Are the best teas drunk by leading tea connoisseurs doomed to a life of dour appreciation and grim-faced stoic “enjoyment”? After a few noisy slurps, what happens when their qualities are haltingly whispered through obtuse observations of appreciation that leave the larger tea-drinking public recoiling from more serious teas and feeling a tad inferior about their own tea-drinking habits? Is lecturing the public about tea really the best way to increase their interest, experience, and appreciation of tea? Is there room for mirth in our tea-drinking adventures and does not taking a tea too seriously somehow lessen the integrity of the tea?
For the more dedicated tea drinker and those in the tea industry, tea can become an altar at which we worship at the Church of Our Lady of Camellia Sinensis. Tea philosophically becomes a religion and as is the case in many religions, a sense of humor about one’s practice is usually frowned upon by the tea church elders. “Thou shall” and “Thou shall not” appear all too frequently in tea doctrine as the joy and the life of the leaf are beaten down into rituals of practice over pleasure.
All of this questioning of point of view is not advocating turning a blind eye to matters of quality; after all, there is nothing humorous about a truly dreadful cup of tea. Yet, all things being equal, if a great tea in a somber package design is consumed in a very proper tea setting, does it taste better than the very same tea, prepared equally as well at a festive outdoor street corner stall? At what point do we have to consider which are qualities of the person versus qualities of the tea?
The image that accompanies this post is a package label for one of our Valentine’s Day teas – a very good Wuyi Mountain Oolong (our cheeky interpretation that the sturdy cliffs of Wuyi, the more oxidized leaf, and the long history of this tea reflect the concept of a wiry, old married couple). Despite other tea pairings, special packaging, romantic tea truffles, and other I-Heart-You tea offerings in our shop, the Old Married Couple’s tea is one of our best-selling items and it regularly returns people purchasing Wuyi Oolong in March after they were introduced to the tea through this lighthearted label. Once we’ve made customers smile and opened their minds to tea as a relaxed, positive experience, then the taste and, at a later point, the education will take their appreciation further.
If dogma has taken over your tea choices and if everything has to be prepared just perfectly in order for you to enjoy a cup of tea, maybe it is time to mix things up a little. Introduce a friend to tea, drink tea with children, embrace the tea-drinking rituals of other cultures, and smile while you are doing it. There will always be tea mountains to climb and many reverent moments in our tea drinking, but it is unlikely that those will happen each and every time we have a cup of tea. And that’s OK.