I'm ramping up my tea appreciation a little bit. I just purchased this amazing book, The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, by Michael Harney. You know that saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear"? Yeah! This is my new go-to guide!
This book goes beyond the usual, and it teaches you how to be more of a connoisseur by describing how a master brews and tastes all the myriad types of teas out there.
I have yet to get myself a kettle thermometer, and a gaiwan (small lidded ceramic cup ideal for smelling the drained leaves), and I also need to dust off my water filter. But I'm certainly paying more attention to my brewing rituals and trying to assess what I smell and taste.
It's not easy. After all, I've never had exceptionally refined tastes - I've eaten way too much junk food in my life, and I believe that it has clogged my taste buds (not to mention my arteries, but I won't cry about that just right now; I've got too many teas to taste). I also suffer from environmental allergies, which sometimes inhibits my smelling capacities. Two strikes against me. However, keep calm and carry on!
A nice thing about Michael Harney's Tea Guide is that he makes you feel very at ease about tea tasting. He suggests that you drink what makes you happy, what puts a smile on your face. And, he repeats that there are never any wrong answers when it comes to impressions and taste: "From ten tea tasters will come eleven opinions." So he doesn't make you feel inadequate in the least.
I will be following the guidance of this...guide. And hopefully I will become more able to distinguish a great oolong from an inferior one. My blog will probably never include such descriptions as, "It contained delicate high notes of Tasmanian boronia, with a lingering aftertaste of vanilla orchid". But at least I won't have to say that I liked a tea "just because", nor will I need to reveal which tea goes best with a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. So thank you, Michael Harney!
Chai Update: I tried brewing yesterday with Rishi Tea's Ancient Emerald Lily (which is awesome on its own - it reminds me of a Darjeeling, actually). It was actually the second brewing for this set of leaves, so the tea taste was quite mild compared to the masala, but it was delicious. I even gave some to my daughter Sophie, who drank it all up once it cooled down.
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