In China, as a matter of respect, those who are experts in tea drinking are often given the title "Tea Doctor." These "Tea Doctor" don' necessarily have a doctorate degree and people who study tea and have intimate knowledge of tea and tea cultures are not always qualified enough to be given this title. A "Tea Doctor" needs to be good at reaching the highest level of enjoyment of tea, as well as have a rich understanding of tea culture. But, most importantly, he must possess the unique ability to differentiate and appraise the quality of tea. The appraisal of the quality of tea is an enigmatic skill with a touch of artistic element.
The main reason for the difficulty to appraise tea quality is because the Chinese had mixed too many cultural ingredients into tea,so that tea cannot be assessed and graded with simple instruments and standards like most other commodities. Another reason is, of course, because there are just too many varieties of tea. Even today, new tea varieties emerge -every now and then. The inventors of new tea varieties usually give them unique qualities, which are often expressed artistically, impossible to quantify.
The appraisal of tea is, of course, not without standards. There are some common guidelines that one can follow. Tea is usually evaluated on four aspects: colour, smell, taste, and shape, Different types of tea have different standards and emphases on the four aspects. Therefore, different types of tea are not comparable to each other, in the same way that wine is not comparable to whisky.
No matter for which type of tea, there are standards for colour, smell, taste, and shape for both before and after infusing. The standard for green tea is particularly complex and comprehensive. Before infusing, a good batch of green tea leaves should uniform in quality,bright in colour, smooth on surface, and tender in shape. There are other requirements for specific varieties of green tea. After infusing, the focus is on whether the brew satisfies the various requirements in the fragrance, texture, flavour, colour, and clarity for specific tea varieties. For green tea, the colour and shape of tea leaves in the brew are also worth paying attention to.
Let's use the famous green tea Longjing as an example and see how the quality of tea is displayed.
High grade Longjing tea has a smooth, straight, and flat shape. It has a yellowish green colour,and there are no hairs on the tea leaves. This is the result of the Longjing tea's unique roasting method. Although many other varieties of green tea retain the hairs on the leaves to show its freshness and tenderness, Longjing tea is unique in its lack of hairs.
As you open the container that stores the Longjing tea leaves,a unique fragrance similar to a mixture of orchid and fried rice is unleashed. Other varieties of green tea don't have this fragrance. After infusion, the brew has a light yellowish green colour. The tea leaves are now stretched out. On each stem, there is one leaf and one bud. This shape is commonly known as "one flag and one spear", since it resembles the flags and spears on the ancient battlefield. For the very best Longjing tea, the bud should be bigger than the leaf. As the steam rises from your glass, you begin to detect a strong yet fresh aroma. You take a sip of the tea; it is a fresh taste with slight sweetness, an olivelike aftertaste, and no bitterness at all.
The above descriptions may give you some ideas about the characteristics of the Longjing tea,but you cannot truly grasp its qualities and minute traits. This is the most difficult part of appraising tea qualities, which is also what is most attractive.
This is still just the very basic evaluation of tea's quality. Since the Chinese have mixed spirituality into the subjects of tea appraisal are greatly expanded. This expansion is closely linked to tea varieties and regional tea drinking customs.
A famous oolong tea, Tieguanyin, is a good example. The dry tea leaves for the best Tieguanyin have a curly and sturdy shape, a steel-like heavy Tieguanyin, and an invigorating dark green colour. After infusion, the leaves become fleshy,with a silky shine. They also exhibit the notable characteristic, "green tea leaves with red edges". The brew tastes fresh and sweet and has a very rich and long-lasting aroma. It has a reputation of having remains of fragrance even after being infused seven times.
In order to accommodate its characteristics, Tieguanyin must be brewed with a special ceremony known as "kung fu tea", In "kung fu tea" different tea wares are used for brewing and drinking. The brewing tea ware must be a big bowl with a lid. The amount of tea leaves used is substantially more than when infusing other types of tea. Normally, one third to two thirds of the tea bowl is filled with dry tea leaves. With such a large amount,the tea leaves will expand after adding boiled water to fill the entire bowl, unleashing the aroma of the tea. Very hot water must be used, and water at the third phase of boiling is the best. The most important thing about "kung fu tea" is that the brew of the first infusion is not served. For the first infusion, boiled water is very quickly poured into the dry leaves, and then very quickly drained. This is called "washing the tea". This first brew is used to warm up the drinking cups,so to fully "force out" the aroma and flavour of the tea.
During the entire ceremony, some traditional routines, such as "Lord Guan patrolling the city" and "Han Xin counting soldiers" , are added into the procedure, substantially increasing duration and complexity of drinking tea. The "kung fu tea" ceremony raises the artistic value of the infusing process and enriches the substance of appraisal, while fully displaying various aspects of Tieguanyin. The name "kung fu" can not be more suitable.