Unlearning dogmatic tea rules
Like learning anything, getting into tea has been as much about unlearning as anything else, even unlearning stuff I was SURE was good information.
Recently I brewed white tea at boiling for maybe the first time. It was delicious. Not bitter, not too astringent, no loss of flavor or fragrance. The most I can say is certain aspects were highlighted and others obscured, in equal measure, to the “correct” white tea brewing temperatures that I had learned (80-90c, usually 85c).
Over and over I find the “rules” of high quality tea being overstated, and rules often broken by the tea itself. Are there any dogmatisms you’ve unlearned, or have been surprised weren’t as important as you thought?
Agree with you. I think tea rules are good to have as a general guideline, but at the end of it all it boils down to personal preferences as well. It’s always good to experiment with tea leaf quantities and temperature, especially after you’re already comfortable enough with loose leaf teas in general. For me when I first started investing money into drinking quality teas a lot of it was about not spoiling the tea so I was scared to go outside of the “norm”, now I feel much more free to experiment and find what I like, even blend certain teas.
One thing that I have become more comfortable recently is drinking tea “grandpa-style”, whereas before I thought if I don’t do a full gongfucha ceremony I’m waisting the tea and not giving it my all. Now I’ve learned that some teas actually have deeper tastes and I enjoy more grandpa-style.
Rules by nature are over-generalised and guidelines by vendors are based on their own experience preferences.
Basically, it’s important to experiment and experience teas with your own preferences and brewing styles. For example, bud only teas vs. large leaf can make as much difference as processing style when considering brewing temp/times. Also, ancient tree leaves vs plantation leaves too.
If you like the result you get that is the important thing. All tea rules were made to be bent if not broken.
There is no hard rule about anything when it comes to tea. Ultimately, ones individual taste preferences should drive the brewing parameters, whether it be how much tea to use or temperature of water.
This doesn’t address the exact question, but I’m someone who tends to research my interests, become slightly snobby and elitist about them, etc.
I’ve discovered that the teas I usually enjoy the most are probably solidly “middle-class” teas. I enjoy a cut above the general supermarket tea, but can’t begin to tell you the difference between a spring harvest whatever or a properly aged something else, much less appreciate it.
I partly blame Teavana for this, but the hardest rule for me to unlearn was maintaining strict temperatures for different teas. Temperature has to be considered along with a number of other variables such as steep time, water to leaf ratio, etc. As an example, green tea can be brewed with water near boiling IF you flash steep it and you’re reinfusing after starting with cooler water.
One thing that’s getting missed here is that one person’s hard and fast rules are another person’s bad process. We can get the impression there are standard approaches from seeing brewing temperature tables, for example, especially when different versions of those seem to match up, and different vendors are making the same recommendations. When you look closer though the tables actually do vary. Then beyond that people using Gongfu brewing approaches (with those tables typically mapping to a Western approach) tend to be doing something else altogether, for example related to a boiling point water use only school of thought, and brewing grandpa style is something else again. For a long time I experimented with approaches and parameters in between Western and Gongfu ranges, hybrid styles, more or less. I don’t think I ever felt as grounded within one range of conventional wisdom as the question implies.
What I like about tea is that the way of preparation is less ‘scientific’ relative to brewing a cup of coffee. You’re more free to adjust the parameters to what your personal taste, mood, and the environment you’re in. There’s no perfect way, but that’s also what makes it complicated for beginners who want a simple set of rules to start. Simple rules are great for beginners. Otherwise it would be hard to digest, and discourage some to start their tea journey.
I agree that rules are made to be broken. I find that I make my own, which are often, though not always, based on something I researched or read. For example, I’ve pretty much standardized on a green tea steeping time and temp that is fairly by the book because it creates a cup of tea I like. When I first started drinking tea, I made green tea differently and I thought I hated it because it came out bitter. However, the white tea at lower temp gospel pretty much never works for me, and I while I often drink black tea using boiling water at 3 minutes, sometimes for a particular tea I’ll lower the temp slightly and extend the steeping time because I get a cup I enjoy more.
I tend to think of tea as like art. Whether you find it pleasing is the more important than whether it is “good” on an “objective” scale.