23 September 2011

Ecco the Equinox

Have we arrived at Autumn? Goodness, how the seasons pass. The light, the light... it is magnificent, it makes everything and everyone looks so beautiful! Quite a delight to get the picture-taking-devices and step outside and Compose... It may well be that, in Spring, a youngster's fancy turns to Luv; but in Autumn the kid prefers Texture -- in sights, in sounds, and in flavors. Thank Providence, then, for the amazing variety of teas from which the kid (or we) can select infusions with all kinds of Texture.

When we talk about Texture in a tea's liquor (the liquid infusion), people sometimes call the feeling you get when you drink it mouthfeel... but I have to tell you that such a term makes me think that someone is about to stick their fingers in my mouth (a sensation I would not like); better, says Dustin, to call it texture, and to pay attention to it and learn to discern the different textures of different infusions when you drink them. It is a fun and rewarding pursuit.

Another term for the way a tea's liquor feels in your mouth is body. That, we think, is a very nice term... body and texture are not exactly the same thing, but close enough for government work so you can use one instead of the other if you prefer. The point here is to become aware of what goes into your mouth via teacup, and to take note of your preferences. Happiness in life boils down to being able to reproduce pleasurable responses (it's true! Science has proved it) -- and who doesn't want to be happy?

Much discussion can be heard about a tea's ability to "stand up to milk." This is actually a reference to a tea's body, the intensity of the infusion... an infusion with a higher percentage of dissolved tea solids (vs. water) will have a stronger body; whereas an infusion with a lower percentage of dissolved tea solids (vs. water) will have a lighter body, and will, according to common wisdom, NOT "stand up to milk." That being said, if you like a light-bodied infusion even with milk, you just go ahead and enjoy it, because it's going into your mouth and you ought to like what you put in there. {On the issue of "milk in first" or "milk in last" I shall keep mum, and in so doing avoid the inevitable scuffle.}

If you like a light texture or body in tea, you might really enjoy white teas and many herbal tisanes. If you like a medium-bodied tea, some Ceylons (from Sri Lanka), lighter Oolongs from Taiwan and China, Nilgiris or Second-flush Darjeelings from India, or not-quite-fully oxidised black teas from Nepal might fill your mouth with joy. For an unmistakable mouthful of body and texture, nothing beats darker Oolongs, or fully-oxidised teas from Yunnan and Keemun (Qimen), China, or the heartiest of the hearty -- black teas from Assam, India. There are thousands of teas, from dozens of countries (isn't that amazing?), so what I have mentioned is just the smallest smattering of the merest hint of the tiniest scratch of the surface of the tea pantheon.

Of course (you knew there would be an "of course," didn't you?) if you do naughty things like smoke, or drink lots of strong coffee, or eat enormous quantities of hot peppers daily, your mouth will simply not register many of tea's nuances... in which case you must chart your own tea-texture course, and I wish you well! If, on the other hand, your palate retains an average amount of sensitivity or better, what fun you will have tasting teas while concentrating on texture and body.

I haven't mentioned scented teas until now -- indeed, there are scented teas of lighter and heavier body/texture; but if you want to get accustomed to how your mouth registers tea textures without the distraction of added scents (nose and mouth being so closely connected), please do some texture-testing with unscented and unflavored teas for a while, before moving on to scented ones. That's Dustin's recommendation, not a dictum...

I'm off to find Trixie so that we can share a pot of glorious, full-bodied, tantalizingly-textured high-end Golden Yunnan, and wish you each and all a very Happy Autumn, with piles of pretty leaves, apples and pears and figs galore, and as many vessels of tea as your heart desires, all shared with people you love (so you must love yourself if you are going to drink alone),
xo, Dustin