It’s often not too easy to find the right teas to introduce people to making tea in the way we often do. Stuffing a pot full of leaves and then brewing is, usually, not what most people had in mind when they think of “tea”. Selection thus becomes extremely important — because picking the wrong tea can forever turn somebody off and make for, generally speaking, a very bad outing.
I hosted two people today from Central Asia. They’re, of course, not new to tea at all. Drinking tea is an age old tradition in the steppes, and they are quite familiar with tea — except, of course, tea is very different there. It’s usually black tea, made over a samovar with an extremely concentrated liquor, but then, they dilute it with water. Tea is also served with an immense amount of pastry and other foods. Not quite the same thing.
So, what to serve these new guests? It’s always a bit of a difficult question, made all the more difficult by my lack of good green tea or white tea. The only white tea I have are about three years old, which, actually, might make them good candidates, because I find some of the higher oxidized white teas actually do fairly well with age. Greens, of course, don’t do so well, and besides, I don’t have anything ready.
That leaves oolongs and puerhs (leaving out blacks — I figured they have enough black teas on their own). Puerh is almost always out of the question. Raw, young puerh is always a no go with people new to Chinese teas, or at least I think it should always be that way. While sometimes they can be nice, the downsides are high and I don’t like running those risks. Cooked or older puerh can be a possibility, but without knowing the tolerance of my guests for, say, mud, it’s hard to gauge.
That leaves oolongs. That is still quite a variety of stuff. I considered serving them the remaining sample D of dancong, but there wasn’t enough to serve a party of four sufficiently. It has to be something I have a little more of, something that I can use my bigger oolong pot for. I have some young gaoshan oolong that will probably do, and I think under other circumstances, I might’ve just brewed those. But… I don’t like new gaoshan oolong much. They’re, well, rather unpleasant after a few cups. They can also be a little bitter if you’re not used to that sort of thing.
I finally settled on a gaoshan oolong after all, but one that is aged maybe 5 years or so. It still tastes mostly like a gaoshan oolong, but it has lost a good bit of its bitterness (only really noticeable if you try very hard to overbrew the tea). It’s a little more mellow that way, and a little more easy going. It also paired well with the eventual food we had, including cakes, fruits, etc. We were accompanied by an endless swarm of flies (we just had a storm two days ago and it seems like the flies bred like nuts recently).
The tea held on for the whole afternoon, probably 15 or 20 infusions in all. I originally thought we could move to an older tea after a while, but the guests decided they like this one just fine… and we just kept going with it, chatting about various things all the while.
So, the lesson I learned is that slightly aged oolongs can be great for guests. There was another lesson learned today, but that’s for tomorrow.