文 By: 許玉蓮 Hooi Yoke Lien
The first life of tealeaves: Moist leaves freshly plucked will lose its water content over time if no due care is given; they will eventually become withered dried leaves without any trace of life.
Tea processing not only helps extend the life of the tealeaves systematically, but also ensures the leaves retain the best of their colour, aroma and flavour. The tea masters will have to let the moisture content reduces slowly. Their mission is to let the leaves stay at the peak condition while facilitating dissipation of water vapour in a smooth and seamless manner. For fresh leaves from the tea trees to become tealeaves, dissipation of water vapour is the first ‘holy war’ in the entire process. The fate of these leaves is entirely in the hands of the tea masters – some tealeaves will make it to the hall of fame and others not.
The second life of tealeaves: When do these tealeaves come to life again? They ‘rise’ again when they are being turned into tea infusion – the ultimate ‘holy war’ where leaves turn into tea. Tealeaves are to be steeped and the tea infusion taken. This way, the leaves will reach our heart and soul, and ‘feel’ the passion we have bestowed upon this much loved beverage. As such, tealeaves that have not been brewed and consumed are deprived of life.
When water is added to the tea leaves and left to infuse, the water fills each and every molecule of the tealeaves, while leaching out their ‘juice’ or flavours. The union of water and tealeaves have given us tea infusion.
Some want it fast and opt for small pots, large amount of tealeaves or high water temperature to ‘force’ the flavour out. As a matter of fact, tea flavour cannot be ‘forced’ out; small pots, large amount of tealeaves and high water temperature are shortcuts which yield flavour that is nothing more than ‘skin-deep’ -- the tealeaves would not be able to open up and fully release their substance. The flavour produced this way is not strong enough for the water, and the life of these tealeaves is doomed.
Tea infusion is a communion between water and the tealeaves. Only when the water penetrate the deepermost of each leaf, which releases its full flavour in the most unreserved manner, will we be able to enjoy the best of colour, aroma and flavour these tealeaves have to offer. The transformation is complete, and the water and tealeaves have become one. It is a different life all together.