The following narrative has been excerpted from Cha Dao (The Way of Tea), which is currently being co-translated by Cloudwalker Teas co-owner Erick Smithe. This excerpt comes from Chapter One: Tea Tasting - Come and Sample the Expert 12 Level Teas
Tea Appreciation and the Qi of Tea
Tasting and Tea as a Priority
Utility Tea, Tea Appreciation and Research Tea
“Utility tea” is good for any time and is prepared casually. All that matters is quenching one's thirst and clearing one's head. Tea appreciation requires leisure time and a calm, peaceful mind set. It places its focus on quality over quantity and for each pot only 3-5 cups are necessary. Once we have ascertained the quality of the tea then it may be put away.
“Research tea” on the other hand must be steeped all the way to the end and for a good tea this means at least ten cups before stopping. Only in this way can one thoroughly get to know the inner qualities of each tea. As far as entertaining guests is concerned, in order not to commit offence, one may choose which of the three styles of Tea is most appropriate given the situation and the shallowness or depth of one's relationship with the party being entertained.
The “way of tea” is primarily concerned with "tasting tea," and the teas we taste can of course only be categorized as excellent. The teas we review must meet a minimum basic standard. The minimum standard for a good tea is two-fold: the first requirement is cleanliness, the second is the Chi energy of the tea. An old tea should meet the standard of Bliss or Romance within the Expert 12 levels. With regard to new teas, there are no shortage of new teas possessing qualities of cleanliness and vitality. Teas with strong Chi and have very fine vibrational frequencies include "Cing Xan Lyu Xu" (pale light blue Mountain and green water), "Hong Lao Yin" (sacred red eagle), "Song Zhen" (pine needles), "Mung Ding Gan Lu" (nectar), "Bai Ji Guan" (White cockscomb); they are all clean and possess very subtle and fine vibrational frequencies. These teas also have excellent flavours. There are many more teas not listed here at this level or thereabouts.
Only a good tea leaf can be the object of a tea tasting and only a good tea can make the connection for entering the Tao through tea.
The Chinese character Pin meaning "to taste," "to sample," "to ascertain the quality of" consists of three mouths; this means that even if we are only using a small cup, it must be tasted and sipped three times and not in one gulp. With the first sip, one's mouth may not be fully clean, only with the second sip does the tea begin to reveal its true character; the third sip confirms the impression of the second sip and can simply be enjoyed.
To calm one's heart, close one's eyes and fix one's attention when tasting tea will help one notice the subtle variations in the tea and will facilitate entrance into the inner realm.
What makes a tea “good?” From a subjective point of view: if you yourself like it, then it is a good tea regardless of tea type, production method or vintage. However, this type of subjective favouritism will affect one's ability to appreciate and experience new tea and stunt one's development within the art of tea drinking.
There is a slightly more objective method of tea appreciation, based upon five criteria: colour, fragrance, flavour, shape, and moistness or smoothness (feeling in the mouth); one can analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a given tea, and determine its relative superiority or inferiority. However, such "sensory appraisal," relies upon one's personal knowledge and experience, thus it is still somewhat subjective (more or less). This method is only a slightly more clear and rational approach to evaluating and understanding any given tea.
The "scientific testing method" is one alternative, which makes use of specialized equipment and techniques, to determine a tea’s material elements, its ratio of elements and its molecular composition, all of which become part of the artist’s chemical schematic. This is a highly objective method, but it is time consuming, tiring, expensive, and fundamentally too slow. It also requires controls for special conditions and access to various specialized measurement instruments. Furthermore, even if numerical data obtained from such a test appeared to indicate the ideal tea, that doesn't necessarily mean that the measured tea will taste particularly good.
The human body is perhaps the most sophisticated instrument of all, and it serves very well as a testing instrument. If one can fully utilize its inherent potential, sometimes the human senses can accurately measure and record the characteristics of something far more quickly and reliably than any created machine instrument. Therefore, one must train, develop and enhance this sensitivity to tea, ultimately learning to trust in one's own feelings. The one who drinks tea after all is a person, not a machine.
There is one universal prerequisite for a good tea and that is cleanliness. At all stages the cleanliness must be maintained: the environment in which the tea grew, the picking and production, as well as the storage methods. Any tea that has been exposed to pesticides, fertilizers, heavy metals, acid rain, paint or any other method of adulteration, has been contaminated and naturally does not qualify as good tea. If there is any pollution or contamination where the tea is grown, harvested, or stored, it will surely show in the tea soup, colour and aroma. Such teas will be unnaturally bitter, caustic, astringent, un-focused, too mild and will contain strange odours. Drinking such teas, or inhaling their aromas will leave bitterness in one's mouth. The lips will be puckered with astringency, the tongue can be left numb, the throat could constrict and the drinker of such tea will feel nausea and other unpleasant sensations. The experience of drinking such teas will simply leave one feeling unwell both physically and emotionally.
Rather than drink such an unclean tea, it is better to drink a clean tea with clean water, which would be easier, less time-consuming and, more economical in terms of effort and money, and would also be better for ones health.
We don't necessarily have to drink expensive tea, but we must drink clean tea. A clean tea will most certainly be smooth to the taste and non-repulsive. We can nourish our health with clean tea, entertain guests with a clean tea, and honey the growth of our body, heart and spirit with clean tea. Therefore, tea farms and tea merchants have an obligation to produce and sell clean tea. Teahouses and tea retailers have a duty to sell clean teas as well as to educate their consumers how to tell the difference. Tea guests and Tea people also have the right or duty to buy clean teas as well as to disseminate the correct knowledge concerning these teas.