Few tea houses do not have a jasmine pearl option in their selections. It’s one of the most iconic teas of all green teas. Still, it is a bit more expensive than other more well-known teas. That is mostly from the process of making the pearls: the round, interwoven leaves that make up the texture and form of the tea. The rolls are handcrafted, one at a time. So if even not so dear a price, they are from human endeavor and love of craft, whether by choice or by necessity, or maybe both. It is a beautiful example of the handcrafted qualities of tea.
The tea shop’s Pearl Jasmine is considered one of the best, and it’s been one of my favorite selections from the shop for a while. The floral sensation of the tea is immediately recognizable. While at one time extremely exotic to me, it has acquired the familiarity of a really warm experience, still rich and mysterious in its invisible flower that it places before you, just beyond your senses, ready to be perceived at the slightest hint of it with each cup.
If I can continue with my attempts to describe tea flavors as a shape, this one is oval. There are not quite sharp, but more progressively narrow sensations that come from the floral qualities. It makes me think of unassuming gardens in the East Bay, particularly in the overgrown, seemingly unwavering grasslands of the front yards of West Berkeley, where the shop is located. It also recalls the Berkeley Botanical Garden, always a kind of pale green in parts, which is how I imagine the emotional color of the tea, mixed with light purple. The tea is harvested in early spring, and the jasmine flowers are picked early during the summer.
I immediately started searching my memories for memories of other gardens I have seen. Probably one in each city we’ve lived in, civic public gardens, Hawaiian preservations, ancient petrified gardens at historical sites, all the anonymous, humble gardens on city streets and suburban environments. I wonder how rare these types of gardens might be over time. Will future generations look at these as archeological sites as well?
A friend of mine wrote a song recently that comes to mind in which he says, “We are smoking flowers, we are seeing flowers, we are being flowers.” We can certainly drink flowers too, and that was what I did in the tea shop today. There was an ancient garden on the table. I drank from it, and a flower appeared in my mind.
There was no one else in the shop, and the tea ambassador (I don’t know what to call the tea shop workers) helped me do research when she didn’t have any answers to my questions. We had a really interesting discussion.
From her memory, she knew that the legend of where tea comes from is serendipitous. According to her, the first person who discovered tea was an emperor who was boiling water on an open fire. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew leaves into the boiling water, and when he poured the water into the cup, it became the first tea drink.
It’s probably an impossible story, but the sentiment is interesting. It imagines that tea came to us from a natural occurrence. The physical transformation of the environment through natural processes that created the event was mediated by the choices of an individual, in this case, an emperor, but she said that in other versions of the story it is a healer who discovers tea this way.
She thought for a minute and then said that we were more connected to nature in the past. I think that is true but I also think we could become more connected to the earth again. The uncontrollable gardens and wildflowers of West Berkeley give me hope that we will find a way.