As some of you might have noticed, I sometimes call the preparation, cultivation, and study of tea, the “art of tea”.
I don’t always do so as a form of flattery, but rather so as a convenience. I respect and love tea a great deal, it’s true. In certain ways, I believe it is an art form; however, in general, I tend to call it an art simply because there’s no set-in-stone way to do things. So when I call it an art, it’s because it’s not a science – because I need to call it something, and “the differing, yet equally legitimate methods of preparation, cultivation, and study of tea” reads rather clunky when you contrast the two.
Of all the lessons one must learn about tea, I firmly believe this is the most important one to grasp: after every single “rule” or “law” of tea, there is a lurking, invisible asterisk hovering in the top right hand side of it.
Instead of “Steep Japanese greens at a lower temperature than Chinese greens” read it “Steep Japanese greens at a lower temperature than Chinese greens*”
The footnote, if you’re wondering, would read something like “*Sometimes” or “*If it’s to your liking” (As an aside, I have encountered people successfully steeping Japanese greens at a boiling temperature – a total blasphemy as viewed by the tea community)
I feel this needs addressing for two reasons. Firstly, as a selfish way, I want you to understand that all of the techniques I use; all of the techniques I teach you, won’t always work for everybody. Indeed, I have gotten praises from the community for write-ups like my Casual Gongfu Tea Preparation, but I have also gotten a few nasty messages regarding them. The first reason is so you can understand that my suggestions are not laws. They are suggestions.
The second reason is a more troubling one; other people are not as humble about their tea knowledge. From mall tea boutiques spewing out falsities to sell you stuff (I have been outright lied to before in an attempt to make commission) to individuals too prideful to admit their way might not be as iron-clad as they imagine. There are plenty of people who can and will tell you false information, and attempt to write it off as fact.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have encountered many genuine, friendly people within the tea community. They are extraordinary knowledgeable, and I would count them as true masters of the art of tea.
And I’ve also encountered plenty of people who are less friendly and more pretentious. They, unfortunately, are also almost always the ones who try to push their knowledge onto you.
There are no set rules for tea. There are guidelines, true. There are ways to treat the art. These ways will usually turn out more agreeable than not, it’s true. However, there are no rules.