As all tea drinkers know, there are so many pleasurable aspects to tea beyond the actual drinking. Of course taste is important, but it would be a mistake to neglect your other senses when enjoying your favourite cuppa.
While it is a given that the taste buds must be tickled and gladdened with each sip of tea, the eyes must also appreciate the beauty of the dry leaf, the colour in the cup, and the teapot and teacup you choose. The shape, size, weight, and texture of your tea ware must appeal to the touch of your hands and fingers. The sounds of a whistling kettle, and of water being poured over leaves, must whet our expectations.
Possibly the most potent and powerful aspects of tea are its aromas: the cool smell of the dry leaf; the warm tang of boiling water; the first wafting fragrance of the leaves as they are doused with water in the teapot; the shifting aromas in the cup as the liquid morphs from hot to warm to cool.
If you prepare your tea gong-fu style, perhaps you use an aroma cup to capture and concentrate the elegant tea perfume. But you don’t need any special accountrements to enjoy tea’s myriad of fragrances. (More on gong-fu style tea preparation in a future post.)
Don’t believe me? Try this: After your tea cup is empty, allow it to dry — this shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Lean over the cup, and cup your fingers around your nose and the cup. Now breathe in. Aaaaahhhh! Can you smell it? Isn’t the aroma more intense than the fragrance when you were drinking the liquid?
Next, take a spoon — metal or china — and stir it back and forth in the cup before you drink. Don’t add sugar, lemon, or milk — just stir the tea itself. Then place the spoon aside as you sip. In a few moments, when the spoon is dry, lift it up and gently smell the back of the bowl for a wonderful sense of the tea’s fragrance.
The most intense aromas of all emanate from your teapot, which serves as a super-sized aroma cup, concentrating and intensifying the tea’s fragrance to the nth degree. After you’ve finished your tea and emptied the pot, leave it covered (with or without its cozy) until the residue dries. This might be a few minutes, or if you forget it could be hours or even overnight.
Be sure that there is no more liquid in the pot, so you don’t risk scalding yourself with steam. With your face just above the teapot, quickly lift the lid and inhale the rich bouquet. Let yourself discover nuances that were not discernible in the liquid — perhaps a touch of spice, or a honey-like sweetness. They’ll all be there … and they’ll all be exquisite!
Scientists tell us that of all the senses, our sense of smell is the most evocative. Images, textures, sounds, and flavours will certainly bring back memories. But aromas touch the unconsciousness and trigger emotional responses that are beyond our control. I always tell new tea drinkers: never wash your teacup, spoon, or especially your teapot before it has shared its tea story with you. And now I’ve told you, too.
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