05 May 2010

Assumptions, Surprises

Last night, Davin, Maitre_Tea, and I brewed dancong oolong for the UCLA Natural Complementary & Alternative Medicine student group, as a complement to Imen's gongfu presentation. At my table, we brewed four teas provided by Imen: a commercial grade Ba Xian "Eight Immortals" dancong, a Milan Xiang "Honey Orchid Fragrance" Gold Medal dancong, a Guihua "Osmanthus" dancong, and a 1999 aged dancong. They appeared to be ordered from lightest to darkest.

Most of the students at my table didn't regularly drink tea, and none regularly drank oolong. When I brew tea for non-tea-drinkers, I assume that most of them will enjoy the more flowery and fruity aromas of lighter oolongs. Dancong proved to be a good choice, as most of the students commented on enjoying the floral, fruity flavors and smells the teas offered.

While I knew they would enjoy the dancong, I did not predict that they would have such strong preferences and instant intuition about which of the three new dancong teas offered the best quality. Independent of me and without my having mentioned the "gold medal" in the grade, all the students at my table agreed that the second tea, Milan Xiang Gold Medal, was the best of the three. The first they thought was good. The third they thought was all florals with no flavor underneath it.

Not enjoying the third, I asked Imen for a fourth tea, and she brought over a 1999 aged dancong: a twiggy, brown, mushroom-smelling tea whose wet leaves the students called "wood ear mushroom" and "wood when it's wet". Thus began the most surprising part of the evening: their favorite tea overall was the dark, woody, straw-aroma'd aged dancong!

Whereas for the first three teas, they passively accepted the few milliliters of tea I could afford each of the 12-14 of them, they nearly fought over the old stuff.

I learned that good tea demands attention loud enough that even newcomers to tea can't ignore its call, even when presented with prettier, if less substantial, aromas.


MarshalN said...

Yes, this is borne out by my experience teaching my class as well -- they can be quite acute in tasting and knowing what they're drinking.

Imen said...

The fact that they liked the honey order the most, does prove they are newbies.

Maitre_Tea said...

the drinkers at my table seemed to be "confused" with the aged one, since it appeared so different, and tasted so differently from the other ones that it kind of threw them off guard. Although it was their favorite, they did say that it would be a good cold weather type of tea