Disrespect your tea

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Bok
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Tue Nov 26, 2019 7:45 pm

Disrespect your tea.

I mean it.

How often have you sat in awe and anxiousness in front of a supposedly very rare/precious/special tea in fear of messing up that tiny quantity you have? Sounds familiar?

I just recently experienced it again with that Tokusen Gyokuru. A tiny amount, expensive and unfamiliar terrain. Needless to say, my first rounds of brewing were filled with thoughts of ‘do I make it right?’ Similar experiences with rare and expensive samples of Yancha and other special teas I have been given over the years.

Luckily, in the last case I had copious amounts of Gyokuru to fool around with, in later rounds frankly disregarding conventional wisdom, amounts/temperatures and other parameters. The tea still turned out alright and often much better than per recommendation.

Yet high expectations due to special-ness had still not been met. Which got me thinking – maybe the bar was set too high and I would have been better off not to perceive the tea as special beforehand, which could easily end in disappointment or fooling myself into a selfulfilling promises, not being able to acknowledge that it is maybe not special in the first place, because it has to be special, right?

Which leads me to my conclusion of approaching any tea with disregard to its supposed background story. Treat any new tea as an unknown tea, where do not know anything. Brew it like you would based on leaf appearance, general kind of tea and past experiences. That way you keep an open and neutral mind of how to judge that tea.

These days, so many tea sellers garnish their mediocre teas with fancy stories and names, so many teas get pushed and hyped by dubious online-experts, it’s easy to get fooled and buy into it (not in any way referring to the above mentioned Gyokuru!).

Tea is just tea. The rest are stories and expectations.

Please share your thoughts.
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rdl
Posts: 67
Joined: Tue Jan 02, 2018 3:43 am

Tue Nov 26, 2019 9:08 pm

Bok,
Today the consensus seems to be that there is no need for blenders, editors, curators, anyone to decide based on their expertise and provide a set of recommendations. So I see your point going two ways. Either be a maverick and go your own way, or put aside personal knowledge and follow the basic given parameters. In either case I think your word choice of "disregard" is better than "disrespect."
I'm of the opinion that the stories, the hype, are good for enjoying as the subject of tea, but not for sitting down with and preparing and drinking tea. Your sense of intuition through knowledge seems to be very practical, but I would not disregard the producer's recommended starting point. However, I am interested in anyone's results regardless of how they went about getting tea in their cup.
I still give the respect of following a producer's or blender's suggested recommendations, and diverge to my liking.
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Bok
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Tue Nov 26, 2019 9:23 pm

@rdl fair points. I admit to putting the headline intentionally provocative to get a lively discussion :mrgreen:

If a vendor specifically recommends something (excluding the generic brewing advice put on many tea packs), it is maybe worth trying once if I do not know the particular kind of tea and see how it goes. More than the brewing itself, I wanted to point out how high expectations can taint our self confidence in getting a brew right.

Also, in my experience, the better the tea is in terms of quality, the less it matters how exactly you follow recs of time/ratios and heat. Good, especially organic tea, can take some punishing and negligence(with few exceptions). The tricky to brew teas are mid-low quality.
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rdl
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Tue Nov 26, 2019 9:47 pm

"More than the brewing itself, I wanted to point out how high expectations can taint our self confidence in getting a brew right."
Bok, those are the two sides of the fence that I like to keep sperated. If I focus on preparing tea, using a bit of intuition, a bit of the suggested guidelines, then that focus keeps the hype, the expectations at bay. The moment the hot water and tea encounter each other, what happens is very personal, as the tea reveals itself. To my main point, I won't go maverick, trying to ride the wide expectations and hype. It seems like you did, by going against the hype, with your Gyoukuro, and I am fascinated, but not convinced.
Pants404
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Location: Adelaide, Australia

Wed Nov 27, 2019 1:36 am

I too get nervous/anxious when it comes to trying renown or expensive teas and small samples, in fear of easily stepping out of the parameters of which the tea will perform well. This is exaggerated by the fact that I am still early on in my tea journey.
I do have my own experiences to fall back on with familiar types of teas, but when starting with something relatively new to me, like gyokuro, I am hesitant to be bold.
I do my best to disregard the hype or cost of some teas and just treat them like any other.

As a baker, out of principal, when I am making new breads for the first time I will always follow the recipe on every step and detail, even if I feel it may be a bit off. After the first attempt I confidently make adjustments to the recipe or process to get what I want out of the bread. This is both out of respect to the person who made the recipe, and so I have a starting point. (And if anything goes wrong I can blame somebody else :p)
I can apply this practice to tea that I get from o-cha because I feel their brewing advice is accurate and specific to each tea.
When I get a tea from another store that has generic recommendations I will completely disregard it and go from experience.
When the tea is a small sample that has been gifted to me then I will have to assess the dry leaf and make assumptions about temperature from what has worked with other teas, but will be cautious with time.

On a different note, when you said disrespect your tea the first thought I had before opening the topic was to try different things with familiar teas and really push them to find something new or different.
My favourite example would be a small amount of a chinese green tea that responded very well to flash steeps in a gaiwan with water straight off the boil. I can't recall what the tea was right now, but it brought out the deeper savoury notes, but no bitterness.
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Bok
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Wed Nov 27, 2019 2:32 am

@Pants404 what you say about trying unorthodox things, yes that is also part of it! Like me for example I used more gong fu like parameters and higher heat than recommended with a few Gyokuru, with favourable results (only the organic single origin G). I’ve heard of similar experiences for Sencha and using gong fu method and high heat.

