Gary: New to Tea (pt2) - The beginning of my education
Continued from part 1 - Gary: New to Tea - An Aussie's introduction to tea
The beginning of my education
A week passed quickly in Hong Kong, my wife and daughter ever on the lookout for a new street vendor with some weird and wonderful treat for me to try. We frequented our crispy duck café quite often. We were always greeted enthusiastically by the proprietors and encouraged to try something new. For my daughter it was a safe zone, she would eat here. We bought a few souvenirs (items we could buy at home in the local $2 shop) did all the street markets and paid a visit to Mickey and Goofy out at Disney world but it was time to move on.
Next stop was old Blighty, England, home of the pom (the Australian nick name for the British), those chaps that could almost play rugby and that Aussie game Cricket.
My wife's Ma and Pa lived down on the moors, quite near Dart Moor in fact. They had recently pooled funds with my wife's sister and purchased an old property with 4 adjoining units on a few acres set up as a bed and breakfast (www.4windsholidays.co.uk). Nice rural outlook, few chooks (chickens), couple of goats and seeming never-ending bitterly cold drizzle falling horizontally from somewhere to my right. The view over to moors is apparently very nice...
Word was out that we were over for Christmas and the biggest family get together in years was on. They came from all over, exhaustive journeys were embarked upon and some even travelled 4 hours... This is apparently akin to us travelling the 4 day drive from Sydney to Perth.
Most of the family have travelled out to Oz at some point previous so I had met a good majority of the folk present for the occasion. My wife's cousin Jamie, whom had been living and working expat in China for quite a few years, happened to be back home as well and ventured down for the do. He had brought over his girlfriend Wan Ling to meet the family at the same time so that was a thrill.
All the folk were hanging about for a few days, there were games to play, food to eat and the giving of gifts to be done. There was excitement in the air and a wee bit of tension as the dreary rain continued whilst we settled in front of the fire working our way through the pre prepared traditional Christmas games.
Jamie poked his head in the room and said "anyone for a cuppa? Wan Ling is making Tea".
"Sure, I'll have a nice green tea", I said jokingly in my poshest English accent. Knowing that there was no way on god's green earth that ye old mother-in-law would have that in the house. "No problem", he says, "Wan Ling has got the tea set out". Jamie's mum says "can I just have a 'normal' cuppa please". Well my interest was piqued.
I walked into the lounge to find Wan Ling and Jamie settled into the lounge around the coffee table. On the table was this strange looking bamboo contraption that had a couple of small clay tea pots, a ceramic pot and some cute wee cups without handles. In the corner was a small clay statue of an oriental puppy dog.
Wan Ling explained about the tea set, the tea pet in the corner and the significance of the Chinese tea ceremony. Only then did she begin with the mesmerising display that is the tea ceremony, her hands floating across the tea table with ease and experience, the cleansing of the tea and the utensils, the offering to her patient pet in the corner through to the final product of 3 wee cups of tea for the offering. The taste was sublime, like no other tea I had ever encountered.
We were drinking a Tie Guan Yin from An Xi in Fujian Province in China, the house Tie Guan Yin at Wan Ling's Shanghai tea shop. For a Aussie boy akin to drinking the equivalent of grass clippings for green tea at home and doing a poor uneducated job of brewing that, this stuff was the most amazing taste sensation I had ever experienced. It was almost sweet to taste with fruity flavours in behind. There was this robust indescribable flavour that lingered on the back of the palette for ages after swallowing and the smell in the pot was reminiscent of an earthy almost cigar like fragrance that drew you in. I must have smelled it a dozen times, entranced by the aroma.
We went on to sample numerous other teas that evening that were equally as exciting. Each tea was brewed at in a specific temperature range so that it was at its best. Who new that green tea was almost always bitter and yuck if you brewed it with boiling water or the benefits and taste difference if one removed the leaves to stop the brewing process after a certain amount of time. That "tea" in Hong Kong that I had thought so much of was a little lacking now.
Since then I have learned so much about the humble cuppa tea, the seemingly endless types and grades of tea all coming from the same plant. The closest thing I can relate it to is wine. Certain types of tea come from certain areas. Grades and taste differ vastly depending on the area the plant is grown, the altitude, the weather that year, what was grown near it, the weather just prior to picking the leaves, at what age it is picked, how, where and by whom it is dried, steamed, fermented and oxidised. There is an infinite amount of ways for tea to be cured ready for final consumption and all this from basically one plant. Amazing.
So if like the old me you think that tea is tea blardy blardy bla do yourself a favour, join a tea club or gather some like minded folk and order in some tea. Get a sample pack of, say green or black teas to try and step out of your comfort zone.
Bonus is, it's great for you as well.
We hope you enjoyed the second part of Gary's journey. Don't forget
we'd love to hear from you about your tea story. May be you are not new
to tea but have grown up in a family of tea importers or traders.
Whatever your story let us know.