Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Review tea like a liberal and brew like a conservative
Have an open mind and try all kinds of different teas. Black, white or yellow, Chinese or Indian, small or big, scented or unscented, we welcome all the teas from this planet!
And while there is no discrimination, you can apply some affirmative action/preference towards organic, fair trade, small farm, no (or small) label teas.
Then test the teas scientifically and fairly, using (cheap) white porcelain accessories and standard parameters. Porcelain is neutral and gives all teas an equal chance to show their character. It's also affordable, so that money won't be a hurdle for the 'working men and women' to enjoy tea.
And if the tea doesn't taste good, then blame the leaves, the (evil) corporation or (profit seeking) merchant who sold them. If you even feel sick, you should ask the government for more tea retail regulation and/or boycott this seller.
Choose not any tea, but the best teas (or best quality/price) that you have encountered above as a reviewer. Use your personal taste and preference (freedom) to select your teas. Each occasion, season and mood are influencing your choice. This is the reason for variety, but quality and performance of the leaves matter even more.
Then, select the accessories that will fit your tea the best. There are lots of quality levels even in porcelain. The shape, firing temperature, the purity of the kaolin... influence how the cup reacts to the brew.
Tradition is experience accumulated by generations of tea drinkers. If you learn the traditions and add your own experience, you are likely to better know how to brew better. Each detail is an opportunity for improvement: good water, a fitting teapot, good storage, the right pouring speed...
If the tea doesn't taste good, if it displays its weaknesses instead of its nice character, then you can only blame yourself (because you made all the brewing decision)! (For instance, I remember a tea class where all students brewed the same Oolong ; only those who brewed it well would get a smell of strawberry!)
Conclusion: a good tea brewer needs to apply both approaches. However, for best results, I don't think you should do both at the same time. Be 'liberal' with new teas and 'conservative' with teas you know well.