I had tea with L today. Also present was a Taiwanese gentleman who apparently is quite an important man in the Taiwan tea business. We had a long discussion on various topics around tea, from puerh to green. The guy definitely has experience, and you can tell he knows what he’s talking about. Much of it is just him lecturing, since we all know so little about tea production.
One thing that definitely comes across is that knowing about how tea is made is essential for a higher level understanding of why a tea tastes the way it does. Being able to say “this tea is astringent because so and so did this during production” is very important. For all types of tea, there’s a different set of rules, but there are also common things that are true for all teas. It is obvious that knowledge from one kind of tea will transfer, at least somewhat, into others. This man, for example, gathered a lot of data and knowledge from individual farmers and tried his best to improve Taiwanese oolong. Everything from the wind direction, to the specific hour of the picking, to the location of the slope, soil type, etc etc are all important things to consider, and the way one processes a tea will change depending on any one of those factors. Whether a tea is good or bad depends greatly on whether or not one is able to grasp all of these variables and make the tea come alive, a term that he stressed throughout the day.
What’s also important is that I’ve actually never heard of this man before, and I doubt few outside the trade has. There must be many such low profile tea makers out there who are just really knowledgeable. The people who know tea best are the makers, and all pursuit in tea, ultimately, goes back to the production process. I wonder if it’s ever possible to learn so much, without being a producer myself. But it’s a nice thought and certainly one goal to aspire to.