Have you ever lifted a cup of hot tea to your lips, took a big gulp and — Yow! — got a scalded tongue? Never happened to me. Uh uh, no way, those stories are totally untrue. Well, okay, there was this one time… oh, and then that other instance… but I’m a lot more observant now!
Many of you can probably already detect the signs that the molten lava in your cup is a tad dangerous to imbibe until some cooling has taken place. You can feel the heat just by lifting the cup. You may even see a bit of steam. As it gets close to your lips, if you’re paying attention, you can sense the heat and say, “Nope, too hot!” and set the cup back down at a safe distance.
Preventing scalded tongues is just one reason to be an observant tea drinker. Increased appreciation of the tea you are drinking is another. Considering that some of the teas out there regarded as the more high quality cost a pretty penny, getting the most out of every drop is essential.
As an artist, I can’t help but tout the pleasures of the tea leaves, both in their dry state before steeping and after they have danced their dance with those lovely molecules of water in the pot. The color, the size and shape of the leaf pieces, and the aroma are all worthy of the observant tea drinker’s attention.
Tie Kuan Yin is little curled leaves that look like little snails and are brown with goldish streaks. Sencha is composed of bright green, flat and thin tea leaf pieces. A nice black Ceylon can often be whole leaf pieces that are very dark brown and are almost twig-like in appearance. Snow Dragon, a Chinese white tea, has corkscrew shaped leaves in a silvery green color. Many more examples exist, each a real delight to the eyes.
Different teas call for different steeping times and temperatures, sometimes even different teawares. One of my favorite ways to steep is in a glass teapot so the leaves plumping, unfurling, and otherwise interacting with the water can be a visual treat. Blooming teas are especially nice for this. They can do a dance in the water, sometimes even turning upside down, as they absorb those H2O molecules and become heavier. Then, they sink in the water while continuing to open.
Decanting is not only necessary but can be a great chance to observe the tea. First, you can smell the aroma in the steeping vessel (kyusu, teapot, gaiwan, etc.). Then, you can see the color of the tea liquid as you pour it into a serving vessel or into cups. Don’t miss the sight of the spent leaves, often several times larger than when they were dry. Lastly, after observing that the tea had achieved a temperature cool enough to avoid scalding but not so cool as to not impart its proper flavors to you, take a sip or two.
Have an observant tea time and get the most from your tea experience. Enjoy!
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