There comes a point in every tea drinker’s life when tea transcends. You suddenly find that, at least for you, tea is more than just a “cuppa.” Just some hot liquid or some iced liquid. The tea is in itself a focus, a Siren’s call to learn more. How does this transcendence happen?
You started out drinking tea due to needing something with caffeine, but found coffee too strong. Or you grew up in a house that drank a lot of tea. In the Southern U.S. that means “ice tea” (as one Southerner put it, “We don’t call it ‘iced tea’ down heah!”) and in the Northern U.S. it’s iced tea in Summer and hot tea steeped from some grocery store teabag in Winter. Or you got introduced to tea in college from a friend or roommate. Or you even started drinking tea later in life. Or…
Each of these approaches tea the same way: a beverage.
Yes, tea is a beverage, but if that were all, you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Tea has a social element, a knowledge element, a personal element.
The Social Element
Whether it’s tea parties, tastings at a local shop or a friend’s house, informal gatherings, or going online with Twitter and Facebook, tea just naturally seems to draw people together. Differences are forgotten and often even forgiven while enjoying the aroma of some Alishan Oolong or Yunnan Gold. Comparing tasting notes and steeping techniques replaces swapping barbs or catty remarks about this person or that.
The Knowledge Element
The natural tendency to exchange information on steeping, etc., can spark a desire to learn more about the teas you’re enjoying. You start by distinguishing tea from other things called “tea” (usually, herbals such as rooibos, chamomile, honeybush, hibiscus, etc.). Then, you find that teas with a lot of other ingredients added in tend to mask the tea flavors, making it seem rather pointless to include tea leaves in the mix. Might as well just put those bits of dried fruits and flower petals and spices into the hot water by themselves. Of course, scented teas like jasmines have been around for centuries and have themselves transcended the level of being just another flavored/scented tea. You start delving into various web sites and books to learn more about true tea from the Camellia Sinensis plant and its varietals and numerous cultivars. You may even want to journey to tea gardens and see first hand the effects of terroir.
The Personal Element
We each perceive in our own unique way. What smells one way to one person can smell totally different to another. The same goes for taste. Some of the difference is cultural, that is, we grow up with certain smells and tastes and tend to relate new smells and tastes with those we already know. Someone recently said a tea tasted like a walk on a Hawaiian beach. Others (who had never been to Hawaii) said it was more like mountain air after a Springtime rain. You will be relating your tea tasting and smelling experiences to your own background. Over time, that means a tea which tasted one way to you may, due to your increased knowledge and experience, taste another way. For example, you could end up visiting Hawaii and taking a walk along a beach and then try that tea again and think “Yeah, that’s just what it’s like.”
By seeing these three elements in your tea experience, you transcend viewing tea as a mere beverage.
If you’ve made that transcendence to viewing tea as more than just a “cuppa,” let us know. Share your experience here or on Facebook.