21 May 2013

On Loneliness, Desire and Hand-Rolled Gyokuro

The longer you're in a city, the more alone you feel. I don't think it's necessarily in a bad way- it's just inevitable that as you're surrounded by people every day, you're faced with how many of them you don't know. It's not an unnatural state, but it can at times lead to a feeling of missing out or wanting to be somewhere else. Just a few blocks away something better must be happening.

So when I do find myself lost in an engaging experience and not thinking of anything else, I relish it. Such was a tasting I had recently with a few friends that I met through tea (the kind of people you can sit around with and talk about leaf varietals for a half hour, and realize that no one is melting from boredom).

And while I am utterly surrounded by tea at work- no, I'm not complaining about that- it's always a treat when something new shows up, like this hand-rolled (or temomi) gyokuro from Yame, Japan, that we had. The matte tone of the elegant, needle-shaped leaves is due to this process; even though these producers could easily break you in half, human hands can't produce the same amount of friction or pressure as a machine (but it sounds way cooler).

I'm a sucker for gyokuro, since it's the tea that got me into this whole mess, but I've rarely had a hand-rolled variety. This one had its characteristic powerful, brothy intensity with salty, bittersweet flavors that last far longer than you think possible. As one of my friends described it, it tasted like it had no beginning or end- it was like stepping into the middle of a plot and being told, "figure it out, kid."

We tried some Japanese black tea as well, which makes up less than 1% of the country's tea production. This one was from Mie Prefecture, near Kyoto, and when my friend asked the farmer why he started making black tea, he replied because he liked it- probably the best reason to do anything.

The flavor was full and somewhat astringent, like a strong Ceylon, but the smell of the leaves and the liquor were unmistakeably Japanese (deep green, seaweedy). Interesting to taste, but it's still hard for me to drink non-green Japanese tea. It almost feels like going to a steakhouse as a vegetarian- sure, the potatoes can be good, but you're kind of missing the point.

Maybe a little missing out is good, though. Satisfaction can so easily lead to stasis.