I was recently featured on Crimson Lotus Tea’s livestream show, Between Two Teapots! I got to talk about water with Glen, founder of Crimson Lotus Tea and with Arby, my friend and water collaborator. We drank the same tea with the same water recipe that we created, Truth Serum. Two hours long, I feel like we only scratched the surface. Here it is for you to watch!
I found it amazing that Glen noticed an obvious difference in the tea brewed with Truth Serum compared to his normal water. This is due to the Hardness to Alkalinity ratio (see the WIP Water Guide) being twice as high as his usual. The sensory overload of extraction that you can get with TS is really quite fun to explore! I can’t wait to make more waters that are a bit more subtle and subdued, while still delivering plenty of power. Feel free to message me on IG @teasecretsblog with any water questions – I’m here to help you dial in your tea.
This is a project for a book club I am in. We read the essential tea book, Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic. For this project I took photos of every tea session I had for a couple weeks. I tried not to do anything special and just take a quick photo – these sessions were not set up to be special for these pictures. I will then see if there’s any patterns or observations about them that link to ideas in the book.
Thanks for reading! Remember, tea never ends… I’m having more right now!
Sometimes there are tea sessions that just aren’t good. People don’t talk about them usually because they just aren’t notable or interesting – they are moments of failure. Usually, the explanation for these sessions is “I just wasn’t in the zone.”
During tonight’s ripe session, after a full day of water research (yes, I’m diving deep into water for tea), I was kind of bouncing back and forth between the computer and the tea table, sort of half focused. Suddenly, a song came on: Mind Mischief (The Field Remix) by Tame Impala. I have been listening to both Tame Impala and The Field for years, but didn’t discover this song until I heard it repeatedly on White2Tea’s Instagram and Snapchat stories. When I kept hearing it there, I started to wonder, “yeah, it’s a cool song, but what does Paul see in it that makes him listen again and again?
This is a pattern of thinking that I believe is central to modern tea culture. What do people see in Yang Qing Hao that makes them buy it by the tong? What do people see in old Yixing teapots that make them obsessed? What makes people buy those $130 samples of old Liu Bao from Essence of Tea? And on and on.
I closed my eyes as the song played and suddenly I was lulled into a sense of happy peaceful nostalgia (yes this reads like a bad college admissions essay but it’s the truth) where my old neighborhood flashed before my eyes, the cul-de-sac with its fresh mulch, the happy feelings of freedom so different from what I find most of the time in my young adult life.
When I opened my eyes, I saw everything with startling clarity – I mean to say that colors were more vivid, details were more pronounced. The texture of the modern zhuni teapot contrasted against the plate, the whiteness of the porcelain, the waste bowl, the chabu (tea mat), everything. I suddenly felt like I was capable of greater things, to transcend my everyday life.
When you invest time and or money into tea and or teaware, you are buying opportunity for moments like this. It’s not about always having the best tea session; that can be taken away, but nothing can take away the opportunity for an incredible, eye-opening experience.
In the world of tea, what do we gain with experience?
What’s the difference between an experienced tea drinker and a relative novice? I’m not an expert, but I’m closer to being an expert than I used to be. I’ve also interacted with many people I would consider to be experts, especially in certain areas. Here are a few things people seem to collect along the way.
Tea and teaware
I’ve not met any tea enthusiast who does not have a sizable collection. From people with over 100 teapots to those with entire rooms full of tea, there exist tea-fans so obsessed that they have gone beyond practicality. The more you learn about tea, and the more tea you learn about, the more temptation there is to buy it. Marketing is getting better and better, limited releases are everywhere (white2tea, pu-erh.sk, others), and the selection of teaware is unbelievable. It is very difficult to purposefully reduce the size of your tea/teaware stash over time, and the best way is a sale or swap.
The ability to relax and enjoy
In order to fully enjoy tea, one must drop everything else (aside from possibly a good book or album). I mean to say that worry and tea don’t go well together, especially not worry about tea. I see most (not all) beginners quite concerned about if they are making the tea “right.” Eventually, an expert learns to let the tea make itself. This is done partially through development of personal style and habit, and otherwise learning how to relax and make tea at the same time.
The ability to make good tea
Of the ten thousand ways to make tea, not all are good. Making good tea is about maximizing good qualities and minimizing bad ones. It is an iterative process that comes from many attempts. The more pots one has, the longer it takes to learn their nuances, and the worse the available water is, well, you gotta figure out a solution. The better the water is, the easier it is to make good tea. The point is, people usually get better with experience, or at least develop some character and style in their resulting tea.
Some tea sessions stick out over others for various reasons. With experience, the list of memorable tea sessions lengthens. That time I had HK Henry after a long, stressful day. The outdoor session at the pond in the woods. That six-tea marathon session. The tea masterclass where the puers just got older and older. That time the tea made me tear up (it happens to more people than you think!) That first bitter-turning-to sweet taste of raw puer. And the list goes on.
I’ve met some people online and offline in the tea community. Some of these friendships go beyond tea, but it’s perfectly possible and okay to have deep friendships entirely about tea. There are one-sided relationships too – some people serve as the experts and others as the novices. The best way to put your own tea journey in context is to show others what you are doing and compare with what they do. This is not to say that people with more experience are necessarily correct, but that they may have reasons for what they do that you can think about as you decide what to incorporate in different ways.
