Fill the kettle, set it on the stove, and turn on the heat — these tasks have become almost second nature and certainly don’t need a lot of brain power, leaving the majority of my mental capacity to ponder. Time to engage in some deep thoughts.
Awhile back, I mentioned my French Lit class in college, but my study of French actually began in high school in my Freshman year. It helped me learn not only how to force word sounds through my nose, but also a general approach to new things that has served me well in my tea adventures.
Lesson 1 – Things aren’t always what they seem
French is a tricky language. Words aren’t pronounced the way they look to those of us who grew up speaking something sensible like ― oh, gee ― Swahili, or Thai, or even English. So, my very wise French teacher in my First Year French Class had a little trick up her sleeve. She always said the word first before having us see it. That way, we didn’t get a mispronunciation stuck in our heads.
Allez is pronounced “ah-LAY.” Croissant is pronounced “crwa-SAWHN.”
Where tea is concerned, this lesson is quite pertinent. Tasting a tea before knowing what kind it is can be somewhat freeing. You can enjoy it without thinking that it’s this or that and should be tasting a certain way. Also, looking at the leaves both before and after steeping doesn’t always reveal what the tea is all about.
Lesson 2 – Practice makes perfect
Getting all of those nasal sounds right took quite a bit of repetitious practice. I fairly drove people around me mad with my “Ohn… Ohn… Ohn… and Ahn… Ahn… Ahn…,” feeling the ridge of my nose all the while to detect a vibration that indicated the sound was being produced correctly.
For tea, steeping various teas numerous times gives you a real feel for how they should taste and the variations in water temperature and steeping times that can result in different flavor profiles. It gives you confidence and makes you sound knowledgeable.
Lesson 3 – Sounding good doesn’t mean much
Just being able to pronounce “bonjour” properly does not make me a denizen of the Champs Elysée. It can, however, make those denizens start rattling off a string of French back at me in response. “Eh, bien, vous parlez français. Blah blah blah blah…” (a true life experience when I visited Paris). This can lead to some less than communicative moments where not a lot of information gets exchanged.
Knowing some tea terminology is a great idea, but as soon as you start talking flushes and clonals and oxidation with a tea expert, you could find yourself getting a lot of technical tea info flying back at you. If that happens, you can always take the defensive posture of letting your eyes glaze over or even actually drifting off to sleep. Letting a light snoring sound emit from your slightly open mouth is a nice touch, too, but only use this for those tea experts who have gotten onto such a roll with their delving into tea intricacies that they are oblivious to your suffering.
The water is boiling
So much for the French lessons! The water is ready. Time to let the steeping begin. That wonderful blend of Ceylon and Assam is beckoning. Time to enjoy!
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