Appreciation of Tea

From The Modern Art of Tea
by Cai Rongzhang
Translated and abridged by Luo Zhaohua

After smelling the fragrance, appreciating the appearance of the dry leaf and seeing the beauty of its form after infusion, you should allow yourself to experience the inner beauty of the tea leafthe color and flavor of the infusion.

Oxidation and color

Each kind of tea will produce a different color liquor; you can judge how artfully the tea has been infused by differences in color of the same tea [brewed by different people or at different times]. Lightly oxidized tea will tend to be greener, while the liquor of more heavily oxidized tea will tend to be redder. Green tea has not been oxidized, while red tea [black tea] has been completely oxidized, thus their infusions will be greenish and red, respectively.

In between green and red tea is "semi-oxidized tea." In order of degree of oxidation, there is Lu Cha [Green Tea], scented tea, Dong Ding [Tung Ting], Tie Guan Yin, and Wu Long [Oolong]. If you were to infuse them and line them up on a table, the difference in color from one tea to the next would be difficult for most people to detect.

In addition, the way the tea is fired will have an influence on the liquor's "brightness" [or "clarity"]. Lightly fired tea will be comparatively brighter or more clear, while more heavily fired tea will produce a liquor that is deeper, and that turns darker. For this reason, raw tea will produce a lighter, brighter infusion than will processed tea.

We should not consider tea that is a dark brown color to be too thick; this kind of tea is warming and may be enjoyed by people who have an aversion to cold-natured foods. Although good tea should have a color fitting to its type, it should always be beautiful and transparent. When comparing the color of tea liquors, pay attention to the sizes of the cups and the water levels in each cup.

Fragrance and flavor harmonize in the throat

Appreciating the beautiful color of tea is intimately connected to experiencing its wonderful flavor. First take a sip and hold it in your cheeks; you will learn the tea’s aroma by experience. Then move the tea further back into the oral cavity and move it around a little; you will learn by experience the characteristics of its taste, including the sweetness, bitterness or astringency, fullness, lightness, liveliness, and stimulatory characteristics, as well as how all of these combine to produce the overall effect.

As soon as the tea has been swallowed, the sensation in the throat may be one of bitterness followed by sweetness.

Some teas tend to feel rather heavier in the mouth, like Qing Cha ["Pure Tea", green tea]; others tend to feel heavier in the throat, like Tie Guan Yin.

Fragrance, flavor and overall harmonization are the three aspects of tea that can be sensed in the mouth and throat. Generally speaking, the astringent taste will not be too strong; good tea should be sweet, full-bodied, lively, and have the special characteristics of its type.