Saturday, September 8, 2012

On purchasing and appreciating tea


"The fact is the intellect can often get in the way of our tea drinking."
-Wu De (Aaron Fisher)


I enjoy reading about tea as much as I love drinking it, and in fact also choosing it, preparing it and finally writing about it. In one of the older issues of The Leaf Magazine (the website I return to regularly to enjoy their love and wisdom for tea) I especially like this paragraph from an article written by Wu De (Aaron Fisher):

"As I sat with my friend and fellow traveler in Wuyi itself, discussing this poorer-quality tea from my distant past, he laughed, “You got ripped off!” I wholeheartedly disagreed with him. “But you just said you paid five times this price for tea not half as good!” he exclaimed, pointing at the cups before us. I then explained to him that at the time I paid fifty dollars for the tea and got more than what I considered, again at that time, to be fifty dollars worth of enjoyment out of it. I really loved that tea and for all intents and purposes no better existed in my world. I gladly paid the fifty dollars because the tea was worth that to me, and so I wasn’t cheated, not at all. And even if you told me that the tea I thought was “Da Hong Pao” was really another kind or produced in a way different from what I understood, none of that information would change the fact that I enjoyed it; drinking it brought me hours and hours of calm joy, and the experience as such can not be abrogated by any later understanding." (Wu De, 2009)

From time to time I go through my previous posts and start reading here and there what I wrote very often to find out that I used to buy tea I would never buy again, probably not even consider to be as good now, for with more tea sessions and hectolitres of consumed tea I have become not only more experienced, which is the positive side of the story, but also very picky and somewhat "spoilt". It is, however, really pleasing to know that I do not have to buy it or drink it again because I have the experience and the privilege of choice.

Choosing, selecting and deciding carefully is nevertheless the most difficult thing when tea is concerned, especially when your budget is quite limited. All you who are still students probably know what I mean. I suppose I am not the only one who, when searching for some new tea, struggles with questions such as: is it better to buy all the samples from this particular vendor or should I buy only some and see what they will be like and then perhaps buy the rest? And if I should pick only some of them then what should I choose first and what perhaps leave for later? And what if there is no later and things get sold out? Should I buy a cake and risk I will not like it despite its good review? And if this tea was not reviewed well, should I try it and find for myself or is it just a waste of time? And if this tea was reviewed well but by someone who enjoys completely different areas from those I enjoy, should I give it a try anyway? I could go on like this but there is no need, most of you know that sampling is a great way to try out new teas we could never be able to afford buying in big amounts, but even choosing samples requires some determination, experience and last but not least: intuition and a will to learn with all its consequences.

Through all the years of my more or less avid tea drinking I learnt that some tea could be of superior quality but will not bring as much pleasure to a newbie, who simply cannot appreciate it at the particular moment, as it would bring to someone who just through years of experience developed the ability to distinguish it and enjoys all the subtle nuances in flavour and aroma. Also, it is very likely that some tea of much poorer quality, which brought us great pleasure when we first tasted it (and then full of enthusiasm started our teablogs for the pure joy of sharing our love for it), would not satisfy us now should we retaste it again and see how we "moved on". And of course, from time to time we may realize that some tea we decided to buy would now benefit more as compost tea, as we simply make choices and learn by "mistake".

The thing is, I actually do not believe in making mistakes, as in fact all the "mistakes" I made brought me here where I am now. It means that each "mistake" I made gave me exactly the experience I needed. In my opinion, this could not have been a mistake then. I actually do not believe in good and bad experience either. I, however, believe in experience and practice.

I know I bought tea I would never buy again now, but at that time it brought me joy and pleasure, either when drinking it or just through the simple way of discovering its potential. And I am sure I tasted a few cakes that I considered to be better than many other people would find but then again, it brought me joy and pleasure and I appreciated the experience deeply. And of course, I am sure I tasted many samples of tea I would love to have a chance to drink now but I cannot, since I did not buy it and it simply disappeared, which means I cannot retaste it again to find out how it and I myself have developed.

As my possibility to store tea is in fact very very low, I learnt by experience to give way to buying only tea I can drink within a few months. My poor experience of storing tea did not work out with good results, most of my stored tea I bought dried out and lost everything I enjoyed in it. With such an attitude it is clear that I cannot join the rush for buying tongs of puerh to store them, I can afford buying one or two cakes from each, enjoy drinking them throughout the year and then wait and see what else is going to be offered. With the decision to give up on trying I may be losing the great opportunity of mastering this particular skill but I already know there are people who will do it much better than me and have also better conditions for it. In few years I might be having a chance to pay for one of those cakes I would probably not be able to take care of well and it would be a waste of rare tea. Of course I know I will pay much more than I would if I bought it now but it is not the point. Money is always a problem but if the tea is good at the particular moment, it means now, then it simply is good and is worth it.

I saw a few discussions on teablogs nowadays discussing the increased puerh prices and despite the fact that I really understand the point, I cannot agree that tea can be judged upon its price. It is definitely a good and useful way how to compare its affordability, but that's it. I am also aware that some information is actually more useful to a vendor than to an ordinary consumer and I do not intend to become the first. My tea tasting will therefore always be somewhat naive and subjective but I do not see a problem in that. As for me: "A good tea is good. It speaks for itself and will be worth the price or not based on how much enjoyment you can get out of it." (ibid.)  

Enjoy your tea.

-ER- 


Sources:

"Quality; Understanding Leaves" By Wu De, The Leaf, issue 5, April 22nd, 2009, PDF download


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Drink your tea
slowly and reverently,
as if it is the axis
on which the world earth revolves.
Slowly, evenly,
without rushing toward the future.
Live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Best to be like water,
Which benefits the ten thousand things
And does not contend.
It pools where humans disdain to dwell,
Close to the Tao.

Live in a good place.
Keep your mind deep.
Treat others well.
Stand by your word.
Keep good order.
Do the right thing.
Work when it's time.

Only do not contend,
And you will not go wrong.

Tao Te Ching, 8 / transl. Addis & Lombardo