Quality Time with One Tea
My daily tea drinking life is usually defined by slogging through samples in an effort to unearth new puer teas worthy of putting on my website. This sampling is akin to packing a week full of dinner dates with strangers. You meet some new people, most of them are nice folks, and some are jerks. The dating process is grueling and finding a lifelong friend is not an easy task. How many people are any of us truly close with?
We all have that friend who lives 20 minutes away that you only see 5 times a year. You think to yourself, “Bob lives just across town, I can see him anytime!” You both live busy lives. Maybe you catch lunch once in awhile. But, if you don’t meet him, what’s the rush? He’ll be there later. This is how I am with a lot of my puer teas. What’s the hurry? They get better with age anyway!
This was not the case with the Ippodo Shincha, which came with a clock attached. It said, “I am only in town for a few weeks. Let’s enjoy our time together and then I will be gone.” This added urgency turned my lax attitude into a Before Sunrise scenario. All I could do was enjoy the time the Shincha and I had together. In situations where two lovers have limited time, feelings get deep quick. (By the way, if you have not watched the trilogy Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, watch them. In succession. Bring tissues.)
It took me about two and a half weeks to explore this “medium sized can” of tea, and at the beginning I was out of my element. I have not had any formal training in brewing Japanese greens, so I searched online for recommendations and tried different brewing times, temperatures, and water ratios until I found one that fit my taste. Brewing Japanese green teas takes more finesse than puer tea. In my first several sessions, I tried to follow Ippodo’s enclosed instructions very closely, but I was either too brutish or didn’t apply enough pressure, and the results were a loss of the peripheral flavors of the tea. With puer, you still need to have your gongfu brewing skills down, but you have a little room for error. Japanese green tea responds to missteps in the dance with winces of pain. When you step on toes, your partner alerts you with a spiteful glare.
After several days, the dance became fluid and we learned how to move together. Day after day of the same tea gave me a deeper perspective into the subtleties of what the tea could do for me and what I could do for it.
Imagine a tall tree with a thick trunk on top of a hill. This tree is the beany, vegetal flavor that stands tall in the center of the Shincha’s flavor. Up in the branches of the tree, there live little birds and squirrels. These tiny flavors dart in and out of the branches and circle around the trunk of the giant tree. There are sweet fruity birds that can be coaxed out of their nests to play in a backdrop of the tea’s calm clarity. A residual tangy sweetness was left in the mouth after each cup.
The Shincha had three steeps of life in it, with the subsequent steeps being too weak to follow. An opening steep; the light entry. A second steep; where the animals came out to play. And a third steep; the wave goodbye. At least, that is how I brewed it. Everyday with the Shincha offered something a little different, especially while I tweeked my brewing habits. After each session a long sweetness lingered in my mouth, along with the memories of the tea.
The extended time with a single tea helped build a lasting relationship. I look forward to next year’s visit.