Back in the days, in Hong Kong, I used to have weekly tea sessions with Mr. Liu.
In one of our first sessions, I brewed him a Taiwanese Oolong called Dongding Oolong, which he really, really liked. I can’t remember how he described it at that time, but he was so elated by it that since then Dongding Oolong became the golden standard against which to measure all teas.
Mr. Liu was good in describing teas: “This tea has a nice flowery taste, with a hint of mint, a good mouthfeel and a somewhat dry aftertaste,” and so on. But regardless how good a tea was in his mind and regardless how elaborate the description was, it was always followed by the (dreaded) words: “But … not as good Dongding Oolong.”
These words started to haunt me and became an obsession. I also liked Dongding tea, but not to the extent of how all other teas failed against it, or the memory thereof. Perhaps Mr. Liu was just in a great mood that day and perceived everything as great. I also have days when all food tastes good, people are all friendly, and everything is just perfect, even when it isn’t. No need to get personal about that, it is just a feeling. Next day, it’s gone.
I started preparing for these tea session with one aim in mind: to have Mr. Liu acknowledge another tea as greater than Dongding Oolong. I bought great quality Longjing, Fenghuang Dancong, old Pu-erh, used different tea ware, varied the water temperature and steeping times. All to no avail, since nothing compared, no nothing compared to Dongding Oolong.
I even went as far as to buy some low-quality Dongding tea, because if I wasn’t going to convince him of the virtue of other teas, I could still water down his memory of Dongding. After I brewed this low-quality tea way too long, with somewhat lukewarm water and proudly poured him a cup, he drank with a poker face.
I asked him what tea it was, he shrugged his shoulders. When I triumphantly told him that this was in fact the great Dongding Oolong, he seemed unimpressed. His mind didn’t unravel nor did his body disintegrate. Obviously, he was not as obsessed as I was with Dongding Oolong.