Greetings to my fellow Cha Ren around the world 🍵 I’m Pascal, and I live in Vienna, Austria. I work as a receptionist in an office building. In my spare time, I practice different martial arts, make music, learn Chinese and cook Chinese food, and most importantly, drink about four types of tea every day.
Vienna has a huge coffee culture historically, and most people here don’t drink tea daily. Sure, we have a few Japanese green tea houses mostly visited by students who study Japanese culture or the language, and there’s only one great tea house that has mainly Chinese teas and proper knowledge about them. However, when I first started drinking Chinese tea, I did not know the existence of those tea houses.
Beginning of the Journey
Three years ago, a friend in the music business introduced me to his new tea company, where he sells Matcha and Matcha related products. In the beginning, I was skeptical because the only tea I knew was in a bag and I associated it with bland artificial flavors or something you drink when you’re sick. He sent me a sample bag and proper utensils for Matcha, along with some weird looking tea “grains”. By following his brewing instructions, I tried to brew the tea “grains” and I was immediately hooked on something I’ve never smelled or tasted — Jin Xuan Oolong, also known as Milk Oolong.
That was the beginning of my tea journey, and I started going down the rabbit hole of tea. I researched on the internet and found some vendors’ YouTube channels. And after watching a few tea videos, I ordered a sample package and a small gaiwan with some hesitation. Although I first thought the fumbling and splashing around with hot water would not be convenient for me, my curiosity for tea, something totally new and exotic, eventually outweighed the fear of a little hot water.
Since there wasn’t anyone knowledgeable in tea to teach me about the Gong Fu Cha style, I had to teach myself about this new tea practice. My research began with simply typing keywords on YouTube, Reddit, and tea forums, watching every video and reading every blog I could find. Soon, my first package arrived with the first gaiwan. Side by side with tea videos, I practiced using the vessel and tried to become more open-minded to find the flavors described in the videos.
A turning point came when I realized that what I taste is just a personal reflection and there’s never a wrong answer. I dived into more delicate nuances of teas, practiced my gaiwan skills with each brew, and started to be amazed at how my palate improved. Tea started to saturate my daily life, and sometimes when I went outside, I could even recognize similar smells in nature that reminded me of certain teas.
In the beginning, I tried to stay within the green Oolong category since that was my first contact with Chinese tea. Also, it’s a good measurement for over/under steeping because of its consistency from the unroasted, delicate leaves. It felt almost like magic when the ball-rolled green Oolong opened up and its fragrance became prominent. As I became more curious about new flavors, I ordered a bunch of tea samples from different categories and started to explore more…
Exploring Different Tea Types
The progression from green Oolongs to roasted Oolongs was logical, but I was surprised to find how flavors could differ with just another processing method. This discovery made me intrigued about all the other tea types, and I started to become open-minded to more experimental flavors.
The PuErh rabbit hole started to open for me. Sheng (raw) PuErh was in a whole other league, and I’ll never forget my first sip of proper Sheng PuErh: the taste in my mouth transformed, and the tongue-feel and aftertaste were totally new. Sure, my taste buds had to learn some of these heavy, strong, and sometimes astringent taste notes, but the flavors kept me interested.
Then there followed Shou (ripe) PuErh. In all honesty, Shou was as terrible as it could get when I brewed it for the first time, and I couldn’t imagine myself liking this fishy, musty, compost taste. So, I put Shou out of my mind and started to focus on exploring the other categories like Black tea, Green tea, and DanCongs, which marked my next milestone.
The world of DanCongs hit me with so many flavors and tastes. It’s difficult to brew them properly, as bitterness could emerge if you don’t brew it right. In my opinion, if there’s a tea brewing difficulty ranking, then DanCongs should be at the top. Nothing else can get so messed up with a cup of badly brewed DanCong, but nothing else has so much reward if you brew it skillfully.
One day I came across some tea travel videos on the internet, where I learned about Wuyi Mountain. Its high mountains filled with the most amazing shades of green and rivers cutting through the vegetation looked amazing, and I immediately added Wuyi Mountain to my bucket list of spots to visit in my lifetime. When I found out that there’s tea growing on these mountains, I was in awe and decided to try some Yancha (Rock tea), a type of roasted Oolong from there. It had me hooked from the first sip; the vanilla notes, smoky flavors resembling whiskey, and the mouthfeel (rock rhyme) are something every tea lover should experience.
To complete the cycle of tea types, I had to come back to Shou PuErh. As I started to search for information about its “nasty” taste, I realized it’s from a fermentation process called WoDui. If properly aired out for long enough, plenty of Shou PuErh could be pleasant to drink. When I had my first sip of such a Shou PuErh, my opinion of Shou PuErh shifted. There were chocolate and coffee notes in the dark rich oily tea soup, which also made me sleepless because of its energy.
Personal Tips for Beginners
Though I do not consider myself an expert, I’d like to share some personal tips for people who are interested in experiencing Gong Fu Cha or do not know anyone who can help them learn.
Doing research was the most important thing in my opinion. Also, stay curious and thirsty for new experiences. We are living in a world with almost infinite possibilities to get information about any topic. I used YouTube videos, blogs, Reddit, forums, and magazines in the beginning.
To help your palate recognize nuances in tea, I would suggest eating, drinking, and even walking more mindfully. You can make yourself conscious about the meals you eat, the beverages you drink, or the freshly mowed meadow that you walk past in your neighborhood. When you taste tea, try to connect the smells with your everyday objects, you’ll be amazed at how much this will help you experience tea from a totally new perspective.
Reflections on Life after Tea
After three years, I still think that I only understand a small part about tea, but I’ll be a lifelong student of the leaf because there are so many topics to explore.
Thankfully, there are some good sources on the internet, like video channels, blogs, and forums. I must admit that it’s the first time that I’m really getting active in the tea community and trying to help others with my tiny bit of tea experience.
Tea connects people, and in my case, Vincent from MyTeaPal connected me with other tea heads, involved me in the Beta of his app, and encouraged me to share my story. I can’t praise MyTeaPal enough. If you’re like me and keep track of your tasting notes and teas in your storage, you should give MyTeaPal a chance. It is such a versatile tool, and I found it extremely useful on my tea journey.
To conclude this article, I want to point out that learning about tea should always be fun and that enjoyment is in the forefront.
In fact, my life before tea was often hectic and stressful, and my previous job took a fair share of energy. The lifestyle I had was not healthy at all, and through the struggles of life, I couldn’t find any calmness. Oftentimes, people told me that I should slow down in life, take it a bit easier, and try to be more mindful. I tried to sit down and relax more than once, but somehow my thoughts wandered constantly and I couldn’t find any inner peace.
The more I drank tea and appreciated all aspects of it, the more I felt a change in my mood, mind, and body. I started to become more calm and centered, and my overall health improved drastically. Therefore, the most important lesson learned was to understand that much of the hectic and nervous behavior in my steeping was just a reflection of myself in daily life.
Gong Fu Cha presented me with a way that I really could be in the moment of peace whenever I brewed tea. It also taught me that I should take life as it is. Like a brew of tea, sometimes it tastes better when you are not trying too hard.
Lastly, I thought it would be interesting to include five of my favorite teas that I would take with me to a lonely island:
- Lao Man’E Sheng PuErh
- Jingmai Sheng PuErh
- YaShi DanCong Oolong
- Lapsang Souchong Black Tea (unsmoked)
- Oriental Beauty Oolong
(Originally published by Pascal M. in MyTeaPal Stories)