Personal opinions / the (dis)respect of others
The tea culture is a generally polite place full of different opinions. Most tea-learning is confirmed by experience, and people don’t easily let go of that which they’ve learned from experience. There are usually reasons for differing opinions but they are not easy to figure out. So, there are commonly long arguments about, for example, tea storage, unglazed vs. glazed clay, vendor choices, whether a tea is good or bad, and water (this one seems especially contentious). This is what makes tea so exciting to an expert, especially one who is willing to change their mind.
Appreciation of non-tea
The more one learns to enjoy tea, the more that enjoyment spills over into non-tea elements. Whether it’s the world of alcoholic beverages, from single malts to wine to beer to eaux-de-vie, or just appreciation of nature, tea is about exploring the richness of the world to the fullest extent. Eventually, one learns to enjoy simply living and breathing.
Patience and its rewards
Patience is a virtue, and tea requires patience. Waiting for the water to boil takes patience. Waiting for the hot tea to cool a bit takes patience. Waiting for those loooong steeps at the end of a session takes patience. And all that patience is rewarded with a slow, steady adventure. It’s quite uncomfortable to wait so long doing nothing when you are a tea novice, but eventually it becomes clear that doing nothing is the gateway to a clear experience of reality, or something like that.
Learning from mistakes / Beginner’s mind
It’s easy to mess up a session, or brew a tea for a significant other that evokes the reaction of disgust, or spill tea all over your pants. It’s also incredibly common to have your most expensive tea with your favorite teaware and be completely let down by the result. This is learning, and why the best approach to tea is not as an expert, but as a beginner, open to whatever may happen in the current circumstance. The tea experts I respect the most don’t have any pretentious attitude, but simply know how to enjoy and share tea in their own way, and especially are good at listening to experts and beginners alike.
P.S. I’m doing a lot of hard, time-consuming, mildly expensive work with water, and plan to share it with the world around March 2020. Sorry for the wait, but distilling water takes many hours, and my glass lab equipment is in customs. Thanks for reading!
I went to a tea party! We had twodog from white2tea serving a whole bunch of us. I won’t say too much about the tea; it was great. I got to serve some Yang Qing Hao 888 at the end, but it didn’t come out too well. I still consider myself a tea novice among this sort of company. Anyway, it was good people, good tea, good music, good food, good drink, what more can you ask for?
I work at a tea shop, but it’s not really like a Teavana or a davidstea. There aren’t a lot of fruity blends, except for a Hibiscus-Berry herbal blend. The selection is mostly pure teas with nothing added, and the shop gets them from all over the place. Some are wholesale from yunnan sourcing, some are from a brooklyn-based performance artist from Hunan, some were brought back in the owners’ suitcases from Taiwan, some are from this, that or the other vendor. I haven’t been on any of the china/japan/taiwan trips, because I’m the one who works the shop while they’re gone. The shop hosts Global Tea Hut and other bowl tea events/ceremonies, with the occasional gongfu thing or ceramics workshop. This is where I met Petr Novak, Wu De, and Gary Snyder’s housemate. More on that in another post.
Working at a tea shop, you see people approaching tea from every conceivable angle. People want tea to relax, go to sleep, wake up, digest food, lose weight, taste floral, taste fruity, clean their house, walk their dog. Once I have that info, I tell them what they should buy, and if that doesn’t work, we might drink something, or I’ll tell them about puerh, or something else I’ve been into recently that they could try. If they leave, they leave.
There’s a lot of puerh where I work and it’s stored naturally mostly in big ceramic Novak/Randova puerh jars. Some of it just sits in drawers with rubber bands around it, but it’ll be fine because those cakes are drunk pretty quickly. Some of it is out in open air on puerh cake stands.
It’s different storage than I do at home, so the tea comes out different. It’s more… natural. Storage in porous earthenware is very different from storage in boveda packs in a metal stock pot. One of the owners asks me sometimes if the metal affects the energy of the tea in a negative way. I have to say I don’t quite know. There’s no way to know.
At the shop, all sorts of tea enthusiasts collide, and the results are very often profound. As stuff like that happens, I’ll write about it.
Here is a picture of some tea. I decided to use this pot because it was my newest one. I decided to drink some 2005 Xiaguan 8653 because it was in a sample bag from a group buy and I figured it wasn’t going to age any more in the bag, so time to drink it up. It worked well with the pot, but that’s beside the point.
I used to think there is “the chinese way” of making tea, and that it had been around for thousands of years. Now, things make a lot more sense. This way of making Chinese tea is not 100% Chinese and not that old, and that opens things up a bit so you can use whatever you want as an active participant in an ever-evolving global tea culture. We have in this picture a chinese teapot bought from a hong kong vendor, a chinese cup, a czech plate with japanese kohiki glaze style, a sake pitcher made by a ceramicist in brooklyn, and chabu (tea mat) from a French dude in Taiwan.
This isn’t anything particularly edgy, but it is worth noting that tea drinking is a global phenomenon and everyone does it in their own style. It’s pretty cool to have teaware from all over the world interacting together in one session.
Anyway, on this blog I’m going to try to explore the more abstract concepts in puerh and other teas because I’ve found it all to be very, very interesting.