Jun 27, 2012

some random thoughts about "shoulds"

This post was inspired by Alex Zorach's blog post There is no Should. I started writing this right after reading Alex's blog post, but somehow didn't manage to finish it earlier :-)

This is not exactly about tea, but I've thought of it in the context of tea.

If we leave moral questions aside and just focus on technical questions in tea drinking, What does a "should" mean in tea drinking? (Here by "Should", I mean "Shall" or "Ought to" meaning of the word "Should".) I guess there are different answers depending on what the specific tea topic is. But generally I feel most "shoulds" are more or less meaningless. Tea appreciation is a very personal activity. If we believe there aren't that many "shoulds" in water drinking, rice steaming and apple eating, then why would there be more "shoulds" in tea drinking? Of course one can always improve techniques even on apple eating, and he may receive friendly suggestions on a better way to peel his apple, but that's not something somebody else tells him he "should" do, right?

I can understand that when we love tea so much, sometimes it's heart breaking to see other people "mess up" with good tea leaves. But when somebody else drinks his tea, it's about him, not about us. Besides, suggestions can always be given in a gentle, subtle way instead of with an arbitrary "should". After all, tea is only one aspect of life, and we have to admit, everybody messes up with something, and sometimes, one person's messing up is another person's celestial enjoyment. I not only mess up with tea occasionally, I think I constantly mess up with other things such as wine. In fact, I'm afraid I've been butchering wine and liquor culture :-p

I know nearly nothing about wine, and mainly drink red wine for its warming effect (health benefits?). I know if I drink good wine, I will be wasting it. So usually I just buy cheap wine. My typical conversation with a local liquor store owner was like this:

(I was wondering around examining the wine bottles...)
Owner: How can I help you? What kind of wine are you looking for?
Me: Some kind of Merlot or Cabernet with screw-on lid, so that I won't need a cork tool...

Then the store owner quickly recommended an Australian Cabernet around $10, which turned out pretty good for me. And I appreciated his help. After reading some conversations on tea forums, I suspect my wine choice would drive some wine lovers crazy :-p But that was really all I wanted and all I needed from a red wine.

I also consume about 1 bottle of vodka every year, drinking it with grapefruit juice and using it for homemade fragrance, like the one mentioned in #5 of this post. By the way, my aromatherapy book says vodka and tequila are perfect as base fluid for homemade fragrance because they have the right amount of alcohol content and they don't have strong odors themselves :-D

Last time when I went to a local liquor store to buy vodka, I saw more than a dozen varieties. Learning that I was looking for a vodka, the store owner asked, "How do you drink your vodka?" I told him I'd drink it with grapefruit juice (and holding back from telling him about my homemade vodka fragrance). He thought for a moment, and picked up for me a big bottle for less than $10. I appreciated his quick and non-intrusive help. He didn't tell me "no self-respecting vodka drinker would mix juice with vodka" (but I heard comments of this style from tea drinkers...), and he didn't try to talk me into "improving" my vodka appreciation by stepping up to more expensive products (you know this kind of sales pitch happens in all kinds of stores, including some tea stores).

I also keep a bottle of ginger brandy per my good neighbor's recommendation. He swears it's the best flu medicine, and I believe him :-) I don't even enjoy drinking brandy. This bottle is totally for its health benefits :-) And I wonder if there are among brandy connoisseurs the counterpart of anti-flavored-products people among tea connoisseur :-p

Besides buying cheap alcohol and mess up with them, I also occasionally mix alcohol and tea. Remember seeing some tea drinker saying this in horror? "What?? They mixed tea with that stuff?!"

I wonder if there are some rum enthusiast out there saying this in horror - "What?? She mixed rum with tea?!" But so far I haven't got anybody saying it to me yet :-p

Even though I have poor tastes on alcohols, sometimes small suggestions help. For example, when our local liquor seller handed me my wine in the screw-on lid, he also told me that airing it for 15 minutes upon opening the bottle would improve the taste. I appreciate the advice, not only because it's something effective and easy to do, but also because I appreciate the liquor seller cared to give me some tips on a bottle of rather cheap wine.

Who knows? Although there is no sign of it yet, maybe someday I will want to become more intelligent on wine drinking, especially when I meet with wine drinkers who are cool, friendly and not snobbish. And if I decide to stay where I am now and drink alcohols mainly for their "health benefits" and as alcoholic juice, I would appreciate it if serious alcohol connoisseurs would allow me to do whatever I want with my drink, and I would appreciate friendly suggestions and simple tips.

When it comes to tea, I have to admit that there are teas and tea brewing methods that just strike my nerve and don't appeal to me. And there are times when my mind is dominated by all kinds of "shoulds". But I would try to remember how I would like to be treated as an alcohol drinker, and what I would like or dislike to hear from other drinkers about wines and liquors :-D


Israel said...

Hear, hear. I like my morning Dianhong with plenty of cream. Others may consider that an abomination. But it's just so delicious.

Marlonm said...

Snobbery is a big turn off when getting into anything. Some people in the tea world can be especially bad, and although I prefer unaltered, pure teas I've learned to respect other's preferences. Because at the end of the day, if you like tea, I'll probably get along with you. Great post!

Alex Zorach said...

Thank you! I am glad that that post has been provoking some thought.

I really like your comment: "But when somebody else drinks his tea, it's about him, not about us." -- I think this is a key point. And the idea of "messing up" or "wasting" tea is so entirely subjective.

I had a really interesting conversation with Sylvia, who does the graphic design for RateTea, the other day, about wasting things in general, and she said that she thinks the idea of "wasting" often masks a should statement, especially when people talk about wasting time (i.e. implying you "should" be using the time differently), but I think, this would be another example...preparing tea in a certain way.

And speaking of non-typical ways of consuming tea, I just brewed up a big batch of iced tea by steeping some fairly darkly roasted Tie Guan Yin for a long time, and then chilling it. I am really liking it!

Anonymous said...

Great post!.

I always try to show instead of tell. My family all drink super sugary drinks. Instead of telling them how awesome my unsweetened oolong is, I first got them to sit and drink tea with me by putting tons of honey and sugar in it. Little by little I show them different varieties and try to gauge their palette. Now my brother loves the unsweetened iced dragonwell I make!


Johan Fredin / Feng Yuehan 冯约翰 said...

Here in sweden the tea stores usually only sell 200 types of perfumed black tea. But my mother loves them, flavors like "peach melba" "wild strawberry" "lemon and grapefruit" "swedish summer flowers"

Gareth said...

Nice article! Think you're being to harsh on your self though with the booze side. Corks Vs screw cap, just comes down to the wine, forget everything else. With vodka, loads of vodka drinks are with fruit juice. Cocktails galore, again just depends on the vodka. I've had some pretty expense ones and they probably would have been better with a bit of juice. I do like the bison grass stuff though as it's got a bit of a different taste. Keep up the good work with the blog! :)