A Journal Is Your Tea Journey's Greatest Companion
a tea obsessive’s friend
I have drank tea consistently for roughly eight years now. I started with just some Lipton and Twinings tea bags as many outside of tea growing countries do. The memory of being struck that there was something more to a poor quality tea bag will always be with me. “This tastes like bitter and insipid grass water...but maybe there is something under that - a sweetness, a fresh vegetable note…” and down the rabbit hole I went. On my journey from Teavana blends through aging puerh, I have always tried to taste well and conscientiously.
One of my trustiest tools on this journey - alongside the fancy clay pots and special water boilers - has always been a journal in which I take notes of the teas I drink. At the tea table a journal is helpful to keep me focused on my tea and forces me to put obtuse thoughts, flavors and impressions into words. Especially as much of my drinking happens alone and most teas will not have many notes or reviews online, the journal gives me access to a point of view that is my own, able to be fully explored.
Journals are also helpful to recall teas I have tasted throughout the years. I need some way to keep track of all the wuyi varietals or puerh villages I drink from. Or, whether it was the Alishan or Shan Lin Xi oolong that had that ethereal osmanthus fragrance.
A journal is a little time capsule. I can jog my memory of what I was interested in at the time of a particular entry. When I started my first journal - only in 2015 - I had seventeen green teas in a row. I remember that I had wanted to be able to differentiate between different varietals and growing areas. Being able to write this journey down made me motivated to taste well and also keep my thoughts straight. Later, the journal is full of comparisons between different puerhs, compared by vendor, year, village and on and on. My changing tastes were reflected and I can recall valuable information.
I can also recall different vintages of puerh from the same village and compare different years. For example, I had a 2015 Bangdong and 2016 Bangdong side by side. I described the 2015 as, “goopy in texture, very sweet like powdered sugar, does not last long.” Where as the 2016 puerh I wrote, “thick in texture, tangy and lactic, astringent and perfumey with many high notes. An oddball.” Clearly the texture of the tea stood out in both of these vintages but they also seemed quite different. If I had a large amount of either of these teas I could taste them throughout the years as they age. I have done this with the 2012 Bulang puerh from Essence of Tea, of which I have the version that was briefly stored in Malaysia. My first entry in November 2015 noted that it was, “intense, peaty, goes from sweet to intensely bitter and that bitterness stays in the mouth.” Now (only five months ago) I wrote, “An olive savoriness, sweet flowers, fernet like. Very thick with a maple syrup aftertaste.” The peaty intensity transitioned smoothly into a more refined bitter cherry flavor in the form of fernet and there are now more sugars apparent in the tea. Being able to see this development in my own home is massively rewarding and education. I learned something about Bulang tea - a region famous for extraordinarily bitter teas that age very well because of that - and I learned that my puerh is aging pretty nicely in my own aging setup.
It is great to say something about your object of passion. Tea should not be sequestered inside your mind, doomed to rattle around. If only to be put in a notebook and closed until you decide to reread the notebook years later, those words improved the world of tea around you.