Fine Tea has so many parallels with fine wine, fine cigars and other indulgences. To experience tea in the most complete and satisfying manner, one has to start well before the taste. That is to experience tea in the first sense.
Good tea, single origin, single region or single estate tea that is fresh and of good quality, offers a very unique experience. It starts with the apearance of the tea and these 3 examples (a Ceylon OPA Special, FBOP and Low Elevation BOP1) demonstrate that to an extent. The image focusses on the OPA which has a special appearance, being wiry, twisted, black, and unfurling when brewed into a dark, coppery brown leaf.
Then there is the BOP which may not be sufficiently clear in this image, but is a much smaller leaf, more granular although certainly not the churlish CTC! Each has a very different appearance in dry form, which leads to that difference being more clearly demonstrated when the leaf is unfused, and finally even yielding very different liquors in the cup.
Chinese ‘tea philosopher’ Lu Yu had his own observations on quality in his beautifully eloquent description:
The best quality tea must have creases like the leather boot of Tartar horsemen, curl like the dewlap of a mighty bullock, unfold like a mist rising out of a ravine, gleam like a lake touched by a zephyr, and be wet and soft like a fine earth newly swept by rain.
Yet, there is so much more, for a thousand different forms of tea exist, depending in a beautiful synergy with climate and soil, on factors like wind, temperature, humidity, rainfall, sunshine, the art of the teamaker. The different appearance and texture of tea from different elevations and grades are the beginning of a story that continues through the infusion of tea and the act of brewing right through to the finale – tasting and savouring the brewed tea.
So many people who love tea miss this dimension which adds so much to the tea experience.