I recently have been going on line and visiting some of the tea chat lines. I’ve been amazed at the huge amount of information available and the high level of sophistication that some of these chat rooms have attained.

It seems that we tea drinkers are really getting knowledgeable and sharing the information (some of which is a little questionable but much of which is right on target). Enticing statements such as “Tung Ting Oolongs with background notes similar to those found in last years early Chardonay” abound in some of these conversations. Wow, that’s a bit more difficult to grasp than, “they have the best berry flavorings”.

The level of conversation in these chat rooms is sometimes so abstract that I wonder what the novice tea drinker might be thinking while reading this same information. I remember my first few years of serious tea drinking and the intimidation I felt at times, I wish we had had the internet then! Actually, I remember clearly thinking that I simply would never really get teas the way some people seem to get them.

Then I had a revelation, actually a good friend revealed a tea secret to me. “They’re just a bunch of dried leaves” he said. I was shocked and wanted to reply by telling him, “no, they’re so mysterious, it takes forever to learn about them”, but before I could respond he opened the teapot, scooped out a finger full of soggy leaves and plopped them down on a saucer. “See” he said, “just leaves”. Thus my real education in the appreciation of teas began.

Novices, chins up, my friend was absolutely correct. It’s great to wax poetic about the subtleties of the aromas and flavors found in our magnificent teas but the secret to understanding and appreciating these subtleties is no magic. We’re all on the learning curve and we all start at the beginning. For me the beginning was coming to terms with the fact that yes, they’re just leaves. Once I really got that, I could not wait to look at the steeped tea leaves in the bottom of my pot or cup.

Inspecting tea leaves, dry and already steeped, feeling them, unraveling them, inhaling their wonderous aromas and checking to determine their oxidation level has provided me with more information about teas than any other single daily action I have taken to learn about this terrific beverage. The mystery began to unravel once I realized “They’re Only Leaves”.