a tea's identity

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When tasting teas, my goal is to understand the identity of the tea as well as to get a grasp on the palate of the merchant, farmer or craftsperson from whom it was received.  Unearthing the identity of a tea is similar to developing a relationship with a new friend who has their own brand of humor, intelligence, light in the eyes, curve to the brow, and perhaps a uniquely asymmetrical smile. His gait is recognized from a distance by the slant of the shoulder and the jaunt in his walk. He strides like no one else on earth.

Artists like Rodin and Michaelangelo made their reputations by expressing the unique identities of their creations through the smallest details: how a palm braced a forehead in thought; how the finger reached to the sky; how the gaze bore a compatible expression to the hip. Crafting from stone or paint or sounds a whole greater than the sum total of parts, an artist creates not just a piece of sculpture or music, but an identity that people respond to.

For me, a tea's identity has parts to it also, whose unique notes and expressions unite as a greater whole. These include the aroma of the dry and wet leaf, the appearance of the leaves as they change from dry to first steeping and finally to their last infusion; the color of the tea and its liquor, and the way it dances (or doesn't) in the cup. Then there is taste, mouthfeel and rhythm. The taste alone is necessarily unrepeatable The wood, fruit, floral or grassy notes play in concert with each other as no other tea ever has or ever will again. Combine that also with the mouthfeel of the tea--how its silkiness, dryness or briskness reaches across the different parts of your tongue and down your throat, and the aroma that subsequently arises.

Even the sensations produced by the tea in your body will make their own special mark--waking you up or calming you, bringing you deeper inside yourself or more expressive to the world. Not unlike friends, teas will bring out something in you that  arises in response to no other.

This is what I love about tasting teas. Each is a new acquaintance with a gift and message all its own--its unique identity. And best of all, some will, over time, become better known and cherished friends.


tea people

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Trying to explain "tea people" to someone who is not a tea person is like trying to express what a rainbow looks like to someone who is color blind. In Japanese, it is sometimes stated that a person "has tea". This refers not to what is stocked in one's cupboard, but what is stored in one's heart and mind, and the actions that ensue. A person who "has tea" is a person who has a depth of character that exceeds commonly held values, and a person who behaves in cooperation with his or her deeper knowledge and understanding.

He or she might live handsomely or modestly, but at the heart of many tea people is a person who feels deeply and has a strong value system that includes an appreciation of nature, of friends and family, and of the arts and literature. (S)he knows that life is brief and moments fleeting, and so crafts a lifestyle that reflects this vision, from the quality of food that is consumed to the quality of company (s)he keeps.

The tea person has a relationship with tea that rivals religion, and often can't help evangelizing, trying to save those who can't see "the light" or "the rainbow". Eccentric?  Maybe yes. Informed? Probably. Engaged? Definitely. 

A person who "has tea" knows that kindness exceeds other values, and acts on same. Like any "true believer", a tea person might sometimes trip and fall, but never fails to ultimately find a way back to kindness--the greatest of all values perhaps, and a sign of greater wisdom as well. 

What I love about tea people is their passion, not only for tea, but for the finest things in life--namely family, friends, art, poetry, nature and simple kindness.

Just my two cents.
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When you buy a tea blend, much effort might have gone into providing a tea with a stable flavor profile from year to year. The teas that go into the blend sometimes come from different harvests and farms, and also from different countries. When you buy a major label brand tea, for example, the tea blenders know that you want to have the same taste experience from year to year. They take great pains to blend a tea that will provide this for you.

Contrarily, many tea connoisseurs value teas that are not blended, but come from one particular harvest, which means they come from the same country and farm as well. Teas such as this can change in taste pretty dramatically, not only from season to season, but even from one day's harvest to the next. What is offered from season to season and harvest to harvest has its own characteristics that cannot be duplicated, and for some of us, that is the point!

If you are such a tea person, you might be searching for "single estate" teas. These are teas that come from one tea garden.  The tea may come from different harvests (generally in the same season) , but the tea in your bag comes from the same farm. It is also possible to find "single harvest teas", which come from a particular day's picking.  Tasting a tea that is plucked on Thursday will necessarily taste slightly different than the tea that is plucked on Saturday.  It is quite educational to have the opportunity to taste teas plucked and processed on different days. They can be dramatically different in character, even when processed by the same farmer or tea master.

Then, there are "single trunk" or "single bush" teas. These are teas that often come from older, more mature, and "famous" tea trees, particularly Wuyi teas or Puerh teas coming from "ancient trees" in Yunnan, where tea originated.  In this case the tea in your bag comes from just one tree or bush. This is rare, indeed, and of course, the harvest from just one tree or bush will provide just a small amount of tea and so is more rare and difficult to obtain.

As a tea seller, I have had the opportunity to try teas from one harvest to the next, and the effort to buy the same tea twice can be frustrating. It has happened, for example, that I try to buy more of a harvest only to receive several pounds of tea that is a pale cousin to the tea I have been selling. In this case, I often have to eat the cost of my purchase. Even though the tea might be from the same farm and the same season, it is not at all the same tea, and my own standards won't allow me to sell a tea that I don't wholeheartedly believe in.

Thanks for your feedback, which keeps me alert not only to great new harvests but careful of teas that, while coming from the same farm and the same season, might not be the same harvest and therefore not quite make the cut. 
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Bon Teavant is truly inspired by the amazing qualities of Taiwanese high mountain oolongs. From the floral and fruity aromas of Alishan and Da Yu Ling to the mineral notes of Shan Lin Xi. there is something so special about these teas and I love to share them with friends.

polls

What do you think about organic teas?