From Puzzled to Gratified: One Student's Journey through Tea

I've enjoyed getting to know my students' individual journeys through tea. One in particular stands out for her long-term commitment and evolution through tea. I'd like to highlight her story here! 

Tracey is a long-time tea drinker based in New York State, and a dedicated student of mine who joined the course in February. She has completed the curriculum, and shares her experience below.


She says: 

I used to feel a little puzzled by others' descriptions of aromas and flavor notes of coffees and teas. How can this coffee taste like citrus fruits? How can this one taste like berries? How can a tea possibly taste like cherries, or nuts, or chocolate? Or hay? With practice, though, and with the aid of your flavor bank and tasting journal worksheets, I have come to enjoy clearing my mind and seeing what flavor associations occur to me. It's really gratifying to come up with my own impressions of a tea and then read the seller's description and find points of overlap.

Read our full conversation below!

Hi Tracey! It has been a true pleasure connecting with you through tea, and I appreciate your warm encouragement throughout. Could you tell us around when your tea journey began, and how your preferences have changed over time?

I started drinking black tea from conventional store-bought teabags in high school. This seemed like the height of sophistication to teenage me. Then, I was introduced to Japanese green tea by a Japanese friend in college, and I absolutely loved it. For two decades, it was about all I drank. A couple of years ago, I finally discovered the universe of Taiwanese oolong in a tea shop, and that became my new fascination. It is only in the past year that I have really explored Chinese tea. This was long overdue and very rewarding! My tastes still lean toward green teas most days, whether from Japan or China, but I have learned that I also love the spectrum of flavors of oolong teas from Taiwan and black teas from India and Nepal.

As a tea drinker, what challenges have you faced? And what are some of the ways you sought to solve these prior to the course?

Before I took the course, Chinese tea was a weak spot for me. It felt like a big undertaking trying to learn my way around, with so many tea-producing regions, tea-processing styles, and tea cultivars, especially since I had very little familiarity with Chinese language, culture, and geography. I found a few recommended tea sellers specializing in Chinese tea, chose some teas to try, and read and re-read descriptions of them and blog posts about them while drinking them. Eventually, I arrived at some generalizations about which teas I tended to like best, but I still lacked the big picture — how those teas related to other teas and how they all fit into the long and vast history of tea in China.

What ultimately led you to enroll in the course, and what did you enjoy most about the experience?

The timing was perfect; when you announced the course, I was doing a lot of reading about different teas and tea topics on assorted websites, and a concise guided tour through the world of tea from an expert sounded like just what I needed. I benefited greatly from the curated selection of representative teas you included in the videos and illustrated charts, as well as your side-by-side comparisons of different teas. I had a lot of fun doing this at home, tasting contrasting exemplars of the same tea or multiple teas from the same region, and articulating similarities and differences in their appearances, aromas, and flavor profiles. And of course, it was so nice meeting online for real-time tea-brewing sessions and getting to ask you for your perspectives.

How has the course changed the way you enjoy or reflect upon tea?

I used to feel a little puzzled by others' descriptions of aromas and flavor notes of coffees and teas. How can this coffee taste like citrus fruits? How can this one taste like berries? How can a tea possibly taste like cherries, or nuts, or chocolate? Or hay? With practice, though, and with the aid of your "flavor bank" and "tasting journal" worksheets, I have come to enjoy clearing my mind and seeing what flavor associations occur to me. It's really gratifying to come up with my own impressions of a tea and then read the seller's description and find points of overlap. I also love your emphasis on noting the precise color of the tea liquor and your enthusiasm for drawing a tea to get to know it better, both the dry leaf and the wet leaf. I spend a lot of time these days touching, sniffing, and generally admiring my tea leaves.

Lastly, I love how you challenged yourself this summer to explore Chinese green teas that were new to you like Qing Ding, Gu Zhu Zi Sun, and even a green tea from Nepal! What’s in store for your tea future? Are there any new teas you’re looking to explore, or aspects within tea you want to focus on?

Although black tea is not my favorite category of tea, I am enjoying learning about and tasting some newer styles of black tea from China. I am also appreciating seasonal differences in oolong teas from Taiwan. Maybe someday I will have a chance to travel to Asia, but for now, as we head into fall and winter in New York State, I will be staying warm at home, reading more about tea history and production, while drinking dark, toasty teas and looking forward to the fresh spring teas of a new year. I am a fan of music and movies, and it always amazes me that two movies or two pieces of music can be so different from one another and still be considered the same art form; it's the same with tea! The variety is inexhaustible! Conveying that incredible range to more of my friends and family members is something I aspire to do. Meanwhile, I will keep up my own daily tea practice and be grateful for this plant that is a beverage, a balm, a tradition, and an art form.

It was heartwarming to watch you share your passion for tea with your family, and I was amazed by your son’s ability to gongfu brew! It gives me inspiration and hope for the next generation of young tea-drinkers.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your personal tea journey. I look forward to drinking more cups of tea with you in the future!

Discussion

How has your tea journey evolved? What got you started, what challenges have you overcome, and what's in store for your tea future? Feel free to share below!  

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Check out the course page for learning objectives, curriculum breakdown, and enrollment. 

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