Last week I finished off the last of a tin of jasmine pearls and was reminded, after an unintentionally long period of neglect, how much I enjoy this exquisite tea.
It is not at all reminiscent of the brightly colored exuberance of Chinese opera, nor the strident red imagery of Maoist propaganda, but of the back rooms of Chinese antique stores in the United States – dust and breakage and history – the detritus of 19th century opium dens during the California Gold Rush. It brings forth images of antique medicine cabinets, the scrolled detailing on Qing Dynasty tables, piles of decaying silks in faded colors. Clearly not of jade, but of the soft absorbency of wood and textiles. And unlike oolongs and other teas prepared using the Gongfu method, for me jasmine pearls unfold in an entirely secular milieu. It is a tea of the home and of the retail shop, not of the monastery or the teahouse.
I do not expect my associations with jasmine tea to be universal, but I would not be surprised to find other people with their own unique reminiscences and connections to this tea. Its delicate and precise aroma seems particularly well suited to attaching its source to memory. I attribute my relationship to it, at least in part, to memories of the actual aromas hovering about old wooden articles from China, which do often have a lingering and very distinctive scent that hints of jasmine.
The references to San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 19th century lead me down a path of research regarding the socio-political implications of the Chinese experience in the West during the Gold Rush and in the building of the railroads. Those are much more serious matters and not to be addressed here or with a lovely cup of jasmine tea in my hand.
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As someone that has done a fair amount of content on tea, I have a lot of mixed thoughts on the way information is passed. With tea reviews or discussing a specific tea I have struggled with the question: how to talk about an individual tea or tea in general in an interesting or useful way.. Whether you like or dislike TeaDB episodes largely depends on whether you enjoy watching two particular people drink and binter. This is fine enough and it is certainly fun for Denny & I to create, but I’ll also agree with the sentiment that it’s not necessarily the most substantive way to review a tea in depth. There’s some signal but there’s also a lot of noise. Writing about a specific tea also isn’t easy and I think is actually very difficult to execute in a way that is actually consistently interesting or useful for people. Most people just want to know if you liked or didn’t like a specific tea. Making something that piques interest beyond that is a challenge and even if you don’t like them a place like Mei Leaf has succeeded in creating content that really does engage their viewers. You also have to consider that the majority of people have not had the tea or are even unfamiliar with the basic taste profile (i.e. Denny & I describing a traditionally stored pu’erh, when the audience has never had one).. Here are some phrases I dislike and hear frequently enough that I find them unhelpful and sometimes even counter-productive.
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