One of the things I get written to about the most is the question of how to learn more about tea. When you're first starting out the world of tea can be wonderfully overwhelming. There is so much information out there, some of it conflicting, that it's hard to separate fact from fiction. Here are some tips that I've learned along the way.
Read Everything You Can
Read anything and everything about tea that you can get your hands on. Particularly for those in the western hemisphere, books are one of the few easily accessible resources. These are some of the ones that I recommend the most often:
The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura
The Classic of Tea by Lu Yu
Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties by Kevin Gascoyne, Francois Marchand, and Jasmin Desharnais
Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic by Jinghong Zhang
Modern Tea by Lisa Boalt Richardson
Free Kindle Books for Tea Lovers
The Tea Book by Linda Gaylard
The Art and Craft of Tea by Joseph Wesley Uhl
Drink Everything You Can
Nothing teaches you about tea more than drinking it! The first piece of advice I give anybody looking to get into tea is to drink everything that they can. Whether it's a super high-quality 1st flush Darjeeling or terrible puerh from your local Asian market, every tea has a lesson to teach. Knowing what bad tea tastes like helps you understand what it is that makes the good ones so good. It can also be helpful to do comparison tastings focusing on specific types or regions. As a lifelong picky eater, this was something I struggled with at first. Don't let preconceptions keep you from trying something new! Tea isn't nearly as scary as you might think. :)
Connect and Share with Others
One of the best ways to learn about any subject is to connect with others who are just passionate as you are. For tea drinkers, this can be a bit difficult as we're sometimes a bit geographically isolated. Lucky for us there is the interwebs! Social media can be a great place to find people who are talking about tea. Comparing notes and sharing information is one of the most effective ways of progressing on your journey. Instagram is one of my favorite places for this because it is so visual. You don't even have to speak the same language to connect with other tea lovers!
Know that You Can't Know Everything, and That's OK
I've been pursuing tea as a passion for nearly a decade. That might seem like a long time but there is not a day that goes by without learning something new. Anyone who tells you that they've learned everything they need to know about tea is someone that you should immediately stop listening to. Getting into tea is a bit like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. It just keeps getting deeper and deeper. In many ways, I think that's why I haven't lost interest over the years. Drinking tea is not a competitive sport. Explore what interests you and never stop learning!
Use Multiple Sources
No matter how much you trust where you got your information, I always recommend verifying everything with multiple sources. There is a ton of misinformation out there. Much of it has been repeated so many times over the years (centuries in some cases) that it gets accepted as fact, even when there is little evidence to support it. I'm reminded of playing a game called telephone as a Girl Scout. One person would make up a sentence which would then be passed around the circle in giggly whispers. By the time the message got to the last person, it bore no resemblance to its original form. Tea is a global game of telephone so it's best to get as close to the sentence starter as possible.
I asked the tea community on Twitter what their answer was to this question. These are some of my favorite responses.
@teaformeplease Spend time buying tea in person from friendly people who know their business!— Roan Clay (@RoanClay1) October 22, 2016
@teaformeplease Be open minded, adventurous and passionate about discovering and tasting new types of loose leaf teas.— ManwithaMug (@ManwithaMug) October 22, 2016
@teaformeplease Much like wine, have fun exploring. The fun is in the adventures of finding what you like and understanding its history.— ThatOneNerdRon (@raspiras8) October 22, 2016
@teaformeplease I see Chinese/ and Western "Assamica" teas as different tracks. Tea clubs and blogs are a great way to explore Chinese teas.— Kris Zentner (@kriszentner) October 22, 2016
@teaformeplease Explore! Try as many as possible in various places. You'll learn differences in quality etc. Reading your blog helps, too :)— Mario (@MarioTravels) October 22, 2016
Readers, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you agree with my points? Is there something that I missed? Let me know in the comments!@teaformeplease Usually, I say to try less things. Find a type of tea (black, green, etc) and find the best stuff in that bracket.— ▲ (@samgdf) October 22, 2016