pondělí 9. ledna 2012

On the art of sniffing

Yesterday's night

It's after midnight. Steam is rising from my trusted cracked gaiwan and the aroma of ancient tree Haiwan Pa Sha lingers in the air (surprisingy, as it ages, it resembles ancient tree cakes I've had more and more - which is kind of unexpected given the - under circumstances - low price). I'm reading some of excellent Musings of Half Diper, feeling guilty reading of how it is not too good to drink tea in the afternoon... Well, midnight is not afternoon, right? Oll korrekt, bad excuse.

However, the aroma reminds me of one thing - my posts may not reflect it, but my appreciation of tea aroma has rapidly increased in last few months. Litres of tea consumed and late hours make me overcome my usual reason for not writing - "who gives a damn about that"... so here is more:

Of course, as one drinks through masses of various samples/cakes/bricks/things, his appreciation of various aspects rises ultimately (actually, this may have an honest neurobiological basis). But I concentrate on the aroma more I would say. Why is that? It is just so pleasant. And it helps me to understand what I am drinking better.

One of less poetic points of view on tea is a table of temperatures and substances being released (and tasted). It is a rather primitive approximation - more dimensions are to it - water composition for example. Or the brewing method. Well, anyway, every time I drink a tea, I am not feeling all of its components. Some of them were not extracted to the taste. However - they are often extracted to the aroma. The aroma often suggests how the tea may taste. When I smell something lovely, but it just is not present in the taste, I know that I may be doing something wrong and local search may be applied to the tea's brewing method, trying to match the aroma with taste.

Then there is the aroma of dry leaves. I must admit that it mostly tells me very little. It mostly tells about a tea's past - how it was stored, how fresh it feels, etc.

Or the aroma of wet leaves. This is my favourite now. I often enjoy it as much as drinking the tea itself. I use the following "technique" to enjoy it best. Instead of simple inhalation, I sometimes blow gently into the teapot for a fraction of second, inhaling right after - feeling the "stirred" aroma. Theoretically, it could cool the pot too much, but I have not found any negative sides to it. I may enjoy more concentrated aroma. However, one could get burned inside the nose if he blowed too close to the opening of teapot or blowed too hard. When done right, it is a pleaasure. I'm often sniffing the aroma for a half-minute, feeling like floating on the waves of  the tea's character for eternity, flying to a bamboo pavilion in some chinese tea garden in a parallel universe.

The aroma of wet leaves tells about the tea's current state - whether its tastes are in harmony, for example. It tells how the tea may (or may not) taste, when brewed differently. It often gave me a hint when I should use boiling water or sub-boiling instead (actually, contrary to the past, I don't pay that much attention to exact temperature, the thermometer I used to use five years ago collects dust).

I found that there are two kinds (at least!) of sweetness affected by water temperature. The sweetness of lower-temperature water brewing is well known. However, some sheng pieces I've had were dull,  harsh and empty when boiled with 90°C, but sweet and full when brewed with boiling water. This is where the aroma comes into play. When I feel that the taste is dull and harsh and the aroma is too, then, most often, it is a bad tea. However, at times, the aroma is right, it just is not reflected by the taste. That's the time when I know I should use warmer water. Or use different kind of water altogether.

The aroma of wet leaves helps to determine the age of trees from which the leaves come. I can not express the difference with words... But when one smells a lot of tea from younger trees and  a lot of tea from old trees, he finds that there is something the young tea just does not have and vice versa. The ability to (partly) determine the age of tea is nothing mythical... just collect enough data and it is obvious then.

The aroma may suggest the future of a tea too. For example the aroma left in drinking cups. I've had bitter, young teas which, after emptying the drinking cup, left a sort of sticky sweetness behind. Some similarly tasting young bitter teas did not. It is a coincidence, that the first kind eventually became sweet, while the other became more dry and woody? I don't think so.

That is all I wanted to say today. I can not provide "Learn to enjoy and use the tea aroma in 21 days" walkthrough. But I can definitely say it's fun to dig inside the aroma a bit!

3 komentáře:

  1. What sucks is when your nose/sinuses are plugged up, and you can't fully enjoy the flavour of tea (or anything!) One thing I've come to learn: a tea's aroma does not necessarily indicate flavour. Case in point - pu-erh. First time I had one (and no, I don't remember the varietal; sorry) I thought it smelt God awful. I tasted it, and it was a little slice of heaven in my cup.

    Good post, though your picture came out a little dark. =(

  2. Thank you for your article, there is a lot of information I did not know!

    By the way I think that the photo is supposed to be dark, is it not?

  3. Hi!
    Centranthus: I agree that the aroma does not always reflect the flavour, however, most often, it does. The translation is not always trivial (i.e., not an identity), but it may be learned how it works...

    Michal: Thank you! Yes, the photo was supposed to be dark. It was a night tea session, with a candle only, I wanted to capture the real lighting.
    Good day!