Tea Specialization?


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Tea Specialization?

Postby JRS22 » Aug 27th, '12, 15:20

I'm thinking about specialization for the tea drinker, not the tea farmer or merchant. My order of Korean tea samples from o5tea arrived in today's mail, and I'm now enjoying the 6th infusion of a balhyocha.

So where's my quandary? I have loads of sample packets of wuyi oolongs from the MTR and EOT. I have loads of sample packets and several bags of loose Puerh as well as maybe 2 bings from EOT, MTR and Seven Cups. Then there's the fragile Japanese greens, including 2 unopened bags of 2012 gyo, and a bit of Chinese greens. There are Teachatters who have become expert in one or two kinds do tea. Did you just not enjoy more varieties, or did you consciously choose to learn about your favorite, or end up as experts another way?

I don't need to be an expert, but I do want to learn enough to brew my teas with confidence that I'm getting maximum enjoyment out of them.
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Re: Tea Specialization?

Postby AdamMY » Aug 27th, '12, 15:33

I'm not sure I would consider myself an expert in any type of tea, but I think in part its what you like, and in part what you are set up to brew. Oddly enough when I started to feel I had teaware dedicated to certain types of tea, I felt more compelled to keep that type of tea around, and find more tea similar to it that I enjoy drinking.

In fact, while this might be a ban-able offense to say this, while I like to drink Japanese greens, I feel I am more compelled to keep drinking them, and drink them far more than I would really like to. A good deal of that comes from my love for Japanese teaware, most of which I prefer to use only for Japanese teas, so to use those pieces I need to buy Japanese tea. But just about all Japanese teas are green, and likely to go stale quicker, so when its open I need to drink it more often to finish it off. ( But then its gone, and I need to buy more.... lather, rinse, repeat).

Though you could also be right that there are some people that really only like one or two types of tea. A large portion of the forum loves puerh, and personally I rather dislike it, I really need to be in the right mood to drink it, and even then I often don't view it as a wonderful tea experience. In terms of learning about tea, while I am trying to do some extra curricular reading, I seem to mostly prefer learning through enjoying the tea, of course trying to appreciate how two teas differ and how that could possibly impact the taste.
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Re: Tea Specialization?

Postby debunix » Aug 28th, '12, 00:37

unrepentant tea omnivore here, no specialization, lots of teas on the shelves and in the drawers, but I just try to be extra careful about not over ordering the greens and green oolongs, and enjoy them all. I drink Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hawaiian and herbal teas from teawares from Japan, Korea, china, the Czech republic, Switzerland, New York, Colorado, New Mexico, California, and I think I'm missing at least one state.

The tea doesnt care where the Teaware is from, and the teawa doesn't care where the Teaware is from. Where it does get dicey is using thin-walled small teacups with very hot-brewed teas, or and being a little careful about keeping the flavors separate in teawares that are porous. Other than that, anything goes!
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Re: Tea Specialization?

Postby JRS22 » Aug 28th, '12, 07:41

I'm actually more interested in tea than teaware so I don't have AdamMY's issue about neglected teaware. I'm more concerned with doing justice to the wuyi oolongs and puerhs and, as of yesterday, balhyocha - optimal brewing for optimal enjoyment. I try not to translate the cost of a package of tea into the cost of an individual session, but in the back of my mind I know that handmade wuyi from EOT comes at a high cost in money and caffeine. If I brew it successfully it's money well spent, and caffeine that earns its stripes, but if I fail - well sadness all around.

I also spent most of yesterday reading "My Life in France" about Julia Childs. In the space of a few months she went from a casual student of cooking to someone who chose to dedicate her life to learning about and teaching french cooking. The idea of deepening knowledge in specific areas has appeal on an intellectual level, but when it's about tea it's also practical. That's why I'm curious about how other Teachatters approach it.
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Re: Tea Specialization?

Postby hopeofdawn » Aug 28th, '12, 11:52

For me, I think it depends on the tea. Cost is definitely an issue--I'm also a tea omnivore, but at the same time if I have a tea that cost more and/or I have less of, I'm more inclined to make drinking it a ritual, focusing on the brewing parameters and the like, savoring all the changes. Cheaper teas, I'll brew more casually, and drink while I'm distracted.

But for brewing all of them--green, oolong, other--Teachat has been an invaluable resource for me to learn about different brewing techniques to try. I don't always follow them to the letter--full-bore gongfu brewing is still a bit too strong for my palate with most teas--but what I learn here definitely informs my brewing process, and (I hope) results in better tea in the end. So while I don't really aspire to be a 'tea master' or expert of any kind, I definitely always want to learn and improve. Especially as I refine my palate and buy more expensive teas! :lol:
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Re: Tea Specialization?

