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I had a tea party the other day and ...

I looked to see if there were any previous threads on having a tea party (non-political), and this is what I came up with:

http://steepster.com/discuss/1113-requesting-help-planning-a-tea-party-pairing-food-and-tea
http://steepster.com/discuss/988-miss-manners-on-tea-parties
http://steepster.com/discuss/764-time-to-resurrect-the-tea-party

David @ Verdant Tea recently wrote a great article regarding tea parties (or ‘tea tasting’ as he calls it):
http://verdanttea.com/how-to-host-a-tea-tasting/

Still, there seems to be no ‘active’ thread to invite others to share anything about their experiences with a tea party they attended, hosted, etc. I personally have helped with at least three so far (someone else hosts—and provides some of the tea-ware and sweetener—but I manage all things that have to do with Tea). And so, I would like to share some details here of the tea parties I have had and hope others will do the same.

First off recruiting was fairly easy, as the men that have attended these ‘parties’ are a part of a men’s group (which I am a part of) which meets on a regular basis (although attending the tea party is not mandatory or anything like that). And, btw, we’re still brainstorming on some other name to call our gathering other than a ‘tea party’; stereotypes die hard, don’t they? Maybe ‘tea tasting’ would sit a little better with us …

The process of planning our party gets rolling once everyone agrees on a date (I usually have vague ideas of what I want to showcase at that point). Then, when it gets within a week or so of the party I begin to seriously ponder the teas I want to showcase (based on what I have, what I am ‘into’ at the moment, the season, the caffeine content of each tea—so far we have only met in the evening, but we have discussed the possibility of meeting during an afternoon—and what I think will ‘show’ best). Once it’s a few days before we meet I send out an e-mail with a ‘sketch’ of what I plan to showcase along with links to information about as many of the teas as I can find (to wet their appetites and to help set expectations).

Once the day arrives—and we are all there and get settled—I tell them the teas I hope to showcase (depending on how many steepings we end up enjoying, and various other factors, I don’t always get around to brewing up all of the Teas I want to); beforehand I display them on a table as prominently as I can (preferably within nicely-labeled, glass jars). I also tell them a few interesting side pieces of information about the class(es) of tea(s), and that often prompts them to then ask me some related questions. I may also tell them a little of what to expect from the flavor and aroma so as to help set expectations (for example, if someone has never tasted green tea before, I may tell them that it may taste very light and delicate as compared with the standard black teas they have likely had before).

Once that’s all taken care of I prepare to brew the first Tea. But before I brew up each individual Tea I first tell them a little about it (guys being guys, there’s often an ‘interesting’ side comment or two about the names of the teas—for example, you may be able to get a general idea of what the name ‘Dong Ding’ may bring up; remember those yummy foil-wrapped chocolate-covered cakes?) and then pass the dry tea around and invite them to look at it and smell it. Then I usually demonstrate how I measure it and tell them the time and temperature I will be aiming for (since I the temperature I measure in the pot while actually pouring the water is not always the one I am shooting for).

Once the water has reached the desired temperature, and after I pour it, I then tell them more about the Tea while it’s steeping; if I brew it in my glass Bodum I point out interesting things about how the leaves look—and move—along with the color of the liquor (usually against a white background to display the proper coloring). After I pour the tea into individual teacups (or decant the tea into another teapot) I walk around with the teapot with the leaves to allow them an opportunity to smell them. Only after that do I walk around to pour the tea into their teacups (or deliver each cup with the tea), and finally, we drink. Sugar and other sweetener(s) is(are) provided (our host usually has at least Stevia and sugar available; I don’t bring my Stevia extract that we use at home for our pots of tea as it’s very difficult to mete out enough extract for only a small cup of tea).

If they don’t offer it up (guys, again, being guys), I ask for opinions on the aroma and taste. One fun thing about doing tea parties is that someone always seems to find some interesting quality in the tea I never found before (I still wonder if I am a ‘non-taster’). At the end of the evening we discuss what the best Teas (or steepings of a particular Tea) were, and why; and then, sometimes, I elicit information from them to help me decide what to do for our next ‘gathering’. If I have lots of a certain Tea I showcased (or if someone requests some) I offer some to them to take home with them.

It’s funny that we don’t really spend much effort on making food available (the host usually has something simple—like cheese and crackers—if no one else decides to bring anything). I have decided not to bring any food, since I see my role as being in charge of the Tea; my wife recently told me she doesn’t understand why some of the other men don’t choose to bring anything; my response: we’re men; ’nough said. : )

Anyway, have any of you had (or been to) a tea party, or tea tasting, recently (or whenever)? If so, how did it go?

10 Replies

SimpliciTEA-Your tea tastings sound awesome!

I’ve hosted a number of tea parties and have done several lectures on tea tasting. Its really fun. For the parties, its really important to consider the guests personal preferences and experience with teas. For the lectures, I like to mix it up and I like to taste at least one flavored tea and at least one rare tea and at least 2 plain teas. For the lecture tastings, its usually focused around a theme. For instance, I’ve focused on a single origin (for example I’ve done African teas and I’ve also done Chinese teas), a category of tea (for example white teas, black teas or green teas), teas from uncommon origins (ex. Rwanda, Malawi, etc.), rare teas, best selling teas, etc. I usually start out with information on the topic and an introduction to tea and then move into discussing taste and how to taste teas. We spend a lot of time discussing tea tasting. Then we talk about the individual teas that I brought and taste them. I provide worksheets for writing down tasting notes. The worksheets have info on the tea, how I brewed it and has a grid. At the top I have the categories: Appearance & Smell/Aroma/Taste. On the side, Dry Leaf, Wet Leaf, and Liquor categories. Each work station has the dry leaves to examine, the wet leaves, and everyone gets a sample of the tea. They write down notes and after tasting a tea share their notes. I’ve been collecting the worksheets at the end of the lectures just because it is so interesting to see everyone’s notes. Its really interesting to see how differently people perceive the same tea from the same batch brewed the same way.

