Terroir and Teaism

tea tools and yixing pot


Tea is often said to be greatly dependent on “terroir”, the complex set of variables that describe the environment that the tea bush is cultivated in, such as soil type and quality, elevation, climate, and so on.

Similarly, I believe that one has to take terroir’s notion of “this specific place” into account when discussing tea culture.

For example, any place can only sustain the number of tea houses or tea shops that is commercially viable for the given population. Those businesses in turn will only offer those products for sale that experience tells them they will find a market for.

That market is itself the aggregate of the needs and desires of local tea-lovers. Simply put – if no-one who walks through their door has ever asked for a 20 year old cake of raw Pu-erh, then an establishment is somewhat unlikely to offer one for sale.

I think, however, that one also has to remember the subtle difference between a tea-culture and the teaism that exists within it.

If we accept that a place’s tea culture is the product of it’s tea-drinking population, we also should acknowledge that the tea habits of those same tea drinkers may be influenced by local conditions, but ultimately not totally dependent on it.

I currently have 8 gaiwans in my collection, none of which were bought in the local tea shops, or even the Asian supermarkets for that matter. Although several of them were bought locally, I found them in charity shops. The others came from visits to Stockholm and London.

Again, when the local tea-shops drew a blank when I was after a tea-tray and a set of tea-tools, I simply by-passed them and bought on-line.

A location’s climate and water also greatly affect the “what” and the “how” of one’s tea drinking practices.

Our water here is quite hard, and so the topping up of the Brita filter-jug is an established part of our tea ritual.

During our legendary winters, my preference is for a well-oxidised Oolong, and during those impossibly long Summer days a cool and delicate white.

All these fascinating variations are enough to keep the ever inquisitive teaist in tea-talk for decades…

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