Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The purest form of gastronomy is Tea

(This is an improved translation of an article I published in French a few days ago.) The way we practice skilled tea is gastronomy in its purest form. Tea and gastronomy are both rooted in desire rather than in need. We practice them because we want and love to, not just because we have to. Where gastronomy is the sublimation of hunger, tea sublimes thirst. These two primary needs, hunger and thirst, have the same origin: the constant regeneration need of the body. Hunger is more painful than thirst, but it's possible to survive much longer without eating than without drinking. And while it's possible to eat a little more when you are not hungry, there won't be much pleasure. It's still very important to feel hungry in order to arouse a desire for good food. Thirst, on the other hand, is such a fundamental need for the body that it's almost always possible to drink without feeling thirsty. So, if satiety kills the desire for gastronomy, quenching one's thirst doesn't suppress the desire for tea. There's always space for a small cup of tea! The desire for tea is therefore more sublime, because it exists beyond thirst.

For foodies, quality is more important than quantity. A good meal isn't judged by the number of calories or by the number of spoons we ingest, but by the quality of the feelings the food generates. For the best teas, it's also not the number of brews that matters. Sometimes, a single cup is enough to satisfy us immensely. In both cases, we pay attention to the quality of the main ingredients that come from specific origins. They are grown in harmony with nature, then they are harvested and transformed by traditional means by skilled farmers. But while the number of ingredients in a recipe is often 10 or more, a tea session only requires one type of tea leaves and good water. It's that simple and pure!
After the ingredients, let's turn our attention to the preparation. Here again, the recipe of tea is extremely simple compared to food: add very hot water to the leaves, let them brew and serve! But every detail has its importance. How many leaves? What water temperature? Should I preheat or rinse? How long should the tea brew? What tea vessel and tea cup should you use? There's no consensus, even tea experts. All this depends on the tea you are brewing and the flavors you wish to highlight. This fine tuning requires the same experience and skill as a good cook. 2 persons may follow the same detailed food recipe, but the result will never be exactly the same. The difference between good and excellent is how well you are able to adapt to circumstances and feel when it's ready. For tea this is very much the case, because with its very simple recipe, tea gives the brewer the most freedom to use his skills and experience. 
In today's virtual world, there's a new found pleasure in creating something with your hand that you can feel and even eat or drink. But creating a meal takes time and experience and so, many people choose to skip this pleasure and go to the restaurant instead or reheat something prepared by someone else. Making a tea is much less daunting or time consuming. And it may teach people the pleasure and magic of cooking: combining 2 or more ingredients with heat.

For all these reasons, tea is the purest form of gastronomy. You can brew tea whenever you want, at any time of the day. It's zero calorie! And the cost for the leaves for a tea session only rarely exceeds that of a hamburger! So, even though tea has an elitist reputation, it is a healthy and simple food pleasure for all!
Note: the pictures for this article show various roasted Oolongs I brewed recently.

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