When tasting teas, my goal is to understand the identity of the tea as well as to get a grasp on the palate of the merchant, farmer or craftsperson from whom it was received. Unearthing the identity of a tea is similar to developing a relationship with a new friend who has their own brand of humor, intelligence, light in the eyes, curve to the brow, and perhaps a uniquely asymmetrical smile. His gait is recognized from a distance by the slant of the shoulder and the jaunt in his walk. He strides like no one else on earth.
Artists like Rodin and Michaelangelo made their reputations by expressing the unique identities of their creations through the smallest details: how a palm braced a forehead in thought; how the finger reached to the sky; how the gaze bore a compatible expression to the hip. Crafting from stone or paint or sounds a whole greater than the sum total of parts, an artist creates not just a piece of sculpture or music, but an identity that people respond to.
For me, a tea’s identity has parts to it also, whose unique notes and expressions unite as a greater whole. These include the aroma of the dry and wet leaf, the appearance of the leaves as they change from dry to first steeping and finally to their last infusion; the color of the tea and its liquor, and the way it dances (or doesn’t) in the cup. Then there is taste, mouthfeel and rhythm. The taste alone is necessarily unrepeatable The wood, fruit, floral or grassy notes play in concert with each other as no other tea ever has or ever will again. Combine that also with the mouthfeel of the tea–how its silkiness, dryness or briskness reaches across the different parts of your tongue and down your throat, and the aroma that subsequently arises.
Even the sensations produced by the tea in your body will make their own special mark–waking you up or calming you, bringing you deeper inside yourself or more expressive to the world. Not unlike friends, teas will bring out something in you that arises in response to no other.
This is what I love about tasting teas. Each is a new acquaintance with a gift and message all its own–its unique identity. And best of all, some will, over time, become better known and cherished friends.