Today I tried to do my first formalised tasting, setting out my three oolongs, cups, some notes, advice from various websites and a pile of books to refer to in the kitchen. My hope was that after some elegant sips and taking some shatteringly perceptive notes, I would retire to the laptop to publish my opinions to general acclaim. Did I expect light to shine down from heaven as I swirled tea in my mouth? Probably.
Not surprisingly, it didn't go as planned.
Having set out a tasting notes sheet, with spaces for "dry leaf appearance" and "wet leaf smell" etc... I prepared a very lovely Phoenix Oolong from Ming Cha. I had tried the tea before and I knew I liked it, and so I thought I would have lots to tastes to describe in my notebook. I felt ready with all sorts of professional sounding words like "woody", "malty" and my favourite tea word, "brisk".
In the event however, I sipped and came up completely blank. I sipped again, sniffed the tea some more. Nothing. I sipped once more, swirled, thought, and sipped again. I knew I was tasting something delicious, but just as I was trying to find the words, the taste would disappear leaving me groping for vocabulary and experience I just don't have. This experience of tasting was so ephemeral and my inability to communicate what I was tasting, even to myself, was very frustrating.
After thirty minutes the kitchen table was a mess, my notebook was mostly empty except for comments like "nice" and "mmm...biscuity". My best note of the evening was a hesitant "citrusy(?)". Not so much light beaming down from heaven, rather a small candle flickering uncertainly in the next room.
Eventually I gave up, realising that I was unlikely to get very far on my talent as it stood and so I went upstairs to soothe myself by reading teablogs by people who know what they are doing.
Having spent my life so far studying literature and then working with books, I can talk about books for hours and feel confident enough to defend my opinions, or to accept when I'm wrong.
Tea is a whole other matter. Though every tea person I have had the good fortune to meet has been incredibly kind and supportive of my efforts, I'm finding it difficult to be patient with myself.