It seems almost frivolous to talk about tea when Japan has suffered one of the biggest earthquake in recorded history. I was on my way from LAX to Hong Kong while it happened, and when it struck I think I just got in the air, eventually flying through Tohoku, completely unaware that 35,000 ft below me was death and destruction on a scale that is hardly imaginable.
Traveling with me was some teaware. I have virtually nothing here in Hong Kong to make tea with, and so I transported a few things so that it will be possible for me to host a few friends for some tea. It is always difficult to devise a course of teas for people who have varying levels of experience. In the group of five (not counting me) was one MadameN, a serious tea friend, and three relative novices. Left to our own devices, the serious tea friend and I will probably drink a parade of young and old puerh. MadameN normally humours my habit, to a reasonable limit. Then you have the novices, who may or may not react well to any or all of the teas, and it’s always a bit of a crapshoot because of that uncertainty. I settled on a menu of a green tieguanyin, a slightly aged baozhong, traditionally stored Guangyungong bits, and in the end, an impromptu Golden Needle White Lotus, courtesy of said tea friend.
It is always fun to drink tea with people you’ve never done so before, especially if they’re encountering something for the first time, or have very little experience with what they’re drinking, because all of a sudden you hear all sorts of new perspective on the drink that you’re so familiar with, and end up learning more about it in the process. The green tieguanyin is the most familiar to all, I believe, and goes over as well as one would expect such things to do. The aged baozhong received mixed reviews, not least because the tea itself is odd — aged, but not too much so, and the liquor was a nice reddish colour. It is slightly sour, with that vaguely chemical smell that sometimes accompanies aged oolongs. It was likened to paint thinners as well as meicai (preserved Chinese vegetables), which is quite apt, I think.
The Guangyungong bits elicited some interesting comments, ranging from a certain hollowness, to varying responses on the bitter/sweet balance in the tea, and the earthiness of the brew. Some were very attuned to the aftertaste that both the baozhong and the GYG present, while others were less aware of their existence. What I always find most interesting though is that what tea drinkers see as good tea is often not necessarily considered good by others. Sometimes there’s a lot of navel gazing when tea drinkers talk to each other about teas, and forget that for most people, none of the teas we drink are actually good (i.e. taste good, in a juicy, flavourful way), but perhaps merely interesting. The Golden Needle White Lotus, for example, does well up front, but when stressed to a slightly longer (1.5 minutes) steep alongside the GYG, it’s obvious that the GYG is sweeter and better.
What’s most important though is that everyone had, I think, a good time. Tea is best drunk with friends, and if I could, I would do this every day.