I was in a cab today and the cabbie started chatting. It got on the topic of tea, because I was picking some up for somebody. He then asked, “how do you learn what’s a good tea and what’s not?”
It was a tough question. How did I learn about tea?
I did take one introductory course (5 lessons) way back when. That was when I didn’t know white tea from green. It was useful, and I think something like that is good for everybody who wants to learn more about tea and get the basics down. Just make sure the place offering such lessons isn’t providing misleading information that basically means only their tea is good — this is actually quite common among “lessons” that are taught from teahouses.
But beyond that… it was just drinking, drinking, drinking, and talking about tea with other people. I find books to be generally useful, but specifically useless — none of those words translate into anything physical. They’re good for general information, but not at all when it comes to tasting and judging tea. With tea, somebody (myself included) talking about it doesn’t even come close to the experience of drinking and feeling the tea. What is huigan, anyway, if you have no idea what it is and have only read about it? What’s the difference between a “rough” and a “smooth” tea? What’s a “wetstore taste”? Mustiness? But dry stored tea can still be a bit musty. What’s that Taiwanese finish that I sometimes talk about? And let’s not even get started with flavours. I have no idea how a “plum” taste is different than an “apricot” one, and I definitely don’t know the difference between male and female urine, but since somebody has used “male urine” as a description for a tea before on a certain blog, I suppose they must have their unique flavour profiles. Not that I want to find out.
I ended up answering “just drink a lot” to the cabbie’s question. He was obviously dissatisfied with the answer, and kept asking. I don’t know what he was trying to fish for, and it was actually getting slightly creepy. Thankfully, the ride was short and I arrived at my destination. Whew.