Tea Tastings of the Week


Professional Tea Cupping Set

The first tea I ever fell in love with was called Shou Mei, and it tasted buttery. There’s no other way to describe it, and I wish I could impart to you how wonderful that was. Unfortunately it is no longer sold (that I know of). I have not found another tea like it since.

I mentioned this to my tea-loving friend, who proceeded to choose three teas she thought tasted buttery. We cupped them, slurped and sipped them, and wrote down our thoughts, discussing as we went. Here are my notes. All teas are from TeaSource.

Downy Pearls

Has a slight pungent smell, almost like a cow pasture. I had to try to not think about it too much as I tasted the tea. The tea, however, tastes completely different than it smells. It tasted very sweet and had the rare combination of being smooth while still leaving the mouth feeling dry. Very light and delicate. It was kind of a one-note sugar water taste. The second brewing, however, was much more complex with more of a toasted wheat taste mixed with a muted sweetness. I really enjoyed this tea because it’s not often I find one that tastes so sweet with no sugar added. I try to not add sugar to my tea, though it’s sadly a habit that’s hard to get rid of. This is a tea for those days when I don’t want sugar but have a strong craving for a sweet tea. I had a hard time tasting the butteriness in this tea, however. Still, a great cupping.

Dragonwell Special Grade

Had a pleasant, grassy smell and left me with a dry, clear palette. There is at first a fleeting buttery taste when first sipped that immediately fades into a grassy, sweet taste, which in turn fades into a grassy dryness with no sweetness at all. I’ve never tasted a tea with three different flavors before. It reminds me of Willy Wonka’s three course meal in a stick of bubble gum. The second brewing surprised me even more. In most teas, the flavors in a second brewing are muted versions of the first, which can be good if the first tastes were overpowering and bad if the first tastes were muddled to begin with. But with this tea, the flavors became more cohesive on the second brewing. They were not muted at all. Instead, they functioned like a three part harmony, coming together to create something beautiful. This was my favorite of all three that we tasted.

Annhui Yellow Flower

This tea smelled like an alfalfa field combined with a slight rice scent. Very pleasant. And it tasted exactly like it smelled, with a little roasted corn flavor thrown in. It took a lot of concentration, though, to sense the corn flavor behind everything else. I didn’t get any buttery notes until the second brewing, however. This time, everything was smoother and less grassy. The rice and roasted corn notes were gone, leaving a nice, roll-off-the-tongue sweet corn flavor.

There you go. My best attempt at describing tea. The language of flavors is so elusive, it was a fun challenge to dig deep and come up with descriptions of what I was tasting.

Micro Tea Ceremonies

My Gongfu Tea Set

My Gongfu Tea Set

A few months ago I bought a Gongfu tea set made for traditional Chinese tea ceremonies. At first I greatly enjoyed it. But doing a full-blown tea ceremony proved to require too much time, and I didn’t use it for quite a few weeks. And I was even determined to use it every day so it could eventually become like one of the ancient tea pots in that Sherlock episode (though I doubt my chinsy starter set will last 400 years).

Finally, I got fed up with not taking time for the things that I love to do and doing things that I don’t actually like instead. I’m not talking about neglecting the laundry or dishes, but about things like watching tv when there’s nothing on, sleeping past my alarm even though I know my cat won’t let me sleep anyways, and staying up late playing silly games on my iPhone before falling asleep. Those things never seem to pan out or deliver the happiness I think they will. They entertain and allow my brain to shut off for awhile, but I always feel that the time spent on them was empty and unfulfilling.

So I have purposed to use my Gongfu tea set as often as I can this week. I actually managed to use it several days in a row. Brewing tea and taking the time to notice the leaves, smell it, and describe the taste instead of gulping it down is an activity that leaves me feeling very peaceful and fulfilled afterwards. It’s a great way to start the morning.

I don’t do the whole ceremony, only what will fit into my morning routine. (Though I’m still too curious about what a second brewing tastes like that I can’t resist a second pot. Second brewings always taste phenomenally better than the first.) And I don’t write pages and pages of detail on how it tastes, looks, and smells in my tea journal like I used to. A few short paragraphs is just fine. I also don’t sip my way through each pot (like I’m “supposed” to). Instead, I sip carefully through only a few cups, enough to nail down a description.

My tea journal and Gaiwan cup

My tea journal and Gaiwan cup

This is the beauty of the Chinese tea ceremony: it’s flexible, relaxed, and you can do as much or as little as you wish to. And the more tea I brew in my Gongfu set, the more it takes on characteristics of the tea. I’m excited to see what it looks like in a year from now if I can consistently use it. I hear the pot gets shinier with age, and adds its own seasoned flavor to the tea.

These micro tea ceremonies have challenged me to look at other areas of my life. Are there places where I’m spending time on things that don’t really pan out? What is good that’s getting in the way of better? A friend of mine said to me the other day that she wished she could just read books all day long. And I agreed. Then I thought, “Why don’t we take a day to just do that?”

Or how about giving myself permission to sit down and do such-and-such a project that I’ve been wanting to do for awhile? How about making time for those acquaintances I know could make great friends if only we would hang out? Or what if I took one week off from everything but the essentials, and put that time into a hobby I’ve always wanted to do, just for a week?

The answer to “what if” is that I will most likely discover the time was worth it. And once being convinced of that truth, it will be easier to adopt it into my life on a regular basis. Is that what makes it so hard? Are we afraid to make time for the things that really matter because we think they will grow out of control and consume our time/money/resources beyond what a cursory interest requires?

I think I’ve been treating potential adventures like a large dog: sure, I could commit to owning one, but it would require so much time, energy, space, and money, and it wouldn’t be fair to the dog to adopt it if I couldn’t provide that. I need to remember that projects and ambitions are not necessarily like that. They don’t whine or suffer if I suddenly have to abandon them. They are there to serve me, not vice versa. Just because we can’t pour everything we have into a project, doesn’t mean we can’t pursue it a tiny bit.

(Exceptions: projects that you have to do because they are really chores. Those you want to commit whole heartedly to in order to get them done and over with as quickly as possible.)

Too Long, Didn’t Read summary:

Take baby steps on the things you really want to do so it’s easier to fit into your life.

Give yourself permission to make something a priority for a short amount of time.

PS For an amazing blog that tells you more than you ever wanted to know about tea, check out Bill Waddington’s “Beyond the Leaf: Mutterings of a Tea Merchant.” He’s the owner of TeaSource and his posts are entertaining and informative.