18 August 2009

Pay Attention and You'll Feel Its Spirit

How deeply have you looked into the leaves and the brew of your favorite tea?  Can you pick out some of the characteristics that make it unique? 

I believe that every master tea maker leaves behind a part of their identity in their product.  Drink enough tea from a single producer and you will know that maker's signature taste.  There is a taste and beauty in each tea that is testament to the maker's passion and craftsmanship.  The taste can tell you a story as you sip it.  The ability to communicate ideas, skill and emotion through manipulation of air, heat and leaves is what makes tea an interesting art to me.

My friend, whom I'll call Dean, is a reflective tea drinker.  Drink tea with him and you'll know what he thinks of the tea by how he drinks it and what he doesn't have to say about it.  I think that in his mind, excellent tea doesn't need to be announced; it just is and one should know as much.

I see my friend only on occasion, but we spend hours chatting and drinking tea together until we turn red.  I like to bring him my favorites to try.  On my last visit with him, I brought tea that I had finished myself.  There are technically 4 tea seasons for Dong Ding tea, but only Spring and Winter are really sold (whether some producers mix these with Summer and Autumn teas I cannot say).  I had some decent Autumn tea to hone my roasting skills with.  The tea is harsher and more astringent than the main harvest leaves, but cheaper and less heart-breaking for me if I screw up the roasting.

As we sat drinking some Korean green tea, I pulled out a bag of my own creation, #603, and let him sniff it.  A curious smirk appeared on his face - the smell reminded him of something.  He brewed the tea in a porcelain gaiwan and continued to smirk. 

"I did the finishing roasts on this tea, it's not my best work, so tell me exactly what you think.  It's an Autumn harvest oolong tea." 

"Hmm."  Dean played with the leaves and brewed again.  "You were anxious and bored when you made this tea, weren't you?  But your Gong Fu is better than mine, I gained all of my knowledge from books and never had a teacher.  Not bad."

"Wow, you're awesome, I'm really impressed!"  I was indeed anxious.  Dean could smell my mood in the tea and he also tasted my hurried nature as I made it, due to too much heat applied too quickly.  The base of the tea was harsh, but my first finishing roasts had tempered it quite a bit.  Afterwards, I got impatient and tried to bring the taste back out, resulting in the over-application of heat.  Not perfect, but it has my signature taste in it; sweetness with a hint of something that can remind a drinker of anything from roasted marshmallows to dry twigs.  As both my own self-nature and roasting technique improve, so will my taste. 

Ultra-expert tea drinkers can also track the changes in the taste and technique of master tea roasters as the roasters themselves change, grow and explore new ideas.  My Dong Ding teacher once said that only good people can make good tea, and good energy in the tea comes from good inputs, like the right water, environment and care.  The essence of each tea maker can be found in the leaves that he touches and crafts.  Take time to connect with the spirit of your brew and another level of insight and understanding may open up.

Drink good tea and enrich your life.


  1. Wow. I can definitely agree with the spirituality factor here. It's fascinating to learn how those who have devoted their lives to tea are able to read all the people who were involved in bringing that cup to them, from the ones who processed it right down to the one who brewed it. And if only good people can make good tea, then there's certainly moral virtue expressed in its enjoyment. --Spirituality of Tea

  2. It truly is fascinating. I think that people leave an imprint on the things that they come in contact with. That imprint isn't always strong, nor is it always perceptible. But in art and production where the maker's passion and efforts are passed onto the product, there is a connection made. Music and painted works are some of the ones that can most easily demonstrate this concept, but wine/spirits/tea/coffee also do.

    Thanks for reading! Looking forward to your book.