February 22, 2012
Not a lot of blog posting recently...as always, though, a lot of steady tea drinking. I've been thinking a lot recently about the phases we go through as tea aficionados. First, it's a lot of wide-eyed enthusiasm with a desire to try every tea we come across or hear about. After we learn a bit more and get better at differentiating between vendor fluff, hype, myths that have been repeated enough times that most people believe they're actually true...and something closer to the actual reality of the tea-producing and consuming world, we tend to mellow out a little bit. Meaning, we are a little more cautious about purchases and a continually growing body of personal experience guides both our decisions and our assessment of teas we drink. This seems to be where disillusionment sometimes starts to enter the picture--some people seem to start thinking that most tea out there is total shit when in reality part of what's going on is that the optimistic outlook and lack of experience that was present early on naturally tapers and similar teas don't seem as rosy as they originally did. Rather than heading down a cynic's path, I've started thinking that maybe this point of the evolution isn't such a disappointment or bad thing but should be celebrated as a nice place to be.
I think it's natural that for most of us, tea obsession will relax a bit as time goes on and only a small fraction of us will continue diving deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. Stéphane of Tea Masters is someone who immediately springs to mind--he and his impressive back catalog of writing and shared tea experience are proof that careful attention, contemplation and discipline will continuously reveal insight and rewards of all kinds. In reality, though, I think most of us have other interests or obligations that preclude the amount of commitment required to nurture such a passion. It seems especially true and demonstrable amongst tea bloggers as well that a flurry of early activity often gives way to long (even indefinite) periods of inactivity and silence. To me, this isn't a bad thing! Tea blogging for me has never been about trying to amass a multitude of followers, and quietness makes more sense than churning out endless reviews that begin to blur together--you can only express the same particulars of taste, complaints, and preferences you've developed as a tea lover so many times before it starts sounding like a broken record. How many times do I need to say I wish there were more and heavier charcoal roasted yan cha and dong ding oolongs out there before I never need to say it again? I think I'm there already! I'm a bigger fan of the Robbie Robertson approach to blogging; wait until you feel you've got something to say...if you've tapped the wellspring of insight and can post every other day, then great! If not, the bookends of silence will only make the quality of your observations stand out more!
Lately my tea life has continued in the same trajectory it's been going for a while. I make gong fu tea as part of a daily routine, finding joy in the fact that I'm taking about an hour to do something relatively quiet and contemplative, but never really encroaching on the other things I'm doing (which right now includes the bottomless time-pit of writing, demoing and recording another studio album). The different teas I drink are fewer and further between, but they mostly fit my personal tastes so drinking them is always pleasurable and I do it so often that I really get to know each tea across numerous sessions and the host of variables that always accompany each encounter. I've realized that one of my favorite aspects of this long-term and low-maintenance tea lifestyle is using and seasoning different yixing pots. I continue to occasionally purchase pots and feel more and more that getting to know a pot is just like getting to know a tea, and that the more you use one, the better you understand it and the more intuitive your relationship with the pot becomes. This plan basically consists of getting a pot and using the shit out of it for a few months at a time. I can usually tell if I want to keep using a pot after a few sessions, but there's a lot to be learned and to experience as you keep using a pot. The duan ni pot I have pictured here is only a few months old, but I've used it so much with yan cha and roasted Taiwan oolong that the patina is already getting quite noticeable--an evolution that's one of the most fun aspects of using one or two pots a lot. There's something about tea stains that just make a pot look better, especially when it reminds you of the relationship and experience you've shared with the object.
Using a new pot extensively does mean that the older pots don't get quite as much use. My favorite yan cha pot, for example, hasn't seen much use for a few months. Recently upon returning to it, though, I was reminded of the many aesthetic and practical reasons why it's one of my favorites and, consequently, how much I like or don't like some of my more recent yixing acquisitions. Though there's a lot to learn from trying a lot of different teapots (and goodness knows I've used a few), ultimately having good go-to pots is most important. For this and other reasons I'm again reminded that I'm a regular tea drinker first and an yixing collector second, and that it's again time to clear out some of the less-used pots in my collection. Yixing pots aren't meant to sit unused in a collection; they're functional, and especially the very old ones have already seen so many owners that it's foolish of me to presume that I should be the last--even if I keep them for the rest of my days. That, and being an independent musician isn't cheap! Good news for those of you who've recently asked about teaware sales--I'll be setting free a number of different pots of varying ages and prices, listed on the perennially-popular Teaware for Sale page. There are two new ones up there already--more to come over the next week or so (updated Feb. 24), so check back if you're interested. Here's hoping you're enjoying wherever you are in your own personal tea journey...