Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Accumulation or Collection? Part II

I'm pursuing the distinction between an accumulation of things versus collection with a theme. In my last post, I established 10 guidelines for my collections.
  1. May start by accident but must continue with deliberate intent and specific choice
  2. Need not contain one of everything, especially at the beginning
  3. By definition, does not include everything; collections have limits
  4. Limits are imposed by economics, storage space, taste or other factors
  5. Collected items may have utility but need not be used
  6. Items in the collection must have a tolerably long life span
  7. Changes may occur over time as tastes evolve or the collected items deteriorate or are used up
  8. If someone else uses an item from the collection, the collector bristles
  9. The collected items invite the collector to categorize or arrange / rearrange in different ways
  10. A collection must please the collector and at least one other person
Today I want to consider a consumable collection. I propose that the previously-shown colorful peppers in a bowl ARE NOT a collection. Wines, single-malt whisky and high-class teas MAY BE a collection. Wines and whiskies do not appeal to me as something to collect. Just to drink. But tea is a bit different - long-lived, affordable, enjoyable, classifiable, etc.

Here are some of the teas in our kitchen. [click any image to enlarge] I am leaving out boxes of tea bags and the miscellaneous teas that accumulate as gifts or are brought home from a hotel room. I have not tasted all of these teas, as some are still in vacuum-sealed packages.

Teas invite categorization. There are white teas, green teas, oolong teas, black teas, infusions, etc. Within the categories there are grades of teas, teas from different producers, teas from different regions, teas picked at different times of the year, etc. In considering this I derived another collecting rule:

11. Esoteric language may be needed to describe a collection precisely (pleases other collectors) but common language is best with outsiders.

What do I mean by this?

You can see that I have color-coded my tea containers. An orange band at the bottom enclosing the term 2nd Flush means the tea was picked in the second burst of growth or "flush" which occurs in summer. Generally speaking, first flush teas or springtime teas are greener and more astringent, and third or autumn flush teas are darker and richer and more mature. Tea containers labeled in green text contain green tea.

This simple, clear, color-coded labeling is helpful when answering the question often posed early in the morning by my loving but caffeine-deficient wife "What sort of tea would you like" to which I can reply "anything 2nd flush" or "any green tea" rather than saying "Singbulli Muscatel Delight Second Flush please" and expecting her to sort through these containers.

I'm often asked if I can tell one tea from another. Of course, what sort of collector would I be if I couldn't recognize my items? But that doesn't mean you could dump all the tea in a bowl and expect me to retrieve the leaves separately. Here's a comparison of 3 different teas. My wife's favorite is Tetley; the other two are both 3rd Flush Darjeeling [See A on the map below] teas.

And here's a comparison of two 2nd Flush Darjeeling teas (again with Tetley in the middle). A tea connoisseur would appreciate the large, unbroken leaves, and might suspect the tea on the right to be a green, white or silver tip tea.

Here's a comparison of tea leaves after brewing. It's clear that the leaves differ, the colors vary, and the composition can appear as chunks, chips, stems, leaves or "grounds". 

I've devoted a lot of thought to these teas, built a database to understand my inventory, and blogged about tea. Look here and here or here if you want to read more.