First of all I must thank The Essence Of Tea for putting out the guide from where I learned this process. It was years ago and it’s not available anymore.
The focus of this guide is the practical procedure of perceiving agrochemicals from tea yourself. So I couldn’t include much about the quality of tea in general, differences of different organic certificates etc.
This guide is meant to be used like any of my tea content. Everyone can enjoy their tea in their own way and that’s perfectly fine whatever the way might be. And anyways ultimately there is no good or bad, just different opinions. But if you want to learn more about tea, make more sustainable tea purchases and go deeper into gong-fu tea I’m sure this guide has something for you.
Just to be clear that the only way to know for sure the agrochemical content of a tea is to test it in a laboratory. I have not ordered laboratory tests to my teas because for the moment it doesn’t make sense financially. But I must say my friends and customers have been very happy about the quality, cleanliness and the meditative properties of my teas so at least there is some proof.
The perceiving process is done by paying attention and spotting out specific physical sensations and mental changes when drinking tea. If you perceive enough “red flags” you can conclude that the tea is not clean.
Let’s start by defining what is a clean tea and what is a non-clean tea. I don’t take into account the quality not connected to agrochemicals in this definition.
The maximum amount of agrochemicals or unwanted substances found in the tea is equivalent or less than in EU certified organic tea. Additionally there are no artificial aromas or other unwanted smells or substances.
The agrochemical content exceeds the EU-certified organic amount or there are artificial aromas or other unwanted smells or substances. So the maximum limit for food products set by the European Commission for Food Safety is not clean enough for me.
The benefits of being able to perceive agrochemicals yourself directly from the tea
1. You can better support organic tea production and sellers
It’s hard for you to promote sustainable tea agriculture (especially with pu’er and liubao) if you don’t have the skill because of two reasons.
Firstly there are teas that are in reality clean but aren’t certified organic. So you have very limited choices if you drink a lot of tea and want to buy only certified organic. This is especially problematic for pu’er and liubao from which the vast majority of clean teas are not certified organic.
On the other hand there are teas that are certified organic (including some EU-certified) but not in reality clean and/or low quality and/or stored in a bad way. So they will cause similar symptoms than non-clean tea.
2. You have an important basic level skill if you want to evaluate tea, other drinks and food on a high level
This skill is essentially the same as what’s used for evaluation of the quality of tea, tea brewing techniques, different kinds of teaware or other brewing parameters which have a subtle effect on the tea quality in the cup.
For me the effects of agrochemicals are quite strong compared to the subtle changes of brewing techniques or teaware. So if you can’t perceive agrochemicals you can’t possibly go very deep on gong-fu tea brewing, other brewing techniques or teaware materials.
Understanding deeper the effects of tea on your body and mind is important in the path of a tea person. Without the first hand understanding you are always bound to rely on the opinions of others and can never fully understand the tea directly from your own experience. And the others most often can’t be fully objective of their recommendations (me included).
The perceiving skill
My experience is that people don’t have this skill naturally but I can assure you it’s real and achievable for the most of you. It will be easier if you are sensitive to psychoactive substances, practice meditation, have a vegetarian and/or mostly organic diet. For others it might be a bit harder but it’s definitely achievable. The same skill can be used to spot out agrochemicals also in other hot drinks and food. Agrochemical signs and symptoms in food work a bit slower so it might be harder to spot out.
The skill is like other sensory skills like for example listening to music. If you don’t have much experience with music you are not able to spot out different small sounds, instruments or techniques. Let’s compare situations with a professional musician and and a total novice. In a live music concert the musician can distinguish much more and detailed things than a total novice e.g. a small mistake that the performer did. Perceiving agrochemicals is kind of like that. In a way you spot out the instrument which is out of tune from the concert.
My advice for you is to learn how to perceive agrochemicals yourself by trying my or my trusted sources’ teas using the following instructions and feeling their effects on your body and mind. You can compare these feelings to other teas. If you can’t distinguish the difference I don’t recommend that you buy my teas. There are plenty of cheaper non-clean teas which are otherwise good quality.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying other sellers and their teas are bad. It’s just probable that I wouldn’t enjoy most of their teas or won’t sell them. This is of course a simplification and there are exceptions. And many sellers have certified organic teas which are most probably clean. I think that it’s very important to have a lot of different tea sellers with different focuses so different customers can find good teas for themselves.
“Red flags” in non-clean teas
By red flags I mean unwanted feelings, physical sensations and symptoms caused by non-clean tea.
My procedure in the beginning was to try to spot out enough of these “red flags” and if I could perceive enough I decided it’s not clean. There were many “maybe” teas which had mostly nice feelings but also something weird. After tasting them later they still stayed “maybe” so I decided they are not clean. My judgement criteria are very strict: If the tea is not 100% a “yes” it’s a “no”. The feeling from the clean ones is almost always “wow this feels so nice”.
When starting out to train this skill I would encourage you to stick mostly to “raw” body sensations rather than mood changes. Expectations play a big role on the mood changes and also physical sensations so it’s important to make a blind tasting.
The reactions to agrochemicals probably vary a lot between individuals so you might even not have these sensations but something different like e.g. tea blogger MattCha’s runny nose and itching of the legs.
