In the fast-paced environment of accessible consumer goods, tea can provide solace and a source of introspection with mindfulness and observation to the senses. The value of quality tea is understood, no, experienced, through attention to aspects of its preparation and enjoyment – particularly in Gong Fu style brewing. It is through a 10 step system or process that allows an internal dialogue to take place. While I did not create these 10 steps, I hope to provide an outline to those new to tea tasting and appreciation. The deeper we allow ourselves to articulate wholesome descriptions and draw from the well that is our memories, the more we build a personal relationship and capture the spirit of tea. While this process outlines experiencing tea through a Gong Fu Cha session, each infusion renews and refreshes observation as subtle changes take place.
Eyes on Dry Leaf: Appearances give an indicator into a tea’s picking and processing. Are the leaves straight or ball-rolled? Twisted or flattened? Are the colors consistent or inconsistent? White hairs or fuzz located on the tea leaf? The tea may have a particular matte sheen to it, or varied hues of green.
Nose on Dry Leaf: After warming the tea vessel such as a gaiwan or teapot, placing the dry leaves inside begins to bring the volatile aromatic compounds into the air and the nose. Memories linked to aromas can begin to surface. Freshly baked shortbread, petrichor on a hot Summer’s day, or a bouquet of orchids and meadow flowers are all brief wisps of imagery unlocked in a tea’s aroma.
Nose on Wet Leaf: Once a rinse of the leaves have been completed, aromas are brought to the forefront of the tea experience as the water livens an array of fresh notes and depth not experienced in the dry leaf. An invitation to play in that space may conjure vivid experiences of ocean mist, stone fruits stewed, or charcoal-filled skies from a campfire. Use too hot of water and those aromatic top notes dissipate rapidly.
Eyes on Liquor: Whether observed in a Gong Dao Bei or a tea cup; brilliant clarity, dusty particles from the leaf, and a forest honey amber color are examples of the sights to behold. The liquor presents an indication of extraction time, compounds released, oxidation, and more. Are there bubbles that stick to the side of the cup as though it were the crema of espresso? There’s weight through viscosity and shades of color to be explored.
Taste Regarding Texture: Without attention to the flavor of the tea, how does the liquor sit in the mouth? Does it coat the tongue in a thin veil or heavily blanket it in a sea of broth?
Taste Regarding Flavor: The mind can wander with fresh, candied, or stewed fruits. Countless types of wood, flowers, and vegetation bring personal memories with sipping the tea.
Nose on Empty Cup: The quality of minerals in the tea – provided by the terroir, gives information as to the region and growing conditions. From a rock Oolong’s unique yan yun or “rock rhyme” to Gyokuro’s chlorophyll-rich depth, stories unfold from this experience alone and the empty teacup is a testament to the lasting compounds the tea liquor provides.
Taste Regarding Finish: Astringency lends to the body’s physicality and the experience after sipping provides insight into ones’ overall tea experience.
Eyes on Wet Leaf: Observing spent leaves allows the individual to appreciate the picking of the leaf, the color, size, shape, and level of oxidation. Particularly in rolled teas, the patience required over multiple infusions is worthy of fully unfurled leaves.
Body Sensation: The experiences and sensations the body undergoes while drinking tea varies, and is personal. Whether a tea provides a sense of calm or energizes and uplifts is influenced by the chemical make-up of a tea (i.e. theanine, GABA, caffeine) and the emotional ties to the tastes and aromas. I find it helpful to take note as to the effects particular teas enact on the body
While life’s various demands make enjoying such a session difficult, I highly encourage keeping this process in mind as repeated attention to these points of observation improves the relationship we can have with tea and the chance to slow down into mindfulness – no matter the style of brewing.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts and experiences with tea. Have you found yourself savoring particular experiences or recalling memories from a tea’s aroma or taste?