As someone that has done a fair amount of content on tea, I have a lot of mixed thoughts on the way information is passed. With tea reviews or discussing a specific tea I have struggled with the question: how to talk about an individual tea or tea in general in an interesting or useful way.. Whether you like or dislike TeaDB episodes largely depends on whether you enjoy watching two particular people drink and banter. This is fine enough and it is certainly fun for Denny & I to create, but I’ll also agree with the sentiment that it’s not necessarily the most substantive way to review a tea in depth. There’s some signal but there’s also a lot of noise. Writing about a specific tea also isn’t easy and I think is actually very difficult to execute in a way that is actually consistently interesting or useful for people. Most people just want to know if you liked or didn’t like a specific tea. Making something that piques interest beyond that is a challenge and even if you don’t like them a place like Mei Leaf has succeeded in creating content that really does engage their viewers. You also have to consider that the majority of people have not had the tea or are even unfamiliar with the basic taste profile (i.e. Denny & I describing a traditionally stored pu’erh, when the audience has never had one).. Here are some phrases I dislike and hear frequently enough that I find them unhelpful and sometimes even counter-productive when given to beginners as advice.
Age the Tea You Like to Drink Now
I think the best thing to do is to just choose tea that you enjoy drinking now. If it’s good now, it’s probably only going to get better. I’d much rather have something nice to drink than something that’s too rough to drink now, hoping that it becomes good later.
This sounds great and is probably comforting for those struggling over a growing list of eight teas trying to figure out what to buy. Find a tea you like and age it! This advice works much better if you change the “age” to “drink. And sure of course a lot of tea that you think tastes good can age well.
But in my opinion, this is too reductionist and lacks any real substantive backing. Why? Tea that tastes good to you now may not age well.. For instance if you like soft, floral young shengs brewed at 175F, should that be the tea you buy a tong to age for a decade? No way.. Most tea producers are well-aware that many of their products are consumed young. This creates an incentive to sell something that tastes and smells great now. Will it be better later? Maybe?
Conversely, there are a lot of characteristics in tea that will may allow it to age well that don’t necessarily make it pleasant to drink. Much of what we know about famous teas also tells us that people certainly weren’t raving about drinking the 1950s Hongyin or 1980s/1990s 7542 when they were young and those turned out pretty OK. Enjoying a tea now is good (it is nice to drink things that taste good!), but is also no guarantee that you will enjoy the tea as much in the future. This advice sounds great, but in my opinion is an annoyingly overly generalized and in many ways more counter-productive than productive.
There is no right storage. Make your own.
I think this falls into a similar category as the previous advice. Of course people will argue endlessly and inconclusively about what storage is optimal. But this advice makes it seem like anything will work. Storage is a spectrum and while there is subjectivity to it we also know more than a few things. You can absolutely mess up the tea permanently with poor storage.
Storage makes a difference and is a major factor in how semi-aged and aged teas taste. While there’s no consensus on the best way to home store in the west, put thought into how you are storing your tea.
You can tell if a tea is poorly stored if it has a disgusting/gross earthy taste.
I find far too many foods delicious that are construed by some as gross or disgusting to let this one slide. This one is usually applied to some sort of fermented tea, heicha, ripe pu’erh, traditionally stored pu’erh, etc. This saying can actually be kind of helpful under the right context or with proper reference points, X tea tastes cleaner than Y tea. It relies a lot on an intuitive grasp when there may not be any reference points of good or bad examples..
There is no universal disgusting taste. Gross & disgusting are subjective terms. Fermented shrimp paste or fermented fish or kimchi might be disgusting for one person, but it is delicious for another. When this sort of phrase is used in more absolute terms for newer drinkers, I take exception and it can be very counter-productive if the new drinker reads too much into it.
Most people are coming into pu’erh with a reference point of zero.. Asking a new drinker to identify what is clean & normal vs. abnormal & disgusting with a unfamiliar taste profile is extremely difficult. Sure, drinking something that is clean and well-aged is a good thing! But this takes experience, reference points, and isn’t intuitive; at least not for the majority of drinkers. There’s a reason pu’erh is frequently referred to as an acquired taste.
Good, Clean, Natural Tea
How to tell if a tea is any good? Well if it is good, clean, natural of course. With a healthy effect of course! I’m sure whoever told you this is a nice person and these can be moderately helpful, but without proper context, those can also be overly generalized terms..
Big, Whole Leaves
Good tea always has big, whole leaves.
Tea leaves homogeneity (average size of tea leaves is the same)
This totally depends on the tea type. Sure they’re nice to have, but check out some of those old factory blends.. Those old factory teas use a variety of different sized leaves to achieve a more layered taste. And again they’ve aged petty well. There’s other exceptions.. For instance autumn pu’erh has generally bigger leaves than spring tea, but spring tea is more prized..