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Tea as Art

by Lydia Kung

Due to the risk of blandness in tea leaves that have been over-manipulated, there is fine balance between crafting to attain a certain shape and preserving optimum flavor. Several of the best Greens we have are rolled, but in flavor they do not resemble Gunpowder at all.

The next series of photos show teas crafted into fancier shapes: Jade Rings, Silver Dragon, and Jade Pillars. (Below is the Jade Rings.)

The Silver Dragon made a strong impression on me because at one tea bar in NYC, it was presented as a White tea. Obviously, any true White would break into fragments if twisted in this rope-like fashion. (See the Silver Dragon below.)

In one sense, these teas are works of art: we only need consider the handiwork applied to excellent quality pluckings. Look at the steeped tea and you will see young budsets. (The photo below is from the Jade Pillars green.)

However, the fine looking result is undermined by the very process that produced the finished appearance: the flavor is dull or flat and usually not very good. These teas are pretty to behold but offer little pleasure in the drinking. (Photo below is Jade Pillars.)

The true art in tea lies in the traditional processing methods – the old-school ways, probably not written down, and not monitored by computers. What we see and sense from the finished tea relies on years of accumulated experience (visual, olfactory, touch & taste) on the part of the tea maker. From this perspective, i.e., the intent of the tea maker, it begs belief that he would, from the outset, envision teas in the form of earrings or bow ties.

We ought to bear in mind that the workers who bend and twist the leaves into these fancy shapes are working with finished teas. This added step in manufacture is less about making tea than creating an embellishment that adds nothing to flavor; indeed, the over-manipulation here probably detracts from the original flavor. Teas such as Golden Spiral Black are the authentic artisanal teas.