October 2, 2009

Ineffability


Here I am, sipping pu-erh, listening to L'Apprendista by Stormy Six. Italian beat-turned-avant-garde rockers, soon to be a member of the Rock In Opposition movement alongside the leg-endary Henry Cow. Lots of contrapuntal saxophone, acoustic guitar, vibes, and rounded Italian vocals--kind of like Gentle Giant, but a bit less twiddly. It's a nice complement to the little pu-erh head cloud I'm floating in at the moment.

Why all the jabbering about obscure music that nobody cares about? Lately I keep thinking more and more that, for me, tea drinking is a personal experience to the point of being incommunicable--and I think that's just what I like about it. Just like throwing an album on and letting it bounce around inside your head, drinking tea is ultimately ineffable experience. I could (and sometimes do, for communication's sake) sit here and grasp at fruits, flowers, and plants that a tea tasted like, but it'd only be a doomed attempt to describe feelings and sensations that exist only in short moments, and uniquely at that.

Take this aged Wuyi Yen Cha from Wisteria Tea House in Taipei, another kind gift from a fellow tea drinker. These blistered, careworn leaves begot a dark brown liquor with just a hint of redness--neither quite like a young Wuyi tea nor quite like an aged Taiwan oolong, but reminiscent of both. The mouthfeel was so much smoother and rounder than most Yen Cha I've been drinking lately, and the flavor so much mellower and more pungent. I could call it fruity, since that's the word most people use to describe the peculiar taste of aged oolong, but truthfully from me it would be a misrepresentation. To me, the tea tastes like aged Wuyi oolong, and it's hard to get more specific than that! If I wanted to taste fruit, I'd eat fruit--this is tea, and it tastes great (thanks again for the sample)! Isn't that what keeps us all coming back for more? These teas offer flavors and sensations that can't be found anywhere else? It calls to mind a rapturous mystical ode to the Way found in my favorite chapter of Zhuangzi:
Joy, anger, grief, delight, worry, regret, fickleness, inflexibility, modesty, willfulness, candor, insolence—music from empty holes, mushrooms springing up in dampness, day and night replacing each other before us, and no one knows where they sprout from. Let it be! Let it be! [It is enough that] morning and evening we have them, and they are the means by which we live. (32-33, Watson transl.)
The confluence of sensation in a good pot of tea is truly ineffable, and the best cups leave me completely unwilling to attempt to cage the experience with words or do anything but sit dumbfounded and hope the next steeping is just as strong. Let it be! And yet here we all are, writing and reading about tea...every good mystic yearns to share the feeling, I guess. Here's to that unrepeatable cup of tea.

4 comments:

Jason Witt said...

Let it be. That's a sentiment of mine and why I don't do a blog reviewing teas. My message is more about the spiritual experience of tea so its taste isn't the most important focus for me. But I do like to talk about how other people describe their experiences tasting tea. It's fun to learn and imagine. --Teaternity

marlena said...

I am so glad you wrote this - sometimes I really struggle to describe a tea smell or taste. "It tastes like really good tippy Yunan, it smells like an early harvest Darjeeling" Not specific, but I know what I mean. Makes me feel better that you have so eloquently written about this.

Maitre_Tea said...

"If I wanted to taste fruit, I'd eat fruit--this is tea"

That seems awfully familiar...have you heard/read George Carlin's thing on fruit-flavored teas?

Zero the Hero said...

Hi Jason and Marlena,
Thanks for stopping by!

Maitre Tea,
Yeah, after I wrote that, I thought 'That really sounds like what George Carlin says in that one bit..." I decided to keep it because it's just so true. Why pursue a flavor that's completely separate from whatever you're consuming is ridiculous, but that's what some people are looking for in tea. I guess most great comedy is great because people identify with it. The point is, most of the time for me, the flavor of tea is irreplaceable, and that's what keeps me coming back.