Many tea drinkers are busily setting up their tea budget for 2015. How much are you gonna spend? And how much over that amount will you go this year? Maybe a reality check is in order. A few working principles:
1. You have too much tea.
2. You'll never drink it all.
3. Despite the above, you'll buy more this year.
4. You have one or more loved ones who disapprove.
By now I'm accustomed to the loved ones who don't approve. One can develop powerful barriers with an Ignore button over time with those we see every day. But it's the normal people who really can put a tea drunk into perspective. These are the friends or relatives who don't drink tea but we go ahead and drag out the tea table and gaiwan anyway. I did just that at my New Year's dinner. And I had big plans.
Drinking fermented tea cakes is not a normal activity in the west, so consequently we develop a kind of hive mentality with other tea addicts, a hive in which our behavior becomes normal and we don't realize how far away from social drinking our habits truly are. For my New Year's Day dinner, I prepared a spicy soup served with hot rolls, corn bread crackers, goat cheese, grapes and tea. I spent more time on the tea than in preparing the rest of the meal. That's a warning flag right there.
Now, for non-tea drinkers, the first sips of any beverage must be amazing. Who in their right mind would even consider a beverage when told "the first four cups aren't so good, you have to wait for the fifth one." An alcoholic who drinks bourbon or moonshine or even mouthwash in a pinch might understand this idea, but he wouldn't consider a cup of tea to save his life. So let's face it, most normal people expect an amazing beverage to taste amazing at the start, but we are drinking something that doesn't even begin to taste its best until four or five cups in.
And I'm spending how much, exactly, on a beverage that doesn't taste good for five cups?
Next I'm asking my relatives to consider said aged puerh tea with traditional storage. As in musty, as in something that is going to have at least a very slight flavor of a cardboard box that sat in the garage for two years. "Please enjoy the fine odor of basement." And perhaps,"this will start to go away after you drink about 5 cups, I can rinse it again if you like." To sound more sophisticated, "this tastes better because I'm using a teapot which imparts a slight mineral flavor, don't you think it downplays that cigar smoke as well as the mildew in the tea?" Or, "people usually drink this with yak butter and salt."
Now, how many of your relatives are still sipping? Or have they made a beeline for the keg they brought because they know you'll serve tea that smells like gym socks? I was nice to my relatives and didn't even serve the musty stuff. No, I took out my Chawangshop 2014 Ban Payasi, the light Yiwu-tasting green leaves with a grape-y scent that I thought would be mild and go well with the goat cheese. And to accompany the brownie dessert, I pre-soaked one of the "chocolate" shu squares from White2Tea. Everyone politely drank a small cup of the Ban Payasi, and then "No thanks, I'm good" when offered a refill. Fine, I know the score. Come brownie time I know what to ask. "Who wants coffee?" Yep, takers all around.
I'm still steeping out all those teas now two days later. Wait. Three days later.
Setting aside the relatives into the category of People Who Don't Understand, next consider tea drinking friends. How many tea drunks do you know who are able to sit still and let somebody else brew the tea? What if somebody lets the leaves sit too long? Can you focus on the conversation or are you watching that tea pot cringing at the astringency and contemplating ruined tea leaves, burnt tea leaves, unrinsed tea leaves, too much or too little leaf? Wouldn't you rather have your own gaiwan? Aren't you a happier tea drunk when left alone with your own brewing apparatus, choosing the correct amount of leaf and steep time? Also, do you slurp your tea? The tea drunks understand the reasoning behind slurping, but is your wife embarrassed?
Point being, we're alone here. And spending lots of money on a solitary habit. "Tea porn" is right on. Does your tea habit take time away from loved ones? If you are online even reading this post the answer is probably yes.
How's that budget looking now, my friend? Perhaps to the chagrin of the tea vendors you've shaved off a few dollars. Or, well, perhaps you've settled for free shipping.
Requiescat in Pace.