Background – Motivations behind Drinking Tea
When I first started drinking tea I was interested in the different styles of loose leaf tea available, and the variety of their flavors and aromas. I think that the desire for certain flavors is a common Western mindset when approaching tea. At the tea shop where I work many people come searching for a certain flavor. Usually they want tea to have certain qualities such as fruitiness, sweetness, spiciness, floral qualities, a bold flavor, etc. I’ve even seen some online tea vendors focused towards Western audiences where you can sort and filter teas by their flavor rather than their category.
Other people who visit the tea shop will come asking for whatever tea has “the most caffeine”. This mindset also seems to be very common. The business people will have the liquid fuel they need to run off to the office, and teenagers will have surpluses of energy that can be used to romp around with their friends.
I think that there’s nothing particularly wrong about these kinds of motivations for drinking tea, they just seem to be some cultural tendencies that I’ve noticed. I believe good quality loose leaf tea could still offer a lot to the Western audience, even if unique flavors or caffeine boosts are their primary motivations for drinking it. I say this because if brewed properly a nice session of loose leaf tea can come in at a lower cost / serving than a craft beer, coffee, smoothie, glass of wine, or other beverage. In some kind of thermos, tea could also be taken on the go to help workers make it through the day. (With its lower caffeine content, this might also be able to help reduce the severity of coffee based caffeine addictions.)
I’ve been reflecting on these things because I’ve noticed my motivations behind and habits around drinking tea have shifted after a few years of regular tea drinking. Tea is now a regular part of my diet. For this reason I try to view it and use it more as a source of nourishment rather than a means by which to attain whatever flavor I’m craving at a particular moment, or a quick boost of energy. More recently I will choose to drink a tea based on not only its flavor, but also the weather of the day, whether my body feels cold or warm, if I’ve eaten or not, etc. When used in the right way tea has also become a more calming and meditative influence in my life, more so then when I started drinking it a few years back. Today on the blog I wanted to share a tasting of one such nourishing tea that has become a staple of my diet. This tea is a ripe pu’er tea (熟普洱茶, shou puer cha in Mandarin) from Yunnan Province’s Menghai County that was processed in 2015.
2015 Menghai Ripe Pu’er.
- Aroma – The dry leaves of this tea have an aroma that is earthy, woody, and has a slightly sweet malty component.
- 1st Infusion – The first steeping of the tea has a light earthy flavor. The tea soup is a red color, and it’s easy to tell that the chunks of pu’er haven’t opened up or released their full flavor. The texture of this first infusion is smooth and creamy, and there was a sweet aftertaste that reminded me slightly of vanilla.
- 2nd Infusion – At this point the tea really started to open up. The brewed tea was a darker reddish / black color. It had a darker earthy flavor, and the aftertaste was stronger with a mild astringency and a somewhat bittersweet chocolatey bite. I appreciate this kind of quality because I don’t have a large sweet tooth, so it helps balance out the sweeter components of the tea. Although there is some astringency in this brew, the fermentation makes the tea smooth and easy on the stomach. This astringency is not the same as some greener teas that I’ve had, which can sometimes upset the stomach.
- 3rd Infusion – The third infusion seemed more balanced. I say this because the earthy, sweet, smooth, and slightly bitter / astringent qualities were more even than in the first two infusions. The texture of the tea is still smooth and ample.
- 4th Infusion – Some of the more pungent earthy flavors from fermentation have subdued by this point of the session, and I noticed a mellower woody flavor that came out. There is a fairly persistent aftertaste, and the tea is neither too sweet nor too bitter / astringent. This steeping reminds me of what I’ve come to understand as quintessentially “ripe”.
- 5th Infusion – The quality is good and the tea is clean, but I noticed the flavor becoming weaker and the texture becoming less full. For these reasons I’m going to increase more greatly the amount of time I brew the next infusions.
- 6th Infusion – The flavor of the tea is good, but still light like in the 5th I’ve noticed that the aftertaste has returned to being mostly sweet rather than having that slight bitter / astringent bite to it. This sweetness is a more mellow woody sweetness, rather than the original rich & creamy earthy / vanilla type sweetness that the first couple of infusions had.
- 7th and 8th Infusions – At this point I’m brewing the tea for a couple minutes per pot. It is still smooth and enjoyable, but I’m deciding this is where I’m going to end the session. This is because it’s easy to tell when a tea has fully given up what it has to offer, and I’ve also drunk plenty of tea by this point anyways!
This is a tea that I would classify as a great “daily drinker”; one that has become a regular part of my diet. I drank this tea because November is bringing along weather that feels more like the weather of winter (recently we had our first brief snowfall where I live), so I was craving the rich and warming qualities of ripe pu’er.
Breaking down the cost of the 7 grams of tea I used to fill my teapot, this tea only cost $0.43 and offered 7 – 8 good pots of tea soup. Cheap, nutritious, and delicious – there’s nothing more I want from tea in general!