I had never even approached a white tea until White Peony. It was incredible. It was a new dimension of tea that I absolutely did not expect. While some of the notes the shop wrote down were “purity”, “restorative life”, “leaf like”, this tea was what I had begun to sense in Green Tea: a direct connection to nature, in a completely expansive context. White Peony is noted by the shop as having “thyme, honeysuckle, fennel” tastes. Especially apparent are the tones of grass and honey, and this immediately became one of my favorite teas I have experienced through writing. There is such a sweetness to it, but not one that is like sweetness we expect in our culture. It was so light and effortless. This is the first tea in the teahouse I could describe as subtle and elegant.
It’s something that is difficult to describe without the context of the tea. In fact, something I’m finding in a lot of in my writing is that tea really has to be experienced to be understood. While it’s an excellent source of inspiration, the sensation, and experience of the tea itself is in it’s own way a form of communication. It’s a language of experiences. I can begin to talk about my personal feelings and thoughts about tea, but it really has to be experienced. Nature can speak to us through tea, yet that experience of nature is complex.
At the Art Institute of Chicago, I took a Chinese painting class. It wasn’t a studio class, but we actively studied the context, history, and social implications of periods of Chinese society, and how they informed their art, as an extension of culture. One thing that always stuck with me is something the professor said, which is that in landscape painting in Chinese antiquity, there is a concept that Nature is created in human consciousness and not something external. Our entire visual perception is a mediated form of external observation. It’s an emotional and physical reaction.
In the same way, white tea is in an interesting philosophical position. It stands as the absolute beginning of tea. It almost tastes exactly like what would be a “pure” form of tea. I think that calling anything “pure” is problematic, since all tea experiences are in relationship to another sensory perception. It’s less poetic, but it might make more sense to call White Tea something different. But this direct sensation absolutely reminds me of my most direct feelings of nature. The smell of suburban backyards at my parent’s house. The first times I went on a hike. All of the experiences I have had as an adult, hiking in nature in so many different places. All of these things had a particular sensory and physical experience, and it is primarily fields of tall grasses, which I have never experienced outside of my imagination, that are opened up by White Tea.