Tea - a beverage everyone knows, yet rarely few really know it. The more one learns about tea, the more similarities emerge with wine and whisky, and richer the drinking of tea becomes.
For most people, their experience with tea is limited to the standard teabags from the local supermarket (which can also be refreshing once you know how to brew it).
My first encounter with loose-leaf tea was when I found a bag of Lapsang Souchong in the back of the pantry at my parents' home. This is a heavily smoked tea, and the taste and aroma are quite overwhelming. In the years following, I tried almost every variety available in the local tea shops, read every book on tea I could lay my hands on, and experimented a lot with different brewing recipes. At some point, I thought I knew almost everything about tea there was to now.
Then I went backpacking in China for 2 months...
Needless to say that China is the place to go to for a tea experience, yet you have to know where to go for a good tea experience. In most plain restaurants, only jasmine tea is served along the dishes, but the quality of the tea has no relation with the quality of the food served. Traditional tea houses do not appear on every corner of the street. Tea is now commonly bought in the local supermarket, with associated quality.
Then we ended up in Kunming, China's Tea Capital. Tea shops everywhere, with tea literally piled up. No idea what it was though, but we were invited to taste a large variety of other teas, in a Chinese Tea Ceremony style.
The taste of each tea was unraveled, and every tea was infused several times, allowing you to experience the broad range of tastes the tea had to offer. It goes without saying that we left with a large supply of tea. But not the compressed bricks of tea...
It took several years before I figured out what those bricks were exactly. It is pu'erh tea, a special type of tea. The tea is compressed in cakes (or bricks) after which it is stored for several years in a warm humid environment for fermentation. The older the cake, the richer and deeper the taste is. In general of course. Another large influence is the age of the tree. Yes, this tea grows in trees (Arbor trees), and not in bushes, and the older the tree is, the deeper the roots.
And it tastes great!