Saturday, 4 December 2010
For those of you waiting on the edge of your seats, the tea tasting went rather well. I waited until people arrived before I even opened the vacuum-packed sacks of tea, and as a result I experienced the tea for the first time during the tasting. There were advantages and disadvantages to that, but I'm sure I'd do it the same way again.
The disadvantage was that I couldn't easily be the impartial observer. I was right in there as one of the guinea pigs being introduced to five new teas in one sitting. Not complaining. Far from it. The thing is that my attention was split between assessing the qualities of the tea and making the others' tasting experience as pleasurable as possible.
So I'll give you a quick overview of the teas right now, and then over the next few days or weeks I'll go back and try these different teas. In the stillness I'll be sure to get a better understanding/description of each one.
Caroline showed up first, and we always seem to have twice as many stories to tell each other than we have time for. As a result, she gets through half of a tale before I've interrupted her with half of one of my tales. It means that we often say goodbye at the end of meeting each other promising to pick up where we left off. This event was no exception. Caroline briefly told most of the story about how she got into tea. She's not much for black tea at all, so I opted for starting with the Kangra Oolong.
It wasn't new to Caroline that in some Asian cultures the first Oolong steeping is poured out in honour of one's ancestors. We joked about not wasting tea, and it's a good thing we didn't discard it because that first pot smelled too good. It tasted a bit light/unremarkable, which is why I want to go back and experiment with this tea in the near future. We did brew it a second time, but that was later in the tasting.
By then Monique and Peter arrived and I was eager to brew the Gopaldhara 2nd flush. I'm partial to these darker Darjeelings, and I wasn't disappointed. As I was pouring it, a few people admitted that they didn't normally drink much black tea. Immediately after my assurances that Darjeeling isn't typical black tea, they had a few sips and were convinced.
Monique and Peter
At about this time Caroline had to go, but Jarrod arrived and took her seat. The discussion veered toward the appearance of the leaves and the Grade specifications of Darjeeling. For example, this Gopaldhara 2nd flush is a FTGFOP, which stand for Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. Everyone was impressed with this tea, but I'd spent so much time talking about the differences between 1st, 2nd and Autumnal flushes that they were eager to move on to the next victim.
As long as we were speaking German, we had no problem with talking about the teas that were plucked most recently right after the rainy season. But as soon as I started saying 'autumnal', we got lost in a fit of giggles. They all knew the word autumn of course, but I have no idea why they thought 'autumnal' was so urkommisch. But they did. The Castleton Autumnal was also one I enjoyed, but didn't get much response from the others. There were no negative comments, but I seemed to be the only one who wanted to wax rhapsodic about its merits.
It was around then that we digressed entirely away from talking about tea. We kept drinking, but the conversation had a life of its own. It was really enjoyable, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the excellent tea was somehow responsible. As I served the Gopaldhara green, Peter told us stories of hitchhiking in the United States. At some point we got into a rather heated debate about how many grams were in a scoop of tea, so we had to get out the scale and compare the weight of the black and Oolong teas. When I think about how much tea and non-tea ground we covered in a few short hours, I'm amazed.
After a second steeping of the Oolong that we'd started with, I brewed the final tea. It was a Goomtee Pre Autumnal flush and the others were really taken by it. I thought the cup colour was much darker, but the taste wasn't nearly as complex as the other black tea we tried. It wasn't bad. Not at all. And maybe when I drink it on its own, I'll see it for its strengths. Like I said, I'll go back through these teas again in the near future and give them a more careful taste.
The whole ordeal was rather enjoyable. The best parts of it were the parts that could never be planned. The conversation was unquestionably Camellia sinensis-fueled. The company was exceptional, and I'd happily have any of these people over again and again.