There are a couple of moments during my tea journey that forever changed the way I experienced tea. The first was circa 2009 when I randomly asked for a tea kettle and tea for Christmas. I was a heavy coffee-drinker during this time in my life (because college), so I must have wanted one just for aesthetics. But, when I received a shiny, red stovetop tea kettle and some Celestial Seasonings fruit tisanes for Christmas, I immediately became obsessed.
The second was when I discovered Adagio Teas, which would have been circa 2012. They made better tea more accessible and less intimidating when I was ready to step out of the grocery store aisles. And clearly, my love and sentimental attachment to the brand has never waned.
The third was when I discovered the Tea Leaf Project on YouTube as well as the tea community on Instagram, circa 2018. They inspired me to become more active in the tea community, and they challenged me to step out of my comfort zone to drink things I had never heard of.
The fourth, and most recent moment, was when I started brewing with my gaiwan. This blue-and-white, rice-patterned, 120mL beaut comes from CraftedLeaf Teas, a vendor I’m only slightly obsessed with right now because they also introduced me to unsmoked Lapsang Souchong.
I know this may sound silly, but there are teas that I find downright intimidating— largely puerhs, anything (intentionally) aged, or anything compressed into coins or cakes or tiny tea mountains. In my mind, these are the teas for people who know what they’re talking about when they talk about tea (ie. not me). I challenge myself to drink these teas anyway even though sometimes I feel like an imposter. And, because of my gaiwan (and the encouragement of others in the tea community), I think I’ve explored more tea in the past four months than I have in the past decade!
When I brew tea Western-style, I plop an infuser and tea leaves in my cup, and most of the time I’m lucky I don’t get too distracted by working or baby-wrangling that I end up with an over-steeped cup. It’s how I prepare my tea when I’m attempting to be productive or just trying to infuse my bloodstream with caffeine because #momfuel.
When I brew tea with my gaiwan though, I slow down. Like, way, way down. I weigh, observe, and smell the dry tea leaves. I slide them into the warm gaiwan and give them a shake to release more fragrances that I would have missed otherwise. And then I start steeping, taking breaks between each infusion to smell both the lid and the wet leaves, to note the color of the liquor, and of course to taste the tea. These sessions easily last an hour, sometimes longer if Oliver is preoccupied enough by puzzles and books. Okay…fine…and Sesame Street; let’s be real and transparent here. Practicing with my gaiwan becomes almost meditative– a lesson in being present and in mindfulness, where I drink tea with all of my senses.
Shou puerhs, which previously tasted funky and like how the animal pens at the county farm smelled, suddenly tasted like petrichor and baked bread and the vanilla-smell of old books. Bi Luo Chun, which (dare I say it) I was largely indifferent towards, revealed layers of honeysuckle florals, a delicate nuttiness, and buttery edamame. Mi Lan Dancong, which had always been an interesting blend of malt and floral, suddenly tasted like a spoonful of honey in early infusions. And, don’t even get me started on the Jin Jun Mei I tried for the first time a few weeks ago– honey, malt, cocoa, honeydew melon, and grapes all packed in one tea. How?!
My love for this vessel was immediate. And although I am still a novice at practicing gongfu cha (or drinking tea, in general), I am now one of those people who always encourages others who are showing interest in using a gaiwan for the first time. (Do iiiiiiit!)
What are some of the tea experiences in your life that greatly impacted your relationship with tea?