Key is to keep an open mind and break the rules from time to time to double check preconceived notions.
carogust
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Wed Nov 27, 2019 4:57 am

The only way to perfect your brewing technique for a particular tea is to just drink a lot of it mindfully. Of course, with rare or expensive tea, only the 0.1% of the tea community will ever gain a throughout understanding of them like this. Maybe they're the only ones that will ever get to "properly" enjoy the top dollar stuff. Or maybe the enjoyment of the mystique and possibility of greatness is more than knowing the ins and outs of a tea? I can't say.

Anyways. In a particular genre of tea it might be very possible that you know more about how a tea should be prepared (or just know more in general) than the vendor.
And I think there is also a factor of familiarity. Even if a certain method is better than some else, it might be that you'll at first enjoy your old method more than the new one, as you're simply used to it.
Ethan Kurland
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Wed Nov 27, 2019 5:59 am

+1 to Bok's thoughts in general on this.

I don't believe we should be in awe of any tea to the point that we cannot be relaxed or willing to vary preparation (that is, play with it).

I also find it strange for people to give so much consideration to stories, worries about preparation, etc. for a particular tea when they are in possession of a tiny amount of it. If one wants to get a lot from a tea, then one must commit to it, own enough of it to experience it, not just b e exposed to it.

I would not want to go on a date with someone who has slotted an hour of her time for me, nor think that someone is going to judge a tea that I sell by an amount of tea that is not good for more than a few sessions.

Cheers
faj
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Wed Nov 27, 2019 6:49 am

Ethan Kurland wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 5:59 am
If one wants to get a lot from a tea, then one must commit to it, own enough of it to experience it, not just b e exposed to it.
Prima facie, this is true. Assuming you want to get the most out of tea X, you need to get experienced enough with it. Really exploring a tea (water, dosage, temperature, time, teapot...) is not something you can do quickly.

However, a tea drinker cannot explore all teas in depth. Even with an unlimited budget, there are just too many teas, and not enough time. So an important question is how to identify the teas to commit to? I think there is a rational basis for purchasing smaller amounts : it acts as a first-pass filter to weed out teas you are not interested in, in order to then concentrate on a smaller number that, hopefully, are more likely to be enjoyed.
Hmm
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Wed Nov 27, 2019 11:19 am

Ethan Kurland wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 5:59 am
If one wants to get a lot from a tea, then one must commit to it, own enough of it to experience it, not just b e exposed to it.
Hmm. Would you say that someone who has lots of experience with brewing decent but mediocre tea compared to something maybe Bok was trying to brew, would generally make better tasting tea with those leaves than someone who has no experience brewing a much more highly rated, rare, expensive tea?
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Bok
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Wed Nov 27, 2019 6:58 pm

Hmm wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 11:19 am
Ethan Kurland wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 5:59 am
If one wants to get a lot from a tea, then one must commit to it, own enough of it to experience it, not just b e exposed to it.
Hmm. Would you say that someone who has lots of experience with brewing decent but mediocre tea compared to something maybe Bok was trying to brew, would generally make better tasting tea with those leaves than someone who has no experience brewing a much more highly rated, rare, expensive tea?
I think it takes more experience to brew mediocre tea. The better the tea, the less it requires skill.
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Baisao
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Tue Dec 03, 2019 5:07 pm

I don’t think I’ve ever been nervous making a tea, even at $20+/gram. Ok, the exception is when hosting strangers but that’s more about social anxiety and focus than anxiety over the tea.

One thing I’ve learned is that intention appears in the cup. Two people can follow the same parameters but produce subtly different cups of tea depending on if one person was stressed/distracted/angry and the other was relaxed/focused/kind.

My guess is that this phenomenon is because of the mental state which we are in when we are drinking tea. If someone is distractedly making tea for me, it certainly doesn’t seem to taste the same as tea made with care. If I make tea while stressed, it also won’t be as enjoyable.

So while intention doesn’t literally appear in the cup, it can seem like it!

It works to the advantage of the tea preparer to remain calm and focused when making tea, even if daunting.
Ethan Kurland
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Fri Dec 06, 2019 12:51 am

Hmm wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 11:19 am
Ethan Kurland wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 5:59 am
If one wants to get a lot from a tea, then one must commit to it, own enough of it to experience it, not just b e exposed to it.
Hmm. Would you say that someone who has lots of experience with brewing decent but mediocre tea compared to something maybe Bok was trying to brew, would generally make better tasting tea with those leaves than someone who has no experience brewing a much more highly rated, rare, expensive tea?
Of course, experience should generally = a better chance for making better brews. Yet,

I remember Tenuki using boiling water for all teas which many of us would think is a mistake. He knew about suggestions for different temperatures for different teas but seemed very happy with his results. Perhaps his great experience led him to a state where his way was more of a happy way of life in regards to drinking tea that included an ability to enjoy what objectively might not always be "best" preparation which evolved to how be liked to act leading to results that for him were truly the best. Again SUBJECTIVITY leading to a perceived result, i.e. an "objective" best for some.

Experience & care do help for me. Teadoff gave me some average gaoshan that can easily be too harsh (bitterly green) but if prepared perfectly is enjoyable. Likewise for some oriental beauty from him, which if prepared perfectly is better than just good,, but otherwise is only fair ( too simple for an o.b.). (Either way, it helps me to realize how lucky I was to get the dynamic o.b. that I bought in quantity about a year ago.)
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