I first began to really appreciate finer teas when I lived in Scotland for 4 months while studying abroad. My interest was only increased from there as my brother, who teaches English in China, started bringing home various teas for me each Summer.
It all started innocently enough, with basic tea bags from Twinings, the occasional flavored loose leaf from Adagio, and shared tea parties with friends who knew much more than I did about this drink. With time, I came to recognize just how much there was to know about tea and just how little I did know. With this realization came the drive to know more - oh so much more!
One of the first things I learned that surprised me was the fact that all (actual) tea is made from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis plant. The various teas will taste and look different as a result of how the leaves are processed, among other factors.
All tea is processed using variations on the steps of harvesting, withering, rolling, oxidizing, and drying/firing the tea leaves. Depending on the duration of each step, the number of times it is repeated, etc., the different tea types are born - White, Green, Black, Oolong, and Pu-erh. I won’t get into the exact processes for each tea type just here, but suffice it to say that it’s pretty darn amazing how varied the flavors of tea can be from the same exact plant!
In addition to learning some basics of what tea is, I also started learning how to recognize higher quality teas - how they look, smell, and taste. I suppose I began this learning process a little late, as I had already come home from visiting my aforementioned brother in China.
I took 2 weeks off work to fly out to China to visit and travel with my brother, Greg, during Spring Festival in 2011. The Spring Festival in China lasts around a month and culminates in the Chinese New Year, so the timing was both perfect and detrimental. Perfect in that I was there for one of the most important and exciting holidays of the Chinese year. Detrimental in that it was also the time of year that many shops, factories, and the like were closed down for holiday.
Despite this, Greg and I managed to hit a number of different cities and areas of China (everything from below freezing in Beijing to tropical weather in Jinghong). Naturally, the thing I enjoyed most was exploring the markets, finding tea shops, and tasting teas where I could.
I observed many different tea ceremonies in China and read more about them since. Some of what I saw was very similar to what I read, but most of the time, the individuals added their own flare, style, or personal touch to the experience. With the tea sets and tables I carried home from China, I have begun to find my own personal style when drinking tea. I am influenced by what I read, what I’ve seen, and what I feel about my tea, my day, and the company I keep.
*All photographs in this post were taken by me (Bria) on my iPhone