Resolutions for a Beau-tea-full 2003
"No one lives long enough to know everything about tea," reads an ancient Fujian proverb. Ah, I say, but isn't the attempt a noble venture?
For 2003, I am resolved to learn more about, and certainly, taste more tea. What would you like to experience about tea this year that you never have done before? Perhaps one of these ideas will spark a few resolutions for you to consider as you make 2003 a more "tea-full" year.
Taste one new tea every season.
Go outside the familiar and try something exotic to you. If you always drink black blends, try a single estate Darjeeling; better yet compare the spring first flush with the autumnals of the fall. If you adore fruit-flavored teas, consider the purity of such classics as jasmine greens, rose congou or sencha with cherry. If you are dedicated to Japanese teas try a Mao Feng or Pi Lo Chun from China. If you love Chinese teas, consider the Sri Lankan Uva or Indian Nilgiris. There's a whole world of teas from thirty-five countries and each has something to offer. Taste! I'm going to drink a Formosa pouching right now, or should I brew the Spiderleg?
Travel to Tea
The smell of freshly-plucked tea leaves is nearly indescribable. It is both sweet and tangy, lush and elegant. Whether in the foothills of the Himalayas or the small, dense areas of Uja Province in Japan, or along the dragon's well in China's fabled tea gardens, tea-growing countries offer a decidedly exciting and different way to travel. Group tours are available expressly devoted to tea, and many seasoned Asian travel agents can direct you to delightful side trips to tea farms anywhere from Sri Lanka to Kenya to Taiwan. Don't want to travel outside the good old U.S. of A? Hop down to Wadmalaw Island off the coast of South Carolina for a summertime tour of American Classic Tea's totally modern tea station. Or, visit your local Chinatown, Japantown, or India neighborhoods for a taste of the world of tea.
Try Another Brewing Method
I appreciate fine bottled tea and a teabag with whole leaves in it for their convenience, but I always come back to those methods and equipment that involve ritual.
For my morning tea, a simple gold filter plopped into a mug does the trick. I put in a heaping teaspoon of my favorite Yunnan or Assam, let it brew for a few minutes, pull out the filter and set it on a small plate, and I'm ready to drink.
Another great tea gadget is Adagio's Aria Teapot. You can make enough tea for two and it has the added advantage of clear plastic to appreciate the color of the brew. Clean-up is a snap.
For oolongs, the tiny gung fu teapots not only expand the flavor and give true meaning to floral bouquet, the smallness forces you to take sips of tea in the regulation thimble cups versus gulps in a twelve-ounce mug or traditional teacup.
Quality teas can be reinfused several times. As you wait for the tea to steep, your body will relax, slow to the pace of the tea experience. This simple brewing method gives the most complete sensual tea drinking experience, affecting all the senses: the sight of the pot and its accoutrements sitting on a small draining box, each beautifully made and made to be beautiful. The warmth of the smooth Yixing clay pot, and the delicacy of holding the tiny cups; the floral fragrance; the complexity and nuances of flavors that alter with each infusion. Sound is not forgotten, first with the light bubbling of the heated water, and then with the soft words of appreciation among your guests.
Sometimes, nothing will do but a hardy, thick porcelain pot with infuser. It cries out for a warm-from-the-oven scone slathered with butter and jam and equally delicious gossip with a friend. Get a four to six cup pot, and infuse once; no worry about interrupting the flow of conversation when the tea is at the ready.
Read More About Tea
There are hundreds (literally!) of books about tea, where it grows, how it is processed, and how to brew it. My resolution, however, is to read more about the adventure of bring tea to the world, and the art of tea accoutrements. I plan to retrace Robert Fortune's trips to China with a tattered copy of WANDERINGS IN CHINA I found at my local library. Fortune, a botanist, was the first to successfully transport tea cuttings from China to India and his eye-opening accounts of the struggle and the class snobbery that infused much of China/India history for more than a century are a fascinating read. He wrote at least four other books, also found in many libraries and occasionally, to an alert scout of used bookstores. Another favorite for its diverse selections of art, literature, and song is THE ROMANCE OF TEA by William Ukers. The tea information is very dated, but the illustrations and photographs are always a delight. Available in many libraries. And, always an annual ritual, I will reread TEA LIFE, TEA MIND by Sen Soshitsu XV in which he writes with a quiet elegance about how everyone, from peasant to politician would do well to sit down with adversaries to share a bowl of tea. Available at bookstores everywhere. Then, again, there are books about the clipper boats who first sailed from Canton to London, the great tomes on porcelain or Yixing teapots, art books on teapot designers, the history of India, China, Sri Lanka, Japan...
Entertain with Tea
While the respite that drinking a perfect cup is, I believe, a form of critically important meditation during my day, sharing tea is the ultimate form of hospitality. Instead of having a glass of wine with friends, offer them tea, prepared carefully, with intent. Use a teapot and cups dedicated to serving tea only to special guests, so that even the accoutrements signal that the teas, and the guests, are important.
Give Tea and Tea
Accoutrements By now, many of your friends may know that you are a tea lover. Share the joy by giving tea and tea equipage tailored to the interests and skills of your friends. Even diehard teabag users will be pleasantly surprised to experience the flavor of bags filled with full leaves versus the usual fannings. The more experienced among your friends will really appreciate an unusual tea, an antique cup, or old tea book splendidly bound and illustrated.