Doctrine of the mean might sound unfamiliar to you. It is an important part of the confucianism as well as the title of one of four books that constitute the confucian philosophy. As a philosophy principle, doctrine of the mean is too profound to be discussed by me in the length of a blog. For the purpose of this tea blog, we will only discuss one aspect of it: the desire to be balanced.
Now, you might ask, how is this related to tea? Well, to explain this, we need to introduce another concept in ancient Chinese philosophy: yin and yang, the two opposing side of the nature . My fellow tea lovers might already be familiar with them. Yin is the feminine side and yang is the masculine side. Yin means colder in nature, and yang means warmer in nature. This principle also applies to tea, some types of tea are “cold” (more feminine) and some types or tea are warm (more masculine). Remember, “cold” and “warm” here refer to the nature of the tea, not the temperature of it.
The Yin/Yang nature of tea often relates to the fermentation level. Green tea and white tea, being not fermented and lightly fermented, are the more feminine tea. Black tea and Pu-Er tea, being fully fermented, are the more masculine tea. Oolong tea, being half-fermented, is usually considered neutral and mild, not feminine or masculine. Much like tea, human body has this feminine or masculine nature as well. Some people are born with a “colder” body, and some people are born with a “warmer” body. The environment can also affect our bodies. During the summer time, our bodies tend to be more masculine, and vice versa. The tea we choose to drink can help us manipulate and control the nature of our bodies.
Here is where the concept of “doctrine of the mean” comes into play. We want a tea that helps us keep the nature of the body balanced. Either too much “yin” or “yang” has negative effects on us. For example, too much “yin” might result in stomachache; too much “yang” might result in toothache. The better you understand the nature of your body, the easier you can choose a type tea to help balance it. For instance, if a person smokes a lot or often stays up late, the nature of his/her body is more likely to be too “warm”. In this case, green tea and newly made white tea are more appropriate for him/her. Or, during the cold winter, black tea helps warm us from the inside. It is done not by high temperature, but by black tea’s masculinity. If you’re not sure about the nature of your body, you can always choose a oolong tea.
Finally, I’d like to point our that not all oolong tea are mild. Many modern Tie Guan Yin makers have simplified their tea-making to boost production and reduce processing time. The modernized Tie Guan Yin tea-making skips the shaking process. The lack of the shaking reduces the fermentation, thus making modern Tie Guan Yin similar to unfermented tea like green tea. Drinking too much modern Tie Guan Yin could result in a cold stomach that leads to stomachache. However, traditionally made Tie Guan Yin doesn’t have this issue. Traditional Tie Guan Yin is mild like other oolong tea such as Wu-Yi oolong rock tea. The modernized Tie Guan Yin is usually called Qing Xiang Xing (Chinese: 清香型); the traditional Tie Guan Yin is called Nong Xiang Xing (Chinese: 浓香型). I always suggest my customers to check this before they purchase Tie Guan Yin.