Mouthfeel is the most important factor to pay attention to rather than the aroma and taste also when judging the quality of the tea. I haven’t found any specific taste or aroma connected to agrochemicals. When sipping the tea, relax, close your eyes and concentrate on the mouthfeel. How does the liquid feel and move in your mouth from the moment it enters your mouth to the time it goes down on your throat. How do the different parts of the tongue, cheeks, throat etc. feel.
Tingling of the tip of the tongue
Look for a “burned” sensation on the tip of the tongue which is lasting for a long time and many infusions. For me it often feels pulsating a little bit.
Drying the mouth
For me a sure sign of agrochemicals is that the saliva glands on my cheeks shut down completely. There might be still some saliva production from below the tongue but the cheeks are a strong sign for me. This effect stays in the mouth for a long time even if you drink a clean tea afterwards.
Clean tea slides easily down your throat and doesn’t have resistance. This is also very connected to the quality of the tea and the brewing. But usually agrochemicals have stronger impact than brewing on the “swallowingness” of the tea. Look out for a slight contraction of the throat / back of the tongue in the late part of the swallowing.
Body & other feelings
Smelling the dry leaves
Take a very long and very slow sniff from the dry leaves. No need to shake the leaves… There is usually a pinching sensation in your mucous membranes in the nose and/or slight headache/dizziness.
Usually people have a small headache from drinking non-clean teas. But you need to listen carefully to the body feelings to spot it out. Sometimes I have headache with good and clean teas but it goes away quickly and is probably caused by neck/shoulder tensions.
You might feel uncomfortable sensations in the stomach. These usually take some minutes to develop.
With non-clean teas I usually feel a little bit drunk in a bad way. Also very common for me is that I just feel that there is something weird in the tea. Like there is a nice feeling and a bad feeling working different ways or just that the joyfulness of the tea is missing.
There are also sensations and symptoms very similar to the ones from agrochemicals but are not caused by them. So this makes the perceiving harder of course.
- “Wet piling or wodui” tingling feeling on the tongue which most young (1-3 years old) shou pu’er have.
- Tingling the tongue feeling of some fresh maochas (loose leaf sheng pu’er).
- Mouth drying of certain teas e.g. some fresh maochas. These teas can still be clean and ok quality but never excellent quality though…
- “Bad” brewing technique, water quality, water heating method etc. can cause burning sensation on the tongue, mouth drying or other unwanted sensations.
- Low quality tea can cause all of the same unwanted sensations as agrochemicals.
- Unsuitable tea for your body type can cause nausea, headache or other unwanted sensations. For example if you have a very hot body type you shouldn’t drink warming teas like shou pu’er. Nausea is common if you drink a strongly bitter tea to an empty stomach in the morning.
The Perceiving procedure
I recommend eating a vegetarian and organic diet for a minimum of 24 hours before. Having at least a short body scanning or meditation before the tasting helps a lot by making you more sensitive. If you don’t know how to meditate you can try one from here. Prepare a relaxing, clean place and at least two hours time.
Choosing the teas
Pick at least two similar teas which you want to test meaning same genre of tea and somewhat similar otherwise. If possible, avoid young maocha, 1-3 years old shou pu’er and low quality tea. If you don’t know where to get clean and good teas I recommend mine or my trusted sources. Finding the non-clean tea should be easy.
Weigh the same amount of both teas. It would be best to stick to a simple brewing method like leaves in a bowl / grandpa tea to minimize the effects of brewing parameters and accidental adjustments.
After the body scan / meditation write down the baseline of your body sensations and overall mood. Write down if you have any tensions in your body or head, what is your mental state etc.
First prepare only hot water to your drinking vessel and notice the mouthfeel aspects when sipping. Remember to take your time and really concentrate. Write down your findings.
Brew the first tea for 3-5 steepings, take your time when tasting and write down your findings for every brewing. Also pay attention to how the sensations are changing brew by brew. Agrochemical feelings are most prominent on the first steepings but stay noticeable on the later ones too. Wodui or maocha tingling feeling is noticeable for the first few steepings but should go away after that when on the other hand agrochemical sensations stay longer.
The agrochemicals sensations stay in your mouth and in the body for a long time. So if the first tea you taste is not clean but the second is you still might think the second is not clean either. To avoid this you should have at least a 30 minute break in between the teas and flush your mouth or eat something plain.
After the break repeat the tasting and note taking starting with the water only. After the tastings check your findings and see how many red flags the teas got.
The Essence Of Tea guide had two teas coming with it. The other was clean and the other non-clean which they had deduced from third party laboratory tests. I remember when testing the teas first time the first one turned out to be unclean and the second clean. With the first tea I wasn’t sure whether the slight uncomfortable mouth sensations that I felt were the ones connected to the agrochemicals since I didn’t have any strong uncomfortable feelings. But the difference came clear when I tasted the second tea. I got a very strong pleasurable sensation in my body and great mood after the first sips of the second tea which continued in the later brews. And I didn’t get any red flags from the second tea.
I highly recommend trying out this process. It can bring deeper understanding of tea, brewing techniques and you can make more sustainable purchases. And as a bonus this skill can be transferred to evaluating food more accurately so it will help your cooking too.
The downside is that you might get very picky about tea and notice your favorite tea has agrochemicals or a tea seller you liked has mostly non-clean stuff. So you might have new challenges but more on those in another post maybe…
I would be very happy to hear your comments. Could you do it already before reading the guide? If you tried the process was it easy or hard? Do you even believe it’s possible to perceive agrochemicals from tea like this? What kind of signs/symptoms did you have?
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