24 November 2008

Silently testing your tastebuds

tea testing

I sit at the edge of the tea table as I've done many times before. A friend is at my side and the teahouse's owner sits opposite me warming the cups. A small dish is passed around with the tea leaves - an invitation to inspect what we're about taste. Small talk ensues, but the focus is really just on the tea.

And probably me, too.

Having been to many teahouses, it doesn't matter whether I sit down to have tea with the owner or a tea expert/connoisseur, the experience tends to be the same. I'm invited to have a seat and I'm introduced as a knowledgeable tea guy. I will proceed to correct that statement by introducing myself as just a tea lover, never calling myself a tea expert.

shiuwen edited 

The server will sometimes ask what I'd like to drink or they may just serve whatever they feel like. Seldom will the first pot be their best tea. The server watches me as I inspect the leaves. I smell the brewing vessel after the leaves have been rinsed and he will notice what I look at and what expressions my arched brows may reveal. As he brews infusion after infusion, he will watch me as I glance at the color, as I taste and coat my tongue with the liquid, and as I wait for the recurring flavors. He wants to see if I know what I'm tasting, and then after a couple of cups, he'll ask me what I think.

It's rude to say the tea's inferior to the tea's buyer or maker, but I once told a famous tea maker that he wasn't serving me the quality of tea that that he was known for. He smirked, got up and left without any utterance, and returned with a different brewing vessel and a heaping serving of jade-colored leaves. Once the rinse water was poured in and out, I looked at him and smiled. He finally laughed to break an otherwise tense silence, nodded, and said that my tastes weren't bad.

That, in Chinese, means that he thinks they're good.

I believe it's natural for people to test a fellow tea lover's tastes. They want to know what product they can direct you towards, get a feeling for your level of tea tasting & knowledge, and lastly, they probably don't want to brew you a tea that you won't like.

We're all nice people and if we cross paths and I make you tea, it won't be anything but the good stuff that we would enjoy having.

Drink good tea and enrich your life.

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