Postby Chip » Aug 29th, '12, 20:55

Excellent topic!

JRS22 wrote:There are Teachatters who have become expert in one or two kinds do tea. Did you just not enjoy more varieties, or did you consciously choose to learn about your favorite, or end up as experts another way?

I don't need to be an expert, but I do want to learn enough to brew my teas with confidence that I'm getting maximum enjoyment out of them.

I am a variety junkie when it comes to tea ... though now with an acute focus and self control ... sort of.

I used to want to have every tea out there in every category, partly to live and learn with the tea experience of each selection ... but mostly for the sake of variety.

Sometimes we live and learn, sometimes we just live ... I was able to live and learn that having over 100 teas open at once was not the best way for me personally (back then samples were really hard to come by, so almost all purchases were 2-4 ounce domestic USA purchases). I became so stressed out over having so many teas open, I could almost hear them cry out as their freshness was fading. And to waste a single leaf to me seemed sacrilegious.

I realized I personally had to purposely make a choice from my experience thus far, choose a tea category and focus on that one category (and still dabble in all the other categories). I surprisingly quickly and easily decided on greens, all greens.

Suddenly the world of great Chinese greens began to open up to the West, and I dove in. And I was really loving it.

Then as chance would have it, Japanese greens suddenly began to come into my focus. I remember checking out the O-Cha site for the first time ever and after momentary disbelief thinking, "YES, I knew good Japanese greens were out there somewhere hidden from my view." My path suddenly became clear ... and as they say, the rest is history.

I am focused, but I definitely love to dabble as well.

This became my acute focus. I have always used the word "focused" to describe my interest, and "specialized" when describing vendors of personal interest. :mrgreen:
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Re: Tea Specialization?

Postby JRS22 » Aug 31st, '12, 14:31

Chip, great phrasing - I'm focused on certain teas but my vendors specialize in them.

So I looked around my tea supply and realized I could be relaxed about all the Puerh, and the wuyi samples. The open greens, on the other hand, worry me because I'm concerned about them getting old. So I decided that because i 'crave' the intensity of Japanese greens I'll hold off ordering more Chinese greens. Now I can spend my caffeine budget learning about wuyi oolong. It helps that although the days are still hot here in NJ the nights and mornings are cool enough for me to deal with boiling water.

In my cup this morning, 2011 Wuyi Yancha Ti Luo Han High Fired from The Mandarin Tea Room. One of 4 wuyi samples from MTR, so this will probably be my focus this week. If I drink a different one every day I should be able to remember the experience well enough to compare.
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Re: Tea Specialization?

Postby debunix » Aug 31st, '12, 16:19

JRS22 wrote:If I drink a different one every day I should be able to remember the experience well enough to compare.


I've found comparative tastings to be incredibly helpful in my explorations, and it isn't that hard to set up with two cheap matched gaiwans ($3.99 each at my chinatown tea shop), two cups, and two nice teas....

Image
Two Dragon Well teas by debunix, on Flickr

(you really don't need two gorgeous matched Petr Novak teacups either....but it's more fun with them.)
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Re: Tea Specialization?

Postby JRS22 » Aug 31st, '12, 17:48

I've done comparative tastings for Chinese greens. I have 2 glass Gaiwans plus some porcelain tasting sets. I hesitate to use them for wuyi oolongs in place of my 50 ml Yixing pot. In the interest of 'science' I could try the porcelain tasting sets.
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Re: Tea Specialization?

Postby debunix » Aug 31st, '12, 21:31

Why hesitate with the glass gaiwans? Shape/thinness makes scorched fingers too high a risk?

With the comparative tastings, I'm not necessary hoping to get every last nuance perfectly out of a tea, but rather, looking to get the comparison cleanly, and get an idea of what to do with the teas when I deal with them one by one in regular drinking sessions.
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Re: Tea Specialization?

Postby JRS22 » Sep 1st, '12, 10:30

debunix wrote:Why hesitate with the glass gaiwans? Shape/thinness makes scorched fingers too high a risk?


Yes!!! Especially when the recommended steep time is 1 second and I want a quick pour. And the porcelain tasting sets are gathering dust in the back of the cabinet.

debunix wrote:With the comparative tastings, I'm not necessary hoping to get every last nuance perfectly out of a tea, but rather, looking to get the comparison cleanly, and get an idea of what to do with the teas when I deal with them one by one in regular drinking sessions.


That's an excellent point. That loss of nuance is why I was avoiding the glass and porcelain.
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