Today's Gongfoolery is taking a step outside of my usual tea science for a bit of esoteric examination. Mainly because the tea I need for the next part of my experiment has not arrived so I needed to improvise! The other day I sat outside and had a Matcha and realized all those things I have read in archaic texts on tea from China have a point, the environment in which you have tea changes the experience. Tea tastes different if you drink it in different places, and it has nothing to do with the tea really, it is all about the way your brain is perceiving things while there are different external stimuli. For me, tea tastes best when I am sitting at my tea desk and a storm rages outside!
So with that in mind I packed up my tea gear and took to my favorite spot in the yard to sit, under a redbud tree, one of the few shady spots with moss, it reminds me of being in Pennsylvania in this one small spot. I waited until the neighbors stopped their lawnwork and the noisy children to stop being noisy before I went out with my tea, hoping for as much nature and not suburban noises as possible...it was fairly short lived of course, but for a while it was just me, the wind, and the birds. I could not ask for a more beautiful day, warm sun, a pleasant breeze, fluffy clouds in the sky, and plenty of excitable grackles squawking nearby being very inquisitive as to what I was doing. I used my new green shiboridashi, a blue hat cup, and the ruyao chahai from Teaware.house, Ailaoshan Black from Yunnan Sourcing, and a double wall glass tumbler to bring hot water to the yard. I did not want to fight with a long extension cord and kettle.
The first thing I noticed is that the tea was not as sweet, a bit more watery, and had distinct notes of peony...which I conveniently was sitting next to, definitely a coincidence. The second steep was much the same, I found myself definitely paying more attention to the surroundings than the tea itself. All the colors, smells, and sounds that is the cacophony of suburban nature, it is a sensory load and that can be quite distracting from the intense experience of the tea. Even though the taste was not as intense as when I am sitting at my teadesk (where most noises, smells, and such I have learned to block out because that is the space I spend the most time in) the experience of being outside to do gongfu was spectacular! It was such a beautiful and peaceful experience, I found myself incredibly relaxed and introspective after the tea session was finished.
Now I find myself wondering, what would it be like to have tea in the mountains (as many pieces of classic tea art show) or at the sea where the waves would lull me into a very zen state, or for that matter, what would it be like to have tea in a completely minimalist tea room where the only sensory input I have is the tea? This of course made me think of my recent tea tasting event at the Midwest Tea Festival, I remember enjoying the aged Oolong and finding it enjoyable, but I could not describe in detail the taste as well as I could a tea I drank while in my tea area. In fact if you read Huang Long De's Discussion On Tea, you will see that his discussion on tea drinking companions, he advises that the best companions is oneself to cut down on distraction. However Xu Ci Shu in Explanatory Notes On Tea states that too many guests can become a cacophony, but a small group of friends who do not stand on ceremony can enhance the experience. For more snippets on how environment and crowds have been described in Chinese tea texts, The Ancient Art of Tea by Warren Peltier is a great starting point.
And now my dear tea friends, I have a question for you! What is your favorite environment for tea, and how have you found changing it changes the tea experience for you?