May 16, 2011

Tea on Vacation

Kaua'i felt like the inside rim of that fair cup.

Whenever I leave home for more than a couple of days I end up having to deal with the tea issue--how much and which kinds to pack (if any), what type of equipment to bring, etc.  If I'm going somewhere to work I'll often bring the whole setup (tetsubin, hotplate, multiple teas and yixing wares), but probably more often I'll just bring a bag of everyday yancha to quickly throw in a mug with some hot water.  Unsurprisingly, most of my traveling companions and family members aren't too jazzed about an hour-plus gongfu tea session every morning.

I was fortunate enough to return to Hawai'i (Kaua'i) last week for the second time in a year--luckily this time the place I was staying had an actual range and kettle, rather than a microwave for heating the water!  I decided to bring an yixing pot and a bag of some decent Da Hong Pao, which I drank every morning for a week.  My usual tea ritual involves a lot of variety, switching between oolongs most mornings, with maybe a pu-erh in the afternoon, so committing to a single tea for a week is an interesting proposition--brewing the same tea over and over gives a better overall assessment of its characteristics, as any brewing inconsistencies tend to average out and sensory faculties get multiple chances to experience the tea.  I've been meaning to explore these issues more for a while because of some troubling patterns I've begun sensing in the tea world, but I'm not sure this is the place to address them full-on.

Anyway, returning home it was interesting to see the difference in how yancha (a different one) tasted from one to which I'd become accustomed for a week--due to the difference in tea (it's a bit older and a different cultivar), water and water preparation, it was noticeably softer in the mouth, mellower and less bitter.  I probably should have tried the tea I'd been drinking to really see how big a difference the equipment and water were making.  It's easy not to notice the small differences when you're switching from, say, a Dong-Ding to a yancha, and this kind of experiment is a good reminder of what sets similar teas apart from each other.  I wish I had fresh papaya to eat every morning after tea...but I won't miss waking up with an 8" poisonous centipede in the bed.