30 November 2011

You Always Remember Your First

The older you get, the less firsts there are to experience- or so it seems. This is a sad state.

What astounded me on my trip to the home of tea was experiencing so many new things, every single day, that I'd never even imagined I would. I'd dreamed about it, of course, but I also dream about waking up in a pile of money and Steve McQueen bringing me breakfast in bed (and neither of those have happened yet).

I didn't believe that I would ever be pulled into a room that was full of tea leaves quietly oxidizing. I could never have conjured the aroma of this process, both floral and green, complex and comforting as the scent of a beloved person, or even pictured the fading glossiness of the leaves as their moisture almost visibly evaporates.

As happens to me almost daily, I simply wasn't prepared. My initial peek at a little tea processing in an small, sparse room, just that first sniff of freshly picked Tieguanyin- it absolutely knocked me out.

I floated through the subsequent walk through the tea fields, the conversations of the farmers and buyers around me, even the sitting down and tea tasting itself.

I can't ever forget it.

14 November 2011

The Source

I'm still here.

What's kept me away from writing about tea, ironically, is working in it. It's immersed me in a way I never imagined a job could. I've been making, drinking and learning about tea in a way that finally starts to satisfy the long hunger for it.

And then, one week ago, I was in a tea field, at the top of San Lin She, in the middle of Taiwan. It was the culmination of trip to tea farms around there, northern Taiwan, and Fujian, China, and I'm still reeling from it.

Now, sitting at home, watching the sun rise over Brooklyn, I am sipping a cup of High Mountain Oolong from this field; the farmer handed me a bag of the leaves after I drank about 20 cups of it he brewed. All I could do was smile and say thank you (which was my only spoken interaction with all the incredibly talented farmers I met) but it was enough. I shouldn't have been astounded- I've made and shared tea with hundreds of people over this past year- but the act of preparing and drinking tea together is so achingly beautiful, welcoming yet intimate, that it's simply all you need to communicate.

Words almost cheapen it; pictures too, even. Describing or documenting an experience can take you out of it sooner than you're ready. Obviously I'm not quite recovered yet- I think part of me is still running between those serpentine bushes, waiting for the rest to come back. (The producers, though, I'm sure were glad to get rid of the crazy white girl rubbing her nose all over the plants.)

All I can do is make another cup of this tea, and let the unfolding taste and aroma- warm melted butter over sweet, green clover- take me there.