mother later told me this trip to NYC is mainly for the visit of the tea room. So I pulled out my favorite 80's 8582 for the closing. The energy that day was calming and smooth; doing a little meditation at the end unified the whole experience.

Just the day before, while teaching one of my students, she asked me what to do at the 5th brewing. I asked her "What 5th brew?", while aware of her uneasy brewing on the 4th brew. She seemed nervous because I only taught her how to brew up to the fourth cup and now she was on her own. "I don't know if I should push it, use high pouring, or should I use boiling water?" While she was brewing, her mind was so focus on the steps, she was counting the time and wonder about the next move. So gently I asked her why not open up the gaiwan lid and take a look at the color and texture of the leave, smell the lid and press the leaf to see the color of the brew? There is no 5th brew. There is no system. 

She had already learned all the basic skill of using a gaiwan, so now its time to use all her senses to look, smell, feel, touch and taste the tea. Start a conversation between you and the tea is the only connection, everything else is trivial....

further reading with permission by the author:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.