25 January 2009

Different places to learn about tea

In America, one of the few places to learn about tea is at your local teahouse, which one hopes has an expert of some sort that knows a thing or two about tea that is more than what might be found on Wikipedia.

            roasted yushan oolong - LJX High mountain tea in the roaster

In Taiwan (or China/Hong Kong/Korea/Japan...) your average shopkeeper knows much more than the average proprietor in the west, since these shopkeepers are so much closer to the source.  This is where the growing areas are, the main distributors are based, and where the population is generally more savvy when it comes to tea drinking. 

My friend the wholesaler said that an interest to "learn about tea" is too broad, since its breadth of knowledge is so vast and unending.  He recommended that I first think about what it is that I want to learn about, and then go to the right people to find that knowledge.  Farmers are the best source for knowledge about growing tea, varietals, how weather/soil/environment affect the tea, and the such.  Producers are a good source for understanding how the tea leaves are processed and turned into maocha, the base from which oolongs can roasted and refined.  The roasters/crafters can teach about how to correctly turn the base into the final product that is sold.  Shopkeepers know a lot about the tea jargon, pricing, and have a wider knowledge of different types of teas than producers and roasters because they sell a lot of different things. 

Yes, there are shops that grow, process, roast and sell, but like the old adage, if you do everything, you excel at nothing.  The best people that I was able to learn from chose one area to concentrate on, and let other experts do their part.  If you're lucky enough to travel here and learn about tea, do be specific in what you'd like to learn and from whom.  The Luyu center in Taipei, for example, has an excellent series of classes, some of which are translated into English, that cover tea appreciation, brewing, etc.

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