Monday, October 17, 2005

In Search of Tea Excellence

Our Cha Dao, tea road, can be a road from one tea to another, each with a different personality, some that become friends, some we quickly forget. Tasting many different teas can teach us what flavors we prefer, what memories we try to awaken. It can be very personal and completely subjective. I recently drank an old, most probably cooked puer that smelled like my dear grandfather's basement. It has the power to awaken great childhood memories and for this reason I say that I like this pu er. For 99.99% of the people unable to connect this smell with their personal memories, this tea will be just another cooked, unexciting pu erh.

But tea also has an objective good/bad dimension. Then travelling the road of tea means this search for what is best, the holy graal of drinks. One that everyone can judge by himself, with his senses. So, what is a great tea anyway? Let me try to summarize the characteristics a tea should have to fall in this category, according to my own experience, guided by Teaparker, my tea master.

First, let's start by what it should not have: bitterness, acidity, unpleasant flavors, unpleasant feelings in your mouth and throat.

Now, what should a top tea taste like? Like a top wine, a great tea must have a long and fascinating finish. Wine tasters will ask you to count how many seconds you still feel the smell of the wine after you swallowed it. A great tea will continue to work its magic long after it's down your throat. The mouth is salivating, your skin is sweating and your mind is crystal clear. A well balanced cha chi, not one that gives you a headache, of course.

After describing the end, how should the beginning taste like? Like water. Like fresh, sweet water just slipping down.

That's the reason they are called 'fine' and not 'strong' teas. It's not a matter of overpowering your senses with rich smells. It's the satisfaction felt by a thirsty person quenching his thirst with a very pure water that later unfolds a wide range of very delicate flavors and a lasting, pleasant impression in his body.

If you find it too abstract, then read the testimony in the post just below. "Sweet and an excellent aftertaste". This could be a good summary! Mount Taishan is in front of you, as they say in China, will you walk passed it?

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