2018 was a weird year. Yeah, I know I’ve said that about prior years, but I really mean it this time. At present, it’s midnight on New Year’s Eve, a “chill-hop” station is on repeat-play, and I’m waiting for this 2013 Myanmar shou cha to kick in.
It’s been a bad week, which in turn was part of an off-beat month, and perfectly wraps up a quixotic year. I won’t bore you with the details of the year-that-was. I already did that back in November. Instead, since I’m in a bit of a navel-gazing mood, I wanted to reflect on some aspects of tea appreciation. Things I’ve learned—and come to realize—about my relationship with that most magical of beverages.
Not much has changed, but everything has. I’ll try to keep this more concrete than the introduction. Without further ado, here are some: Tea Musings of 2018 from a Lazy Literatus.
Eh, I’ll work on a better title later.
On the Subject of Sommeliers
In tea writing circles, many of us consider “tea academies” to be a bit of a farce. Unlike, say, wine sommelier-ship or coffee education, there isn’t one agreed-upon curriculum for tea. There are several. I don’t know how many, nor can I keep all their acronyms straight.
In the past, I have voiced my derision towards such programs—sometimes in conversations where my two-cents (or less) weren’t welcome. But then a funny thing happened. Many in my circle of compatriots started treating such certification programs with tidier boxing gloves. Funnier still? Some even enrolled in a class or five. Before I knew it, a few announced their achievements.
I came to a conclusion about this. My major gripe wasn’t just the lack of centralization or cohesion in the various curricula. Sure, that was there, but a more . . . personal reason manifested. An inferiority complex, if you will.
I didn’t just hate them for the obvious logistics; I hated them because I wouldn’t be good at them. Any of them. A few I heard of ended their course workload with blind taste tests, requiring the pupil to identify teas by type, category, season, and so on, and so forth. Never, in all my tea drinking years, have I had a staunch success rate at doing so.
My extreme ire to sommelier-dom stemmed from my own lack of confidence. Upon realizing that, I learned to celebrate the achievements of my peers. While . . . still ruing that a singular certification program had yet to exist.
I Don’t Care About Puerh.
I like puerh. Heck, I even love it at times. What I don’t care about is the fandom that has surrounded the mystique of puerh. That indifference was particularly prevalent in 2018. I think I only wrote about puerh twice. The first piece subversively tackled the issue of sheng cha identity, whereas the second explored a secret gushu tea garden. Two very exceptional cases.
Beyond that, I haven’t given one iota of an inkling to exploring puerh any further. I’ve come to realize—as tea fandoms go—it’s not my thing. And that’s okay. There are plenty of other bloggers that’ll happily pick up my pu-slack . . .
. . . Said the guy who’s on steep three of a border shou puerh-style tea.
I Can’t Drink Assams, Anymore.
Specifically, large estate Assams. And I have this documentary to blame.
A plucky British crew filmed the working, living, and plant conditions of the Tonganogaon tea estate in Assam, and it was just . . . stomach turning. And I used to like that damn garden. Since then, my mood (and palate) have soured.
That and the region’s big estates have, for the most part, lost their signature malty flavor profile. This year, some of it came back, but nowhere near to the glory days. The chewy wonderment of a good, strong Assam black tea has been replaced with a stale woodiness. Climate change is one culprit, but poor processing also plays a part.
But all is not lost.
Small-scale gardens (with some good backing and tutelage) have picked up the palatial profile in the wake.
I’m going to spend the first part of next year highlighting one such example. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.
And finally . . . a question . . .
If the Palate Passes by, Does the Muse Move On?
Granted, it’s a bit of a cryptic question, but a very apt one. Rhetorical, even. 2018 saw my usual article volume cut in half. I didn’t do an exact count; I didn’t need to. I averaged, maybe, one new blog post a month. And through most of the late-summer/early-fall, even less than that. I couldn’t put my finger on why, either.
Then it hit me.
Was it writer’s block? No, I had plenty to write about. Lack of interest? No, I still talked up the teas I drank ad nauseum on social media. Something less tangible was afoot.
The stories themselves had changed, or rather, my attraction to them. My interest had shifted to investigation pieces, some of which were tea-adjacent at best. No one wanted to read said articles, but I wrote them, anyway. Garden and tea-specific articles still appeared on the blog, but unless there was a research angle attached to them, I pushed them aside.
Writing is a chore, and narration is at its best when the author is having fun. Researching—I’ve come to realize—is FUN! But such pieces also take a long while to construct. So, I’m embracing this new, even more languid blog schedule. In order to put out the best content I can, the extra breathing room is necessary. I’m not in it for the numbers, never really have been. (And said “numbers” haven’t really been there, anyway.)
On top of all that, there are other stories I want to tell. Some that . . . *LE GASP!* . . . have absolutely nothing to do with tea, at all. Those need some creative wiggle room as well.
I suppose that’s my greatest realization of all. In order to not freeze in fear, I need to pace myself, forgive myself for missed deadlines or abandoned projects, and pat myself on the back when I do a job well. Life isn’t a rush, even in middle age. Take this puerh-style tea, for example.
I’m on the last steep, I’ve been at it for two hours, and it’s finishing sweet.