Alice in Camellialand: Part Two

Prepare a thoughtful array of teas.
Prepare a thoughtful array of teas.
Take them from tea-curious to tea-obsessed!
Take them from tea-curious to tea-obsessed!
(This is Part 2 of a two-part series.
Check out Part 1 here!)

Welcome back, my fellow Camellialand ambassadors! Last I checked, your "Alices" had jumped anxiously down the rabbit hole and were beginning to tentatively enjoy themselves at the (hopefully not-too-intimidating) tea party. Chewy, grassy, they're learning that it doesn't matter!

As your own "Alice" relaxes and begins to enjoy her tea, her anxiety level over knowing how to enjoy the tea will lower. It is at this point that her curiosity will start to emerge unhindered. She begins to realize that there is no wrong way to enjoy tea as long as she is enjoying it. Huzzah! She is allowed to like what she likes! It is the same with Alice as it is with any other student. The lower her anxiety level is, the greater the potential for learning.

Since we are the ardent ambassadors of Camellialand, we need to take advantage of this newly abundant curiosity and encourage our new student to explore and learn. As a lifelong student of many interests, I always particularly enjoyed just how profound and diverse a subject tea can be. There are thousands of years of history, fascinating culture, and always new (or old) and creative ways of enjoying this tasty beverage either hot or cold. Current trends in Taiwan have me cold-brewing Bai Hao and the sweetness is amazing! ...But, let's not get too carried away. We need to remember that excitedly spouting out factoids about our favorite teas will probably overwhelm our new acolyte. We want her to continue to enjoy her studies.

Being a teacher during the day (and teacher by night), I find that relatable subject matter is extremely important for students' interest and understanding. In order to find relatable subject matter for Alice, try to meet her where she is on her quest for tea knowledge. You've already toured most of Camellialand, so the journey back will be easier for you to make. Before your first tea party, discover what she typically drinks when she has a pot o' tea. Then you can invite her to a cupping, and include a tea that is comparable to her usual in terms of processing and oxidation.

For the first cupping, I would include one oolong, one red, and one green. It might be a good idea to consider saving pu-erh for later — it can be an acquired taste. Using three different types of tea with strong and typical flavor profiles will help your Alice easily differentiate between the three. She might get a little too intimidated if you set down Gyokuro, Sencha, and Kukicha in front of her — expecting her to taste the difference when she usually drinks sugary green tea lattes. She might just think they all taste "green" and "chewy!"

Guide your new student through the cupping step-by-step (or, steep-by-steep!) Demonstrate what to do first, and how to do it. Then, you can encourage her to follow along. Start simply by identifying the type of tea by processing, and if she enthusiastically requests more information, go ahead and give her the full name of the tea as well. Chances are she will remember that it's a green tea, before she remembers the specific name "Dragonwell."

Once Alice can identify which tea she likes the best, then you can begin explaining about the oxidation processes, and the differences between the three teas in your cupping. It might be a good idea to limit the flow of information to length of oxidation time...unless she asks for further explanation.

Talk to her about the aroma of the leaves, and demonstrate your tea expression of ecstasy when you inhale the heavenly orchid aroma of your Long Jing. Hand the vessel over to Alice and ask if she can note the lingering orchid fragrance. Reassure her that it's perfectly okay if she can't, she will develop her nose in time. You might like to bring this delightful aroma wheel from the International Tea Masters Association to help her identify what she is picking up with each inhalation. Many students find visual categorization of information very helpful, and easier to process.

At this point you might start to notice that your pupil has indeed begun her transformation from anxious Alice in a foreign land, into insatiable Alice, dedicated and passionate student of the exciting new world before her. You can see that she has gone from tea neophyte to tea disciple, and is sitting next to you in the teahouse longingly gazing at the clear, golden liquor in her glass vessel as if it were her long, lost love. "What can you teach me next!?" She excitedly asks.

Congratulations, my ambassador friends! You have done an excellent job of bringing your tentatively tea-curious friend into the magical world of Camellialand. You've even armed her with just enough knowledge to get her into a bit of trouble. Huzzah! Rejoice and drink tea!