Like a dream it arrived and then was over and now I’m home. I wish I could reconstruct the experience of World Tea Expo in order to give you a picture of what actually happened and when. At moments it was elating, challenging, fascinating, funny and puzzling.
Every time I try to reassemble the days chronologically, however, my brain resists. This year, my reports will be based on random observations, capricious interludes and impressions. Quite unlike me really not to approach my reports with regard to timing, “this happened here at this time with this person…”. Timing doesn’t matter, what matters at the heart of it all is information, knowledge and impressions.
The Abstract Expressionism of Tea Tasting
The idea for an organic approach to expo reporting came to me while reflecting on Kevin Gascoyne’s tasting session, “Let’s Get Visceral”, a tasting of rare and aged Wulongs (Oolongs). He asked us to set aside our formal tasting vocabularies and instead rely on, well, our gut reactions. Having several decades of tea tasting experience, Kevin is fluent in professional tea tasting language, but chose instead to have us offer up our reactions as a sort of free-association, within a set of criteria. I took a few pictures, but really you don’t need to see another pic of a plastic tea cup, dry leaf and wet leaf. That’s not what this sensory workshop was about.
The build up began when we discovered that the names of the teas and their origins would be withheld until Kevin was satisfied that we had explored texture, attack, structure and then flavour. As we sipped and slurped he invited us to first describe texture. Words like greasy, dense, soft, clear, bubbled into the conversation. This is not how I normally approach tasting, but it was liberating – a sort of abstract expressionism approach to tasting tea. My table mate decribed one of the teas as “coquettish”.
Most people came for Kevin’s rare Wulongs and they weren’t disappointed. We tasted seven in total, all from Camellia Sinensis Tea House in Montreal, Canada. Six were identifiably Wulongs with one “intruder” Darjeeling, which some might argue is technically not fully oxidised due to a “hard wither” where, because of high elevations, parts of the fresh leaves dry quickly even before they reach the oxidation trough.
Rare and Aged Wulongs:
- Gaba Cha: Gaba stands for Gamma-aminobutyric acid. To understand better the background of this tea, read this good article that Kevin wrote for The Tea House Times last year.
- Chi Ye from Guangdong, China. We learned that Kevin likes to use straight sided tea pots for infusing this Wulong as it seems to allow the large leaves the expansion they require.
- Intruder – Darjeeling 1st flush, Thurbo Tea Garden, AV2 cultivar, grown at 1850Metres
- Bai Rui Xiang, a Wuyi from Fujian
- Ping Lin Bao Zhong, Taiwan.
- Ali Shan, 1999 Charcoal (re-roasted every two years)
- Bai Hao, (Oriental Beauty) 2013, Taiwan
Tea may not stimulate the pleasure centres of our brains, but there is no denying that it’s effect on our palates and the delight that we feel when we taste something of rare quality is satisfying in the highest degree. I’m working on expanding my catalogue of taste descriptors, letting loose some analogies and metaphors. When I next see Kevin, probably at the Camellia Sinensis Summer School, I’m going to dare him to adapt sports metaphors, genres of music or even investment jargon as taste descriptors. I know he’ll be up for the challenge!