Awesome! I’d love to go to a lecture on tea tasting! I like the note idea (David @ Verdant Tea also mentions this in his article), and the grid! I hope you don’t mind if I incorporate some of these ideas into my next ‘tea tasting’. Thanks!

The lectures are super fun. Everyone seems to enjoy them and we have even been kicked out of a library because people were sticking around until after closing time to talk. Feel free to incorporate any ideas into your tastings. I have the worksheets document in Microsoft Word. I could email you one if you would like. Though it is super easy to reproduce. I just used Word’s Table. At some point I would like to write a tea tasting article.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done anything more than simple formatting in Word, so, sure, if you are willing to e-mail me the worksheet, that would be great. I have started following you, and if you start following me I can then PM you with my e-mail address. Thanks!

And good luck on writing a tea tasting article (I feel I am still just a beginner when it comes to the specifics of describing flavors).

ADDITION: It looks like you are already following me, so I just sent you a PM with my e-mail.

I sent out that email for you. Thanks, I just need to find some free time to sit down and finally write that article.

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Missy said

I’ve not been to a tea party but your description of what happens sounds pretty interesting. I can say Dylan and I almost have a tea party every night as we do many of the same things.

It is great that you both share a passion for Tea. Tea on!

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erik_s said

Thanks for posting this. My wife is starting a Fairy Tea Party business here in Bozeman and we’re looking for ideas on how to conduct grown up tastings as well as parties for kids.

You’re welcome.

I love the picture on your company’s homepage. Please let us know how the tea tastings go.

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I just realized it would be good to ‘do the numbers’ (as Kai Ryssdal on NPR’s Marketplace likes to say), or, give some of the details of our last tea tasting:

There were six men in attendance of various ages (ranging from roughly 40 to 70), races, sexual preferences, and socioeconomic backgrounds. I am proud to say this is not what I consider to be the demographic of the stereotypical tea party of forty years ago. : )

I showcased five teas (listed in order, such that the last one was not planned):

1) Life in Teacup’s Dong Ding Oolong traditional medium roast Competition Grade II (sample). We did four steepings; although many commented on how light the flavor was (I started the first steeping at 45 seconds) everyone seemed to enjoy both the flavor and the aroma; the second steeping was generally voted to be the best.

2) Jing Tea Shop’s 2011_ Huang Shan Mao Feng (four servings). I steeped this one only once to use it as a comparison point: I wanted to compare a 2011 year-old green tea with the fresh 2012 spring green teas. We all liked the flavor of this one.

3) Life in Teacup’s 2012 Frosty Spring Yunnan Roast Green (four servings). The temperature of the water came out hotter than I intended (190F), but I adjusted it as quickly as I could back down to about 180F. We all liked the first steeping, but the second was significantly weaker so I didn’t do a third (although I was planning to). I personally really like this tea (and normally get 3-4 good steepings out of it), so I think the temperature being too hot on the first steeping must have done something to affect the leaves (perhaps I scorched them?). I was a little bummed about this.

4) Life in Teacup’s 2012 Tong Cheng Small Orchid, semi-wild (four servings). I got two good steepings out of it, and because someone brought a fifth ‘guest tea’, I decided to stop at only two (I was also planning to do three steepings with this one). All agreed this Tea had good, fresh flavor and a pleasant floral aroma (although one man said he smelled collard greens; I loved hearing him say that, as my guess is this may only be the second time he has ever had loose-leaf green tea).

5) Unknown Tai Ping Hou Kui (roughly four servings). One man brought a big tin of Tai Ping Hou Kui for us to try, and since the tin was labeled in Chinese I couldn’t tell who the seller was or when was the year of harvest (nothing on the can displayed a number that would be a recent year), but he said he thought it was fresh when he got it as a gift about six months ago (so I am guessing it was probably harvested in 2011). This Tea was a joy for me to brew up and drink as I have only brewed up this Tea twice before (a version from Teavana), and the leaves of his tea were much longer and wider than the Teavana version I have. I brewed this Tea up twice, and we all liked it.

It seemed the Tai Ping Hou Kui and the Tong Cheng Small Orchid were the favorites. I think we all agreed that the Tong Cheng Small Orchid had the freshest smelling and brightest looking leaves.

We used four plain-white ceramic espresso cups and two small, wide-mouthed tea cups (or bowls, rather) to drink the tea in. Early on I decided to use small cups to drink the oolong in (since I only had a sample of it), and although I was planning to switch to using regular cups we ended up using the smaller ones for the green teas as well; it seemed to work out (for the last tea tasting we used standard 8-OZ cups and mugs) as those small cups made it much easier for us to enjoy sampling from a total of eleven steepings worth of tea (I’m sure our bladders appreciated that, too)! I steeped both teas loose using my new four-cup ceramic teapot for the oolong (decanting it into my glass Bodum) and my six-cup glass Bodum for the green teas (decanting into the ceramic teapot).

It took place in a comfortable living room and lasted from 7PM to roughly 9:30 PM.

Fun was had by all; well, at least I hope so. : – )

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