I really only started drinking tea in the mid nineties. I had had all sorts of normal or cheap black and red teas but never the green, never the oolong or the pu’er. I started because I used to have loads of free time. I had a few friends that liked the brew, so I found myself in a teahouse as many as five nights a week. A couple of house owners even got to know me by name. I went often but tried not to fall into a routine, so I was no slave to any variety in particular. I tried out as many different kinds as I could. One friend told me that it was good to switch according to the season anyway. It took a long time. The tea menu was much longer than expected. There are loads of different teas out there. I tried to get through, remembered certain types, forgot many, but learned a lot regardless. In the process of sipping this kind from that place and that grade from this location, I began to appreciate the shape of the leaves, the subtle color differences between the exceptional and the average, the quality of the earthenware, and the texture and temperature of the water. I was even treated to the finest stock. On one occasion, a friend reached into his little pouch and pulled out a tiny ziplock bag with just enough leaves to brew one little pot. That was what green tea was supposed to be like. On another, the professor used his pick to break off a small chunk. Under the magnifying glass, I could see large crystal-like structures growing on the fermented leaves. That was pu’er that had been stored for well over thirty years. He brewed it in a vessel the size of a child’s fist. The pot was close to two hundred years old. I warn you all that the tea business is nothing to be looked at lightly.
March brings the finest new green tea which can fetch more than gold. Pu’er tea that has been picked at the right spot and stored in the most proper rafters is even pricier. It takes the most apt student years to learn how to pour it just right. Tea is expensive, and it should be handled with care. On the other hand, being a casual drinker takes little more than an afternoon and a small handful of kuai. And no one looks down their nose at you if you don’t hold the cup the right way or spit the leaves. Teahouses are everywhere. I can even get Wifi in some of these places now. Then again, after an exceptionally cold snap, the weather is getting better once again. I can finally sit outside and have a sip. Nothing’s better than a cup of tea on a park bench at sunset after a long day in the office. That, of course, and the March tea issue of MORE magazine.
By Tim Hoerle