Weighing tea toward ideal parameters is a no-brainer for most puerh tea drinkers. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but now I wonder how much I actually learn from pre-measuring tea. Maybe I learn more when I don’t. With the risk of over-thinking, I want to explore this idea of pros and cons of weighing out tea.
The assessment goes the other way with heavier leafing when someone reports a tea as unbearably bitter. Then I think to myself, is this tea really punishing? Maybe he needs to lighten the leaf rather than judge the character of the tea at this stage. Or let the tea age for twenty years and see what happens to that bitter tea. Characteristics like smokiness are not so affected by gram to liquid ratios. But certainly traits like viscosity, bitterness, maybe even huigan or qi are simply not noticeable in some teas if going too light on the leaf. As a reader, I end up trying to deduce whether I might like the tea regardless of the writer’s opinion. Someone describing a tea as super bitter while using very light parameters is a very good tea to me, the tea is probably powerful and maybe a good buy depending upon the price, even when the reviewer says she hated it.
I got to thinking about this after seeing a spate of what I consider really light parameters on various social media. I am surprised how light a lot of people go on tea and then describe the tea as woody or something bland. This becomes their assessment of the tea when at a heavier parameter someone else might like it. Lately I’ve been doing more guess work when leafing a new tea because I learn something. I don’t want to judge a tea if I’ve gone too light, I won’t know what I’m missing. Going heavy might result in a tough to drink tea, but I’d rather learn why than miss key traits entirely.
Perhaps the ideal ratio for some teas varies a lot more than I realized before. By using a “common parameter,” the only real variable I’m truly testing is my parameter! This is okay as a starting point, but only a starting point. I can say X tea tastes one way at a common parameter, while Tea Z is different. If I’m tempted to conclude one tea is better than another without testing any other parameters, then I’m probably in error.
Readers can deduce or glean some information with a given ratio, such as ruling out some traits they don’t want, like processing problems or mold or overly sweet/bitter. But that’s not really a whole lot of information if the tea is going to take a few hundred dollars out of my wallet. Even if I tell you my leafing parameters, you still won’t get any idea about whether the tea is amazing at some other parameter. Issues like leaf quality are easy to distinguish as are undesirable traits, but maybe the way to go with a new tea is heavy and then back off the leaf as needed.
Ratios are more of an issue with medium and low tier teas. Some of the truly astonishing teas, unless served truly super watery, are still obvious as really good tea despite a brewing error. No mistaking good leaf quality, at least for me. But at 25-50 cents a gram price range we have a lot of teas to pick from and people really debate teas that are all about the same quality. At this point it will come down to finding those brewing parameters. For example, if someone says “If You are Reading This” is better than “Poundcake,” give me the ratios you brewed at so at least we are making the same comparison. I shouldn’t be shocked to find out the person who loved Poundcake has been grandpa brewing it all along, or the person preferring the Reading cake steeped 10g/100ml because these brew ratios might be a “never” for me.
Really great tea you love and really awful tea you hate might not improve with changing the ratios. But we have to question everything, like amount of time you aged or aired that tea, how you brewed it etc. Maybe the way to go with a new tea is leaf the gaiwan as heavy as possible. Stuff it full, and see what happens. Does the tea have power? A $200 beeng with heavy leaf to water ratios I should get some serious power. A known and proven tea, such as an expensive sample of aged puerh I get from a friend with some advice to go along, perhaps then I might go 3g/80ml and feel like I’m prudent and still getting a good cup.
I’d rather get smacked across the face from too-strong tea than feel like I’m really pushing a tea to get a decent cup out of it. I’d rather have too-strong than too-weak, especially if I’m thinking of buying a $200 tea. Even better is a smack in the face again after going lighter. A common response to strength in tea is to cool the temperature, and in truth I will get a drinkable cup from many teas by going cooler. At this point, I believe I will learn more trusting my gut instead of meticulously weighing and hoping the scale and the same parameters with each and every tea is a gold standard. Go heavy or go home, at least as long as my system holds up.