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.


A Student Of Tea said...

Summer vacations still ahead of me, I have also started having those thoughts about what teas and teaware to take with me (and I don't think my wife would approve of a full gong fu equipment ...).
Doing just one tea in-depth seems like a real good idea, and comparing on return as well. I too feel that it takes time and repetition to really get to know a tea and to fine-tune one's brewing.

There is just that other part of me which immediately jumps in: "Wait a minute, what if you choose one that seems good now but turns out to be completely wrong-?!" So a second bag, maybe, to keep those fears at bay ...

Thanks for this insprirational post!


Bali villas said...

love your post...nice.

learning to pull radishes said...

"Kaua'i felt like the inside rim of that fair cup" -- what a perfect description! (was there a few years ago and you hit it spot on) I've often thought about sticking with just one tea for a length of time but usually jump for "something new" and so miss out on the kind of depth of experience you describe. I'm still working on "patience", but love the glimpse your post offers :)

Elliot Knapp said...

Thanks for dropping in, all!

I think the key is to stick with a tea you already know you like. I get nervous just thinking about the scenario you describe! Where are you vacationing?

I'm with you--always looking for a little variety. I don't think I'd be able to get monogamous with a tea without being in a traveling situation or being really hard up for cash! Still, it's a worthwhile learning experience when the chance rolls around!

tieguanyin said...

Hey Elliot,

Cool post. Interesting that you went with a yancha for your vacation. Given the climate in Hawai'i, I was thinking you would have brought something greener.

Out of curiosity, how do you get through security at airports when you bring your full set up? I can imagine the TSA folks are not too excited to be having to inspect your tetsubin and hot plate. How big is you tetsubin?



Elliot Knapp said...

Hi again TGY,

I may have brought something greener if I had it--no Gaoshan yet and my spring greens were still in the mail. The yancha did taste pretty intense a few times, but it's tea!

The only equipment I brought is what's in the picture--I can hardly imagine packing my tetsubin (which holds about a liter) for air travel. I guess I'd probably try to carry it on for safety. I did wonder what the x-ray might think about the bag of tea, onto which I had simply sharpied "Tea." Ah, TSA.