I went down to Miaoli today again to have tea with Aaron. It was, as usual, a good day with good tea.
One of the topics that came up during the course of conversation was the little things you do that can make the tea better. He went to Malaysia recently, and rediscovered the warming of the pot. Heating the pot before and after adding water makes a difference (as well as pouring water into the cup to keep it warm between infusions). I myself have also started to neglect doing it recently, even though I used to do it before. It’s time to try it again and keep it in my habit.
One other thing though that came up — making tea isn’t like doing experiments in a chemistry lab. Measuring out the amount of water, checking the temperature, using a timer…. those might be things that help make somebody starting out more comfortable with the making of tea, but if too much attention is paid to those things, the person making the tea can actually get too busy, too distracted to actually make a good cup. A good story I’ve heard from Action Jackson a while ago was that she’s met a couple who made tea for her, and who were so obsessed with the timer and how long each infusion should be that they completely forgot about keeping the water warm. So, it was a perfectly timed cup with lukewarm water. If they didn’t obsess about the time, perhaps they would’ve remembered to do the other things right, but they didn’t.
The point being, doing all those things (and perhaps even taking meticulous notes on the side while doing all those things) can actually take the person away from the actual drinking of the tea. Maybe while worrying about the temperature, the time, the amount… the actual tea gets lost in the process. There isn’t a right or wrong (just look at how so many tea experts disagree with each other). There isn’t an optimal amount of leaves or water that will make a tea come out perfectly. I know if I used the exact same parameters, teaware, water, etc as somebody else and make tea together in the same setting, the taste will still not be quite the same. Maybe it’s that jerk of the hand, the force of the pour, etc. If one were looking for a scientific explanation, there might be one that’s usable to explain the difference. But does it really matter? Can one truly control all those things? We try our best, but I have always found the best tea making happens when I’m focused and not distracted, then things go smoothly without me having to worry about each specific little thing. When I’m doing other things, sometimes I am drinking tea, but not really drinking tea. After a few cups, I don’t even remember what I drank, basically. Then it’s just a beverage and I might as well be drinking Lipton teabags.
For those of you who use a scale, timer, thermometer… try ditching it for a change. It might mean you will screw up the brewing sometimes, maybe too much tea, too long a steep, etc, but that can happen with those aids anyway. It’s best to try it with a tea you know well. Then move on to things that you don’t know so well. You might just surprise yourself when your eyeballs, hands, and mind do better than scales, timers, and thermometers.