Some Intermediate-Level Ideas About Tea – Part 1

Some Intermediate-Level Ideas About Tea – Part 1


Related to the social media theme, I tend to like to talk in places where people are newer to tea because I can help people more there.  The “expert” groups are nice for a different kind of reference and discussion. Even in those places it often works out that a newcomer who really isn’t very far along the experience curve can help prompt really good discussion with questions.

Here I’d like to explore some ideas from a middle ground, the kinds of things people pretty far through a learning curve probably took years to become clear on.  Of course in some cases even “the basics” relate to potential differences of opinion, so to be clear this is all just my take. This moderate length writing format doesn’t allow enough room for full-context discussion and treating exceptional cases or opposing views.

Brewing temperature:  Really a 1000-word post couldn’t do this subject justice, but I want to quickly map out a few ideas.  Those brewing temperature tables aren’t wrong as a starting point guide, even though their suggestions vary quite a bit.  It’s also not wrong that essentially all teas should be brewed Gong Fu style using boiling point water (or just below it), and short infusions; even for green teas, for some.  But the two contradict. Preference variation is part of that, but some people claim that using anything but boiling point water for good oolongs is doing it wrong.

There seems to be a natural progression towards using Gong Fu brewing more once you get familiar with it, and it works a lot better with higher quality teas to use very hot water than it does with lower quality versions.  That sketch doesn’t resolve all the contradictions but it maps out some main themes that lead to some of them. Really for people who feel they represent a more authentic Chinese tea preparation tradition, what “Gong Fu” brewing really is wouldn’t be a simple subject; but a lot of people just use that as a reference for using a different proportion of tea to water, more infusions, and a different teaware device (gaiwan or clay pot, typically).

A recent Liu Bao tasting; Gongfu style brewing can be nice for comparison tasting

Tea exploration, vertical versus horizontal:  Of course this one really is a matter of preference.  I just talked to a vendor who prefers to stick mostly within the scope of Taiwanese teas even for personal consumption, and that’s fine: very reasonable.  For me, it works well to adopt an organic approach, to get to whatever comes next naturally: whether that relates to exploring better quality teas within a limited range or being all over the map.  Or not exploring much at all is still a valid judgment call. Advocating exploration of what else is out there as an option might bring up an implied “tea snob” context since there’s really nothing wrong with someone mostly drinking blends, or Harney and Sons-level “pretty good” teas.  Sticking to tea bag teas is pushing it; that’s like someone with a coffee interest only drinking instant. Up to them, but why?

A Vietnamese version of a rare Chinese version of sheng pu’er (I think), called trà chít there

Appreciating flavor versus mouthfeel, aftertaste, and “cha qi,” drug-like effect:  That’s already most of what I want to express: that over time people tend to expand what they like about teas.  To me, it’s not that I want a tea to have a certain mouth-feel–for example–more that the way varying types of aspects balance can be nice, or not work well.

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To be concluded tomorrow



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