I’m sitting here at home now with a cup of Japanese sencha shimizu, straight from Mt. Fuji, and with Keith Jarrett playing live in Koln (c. 1967) on my headphones. I was worried at first that I wouldn’t be able to find really good tea around these parts, but like other worries that one has been misplaced. (Instead I’m having difficulties I never thought I would have, mostly concerning getting enough money in my Australian bank account to be able to pay my rent by direct debit as required by my lease, but I don’t need to get into that right now.) But as it turns out, The Tea Centre in the Canberra Centre shopping center carries almost every kind of tea I could possibly want, whether black, white, green, oolong, herbal, flavored… The only type I could name that they didn’t have was yerba mate, and I know that can be had somewhere around here because one of the graduate students was drinking it at Mt. Stromlo last week.
I ended up selecting working supplies (100 g) of Russian Caravan pine-smoked black tea for the morning and Rooibos Vanilla for the evening, and a small amount (~50 g) of the organic shimizu green tea for leisurely Sunday afternoon drinking or entertaining. (The last comes at $30 for a 100-g supply, so it’s not cheap. Gyokuro is even more expensive at $50/100 g, so much as I like it I’m going to hold off for now.)
The process of settling in to my new home town has been highly nonlinear so far, and it isn’t always obvious what’s missing — which is why I was so pleased to discover that something simple as tea could help me feel more at home. Call it an oral fixation, call it psychosomatic influence, call it caffeine if you like — tea in the evening acts as sort of a civilizing influence, much like coffee in the morning, which in Australia, at least in the urban centers, is fortuitously synonymous with espresso. Drinking something hot helps me settle in to sitting down at a keyboard and absorbing or producing something of value. Tea or coffee is really essential to reading scientific papers, thinking creatively about current and future research activities, focusing in for an afternoon or night shift of heavy coding, or socializing at work. (For socializing after work, the drug of choice is obviously alcohol!)
The shimizu is a subtle and luxurious tea, especially subtle in fact. It has a very light, grassy flavor, but is unexpectedly rich for being so light. This is in contrast to the gyokuro teas I’ve tried elsewhere, which are often bright and bold with a soupy thick mouth feel. It’s just the thing to induce a sort of meditative quality of mind which I might describe as “thoughtful alertness” — black tea is for pointlike focus on a task, much like coffee, and herbal tea is for relaxing, possibly towards bed. The other great thing about shimizu and many other green teas is that the leaves shouldn’t be steeped very long (1-2 minutes only) and you can steep the same leaves for two or three cups of tea, each just as good as the last one! So that 50-gram supply will last a long time.