16 March 2009

You're Missing the Point!

The nice gentleman fills my cup again.

tea making machinery1 Machinery at the production facility

Mr. Li runs a maocha production facility.  He grows tea, has teams that harvest the leaves, and then he produces the tea base - maocha - that many tea producers will buy from him in order to roast.  Mr. Li serves me a maocha without the finishing roasts, which tastes overpoweringly bitter and astringent, with a very strong vegetal taste that reminds me of raw Kale.

My Dong Ding teacher urges me to ask Mr. Li what varietal his maocha is made from, what altitude he grows at, and how long he oxidizes the leaves.  I was a bit embarrassed and a bit irked by my teacher, but I didn't immediately realize that he was trying to teach me a lesson.  He does that sometimes; he teaches me things by example instead of just lecturing.  He taught me to temporarily overcome a fear of heights by making me climb the sheer face of a cliff using only a scraggly, old bungee cord. 

dexing waterfall stage 2.4  The view after climbing the bungee

"I'm not interested in asking Mr. Li those questions.  Why are you asking me to?  You already know the answers anyway." 

My teacher looked at me and laughed, but not in a condescending way.  "You're always so interested in the details of the tea.  You want to know what varietal it comes from, what the bush's age is, and all of the millions of other details.  Let me ask you, without knowing any of these details, can you tell whether this tea base, this maocha, is good or not just by drinking it?"

"Of course!" I immediately responded.  "My tastes aren't THAT poor, I do know enough to tell if it's good or bad."

And that was precisely my teacher's point.  I told him on the first day that I had met him that I wanted to drink good tea.  I had found my good tea, but I still didn't know all of the details about it.  But what would I need to learn about those details for?  To satisfy some inane curiosity for random tea facts?  Or to augment the deep desire of my own ego to learn things about tea that few others know, and to be recognized as some sort of authority for it?

His point was that in the grander scheme of tea enjoyment, a "perfect" pot, kettle for heating water, water, energy, environment, etc may enhance the brew, but good tea will still be good regardless of how fine or poor the "supporting actors" are.  Knowing the how's and why's of tea doesn't make it taste better at that moment.

It's unfortunate that there is animosity being passed around online, in tea rooms and between tea merchants over who's right or wrong, what the correct timing - down to the second - is for a certain tea, what the altitude should be for a proper Lishan tea, and all of the many other debatable "facts."  Yes, there are ways to make tea taste better or worse, but many of those ways are subjective to the individual experience.  I have my particular preferences that I advocate, but my teacher once said to me that good tea is whatever tea that YOU think is good.  Period. 

In the grander scheme of life, the tea experience is teaching me about acceptance.  While I may say and believe that one tea is better than another, what I really intend is that one tea is just more suitable for me than another.  Each unique tea is simply the best that it is at that particular moment, and I'm just the best Rich I can be right now, and both are acceptable.

Let's not lose sight of the fact that the most important thing for us tea lovers is the tea itself.  In the moment that we enjoy our brews, the minutiae is bypassed, leaving us with just the one thing that we're rightly most passionate about.

Drink good tea and enrich your life.

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