On Tea

Written by Al Drinkle

A friend of mine is as passionate about tea as we are about wine and he’s amassed a staggering amount of knowledge on the topic. He tastes and researches obsessively and indexes his experiences methodically and with borderline maniacal detail. It’s inspiring to me to see somebody with fanatical excitement for something… Anything! It signifies that they’re alive and willing to counter the abyss of mediocrity perpetuated by legions of listless somnambulists who unresistingly abide their meaningless existences.


I have been the grateful beneficiary of my friend’s insight by way of the osmotic absorption of information and the frequent exposure to really amazing teas. I get great enjoyment out of tea, and maybe if wine didn’t exist I would have the time and energy to apply myself to learning more about this fascinating enterprise. As it is, I’m lucky to know an expert who guides me towards the best stuff without having to do the research myself (sound familiar?). Recently I was given samples of three different types of Mi Lan Xiang oolongs of three different quality levels. According to my friend’s charmingly informal classification, these included, “regular-ass,” “fucking great” and “mindblowing, ethereal, you’ll see…”


All three were excellent but the ascension up the quality hierarchy was both illuminating and perturbing. I found the “regular-ass” oolong to be harmonious in flavour and seamlessly delicious without offering noteworthy complexity. It made me very happy. Next I brewed the “fucking great” selection from the Wu Dong Mountain and it was mesmerizing, enchanting and flawlessly expressive. I was in complete awe, hopelessly disengaged with the book that had been captivating me mere moments prior and blissfully immersed in the luminous qualities of this sublimely bewitching elixir. Wine may have the “power to banish care,” as Hugh Johnson puts it, but I learned that day that an amazing tea can pacify a hectic mind and simulate sub-conscious levitation. Moving right along, what secrets lie behind the “mindblowing, ethereal, you’ll see…” door?

Given the undeniable allure of its predecessor, I brewed the last tea with eager anticipation and splayed my already lubricated mind, ready for the detonation promised on the envelope. The greatest thing about this experience is the reinforcement that in the tea world, at least in this case, subtlety is a virtue, and I found the descriptor of “ethereal” as it pertains to delicacy to be accurate. But notwithstanding the opinions of the experts, and despite the fact that I pride myself on being an admirer of such virtues in wine, I found the “best” tea to be a little too subtle, a bit too restrained, rather faint instead of delicate, a cryptic glance instead of a loving caress. This is unsettling to me because I had to admit to myself that either my palate lacked the capacity to appreciate virtues that I value and defend from an ideological standpoint, or that my soul lacked the requisite stillness to recognize when I’m in the presence of true beauty.

Either way, I was disappointed in myself but I’m also sufficiently callused from three decades of perpetual disillusionment that I hardly noticed the additional dejection. All I needed to bounce back was a sip of honest, delicious, heartwarming “regular-ass” wine – like the one on offer herein!