In my last post, I talked about culture shocks associated with tea, and in this post, I feel the need to talk to those just starting out on the tea path, and share some advice for the beginner. I often use the analogy of ascending a mountain when it comes to trying tea, which I rather like as it also conjures up the image of mountains covered in tea plants. If you approach your tea education in much the same way you would approach a lengthy mountain trek, you have the right idea.
The world of tea is vast, far too large to quickly acquire enough information to be knowledgeable about all the aspects of tea. Just as you cannot expect to conquer a range of mountains in one day, you cannot expect to learn everything there is to know about tea in a short span of time. Are you going to follow traditional styles of brewing the teas you are drinking as they would be made in their country of origin, or are you going to experiment to discover what works best for you? And will your focus be on the mountain ranges of China, Japan, and India, meaning you are likely sticking to true tea from the Camellia sinensis plant and its varieties, or will you begin with herbals and the like?
My advice is to begin your tea adventure by choosing just one mountain to climb – perhaps a Japanese tea mountain. Narrow your focus to an area that feels almost too specific, but will make it easier to explore a category and learn its intricacies. It helps to limit the amount of miscellaneous or conflicting information you come across.
Specificity improves brewing, since once you are able to lock in how to get consistently good results with a certain tea, you can change those parameters to adapt to specific environmental conditions or a flaw in a tea.
In short, just as you would pick one mountain to climb before starting another, conquer one tea before taking on the next.