"Words are at best honest lies." - The Book of Mirdad
Anyone can tell you anything they want about anything. Sometimes, as the "honest" in "honest lies" indicates, very well meaning people, lacking accurate information, might lead you astray.
Now, "accurate information"… well, that's quite a loaded term, isn't it?
If one were to begin uncovering the commonly agreed upon understanding of "accurate information," a list would form that would probably include: tests, proofs, and definitions - all scientific, legalistic, and empirical in their nature. Something you most likely wouldn't find on the list would be intuitive knowing.
On my first trip to China, one of my teachers (in reference to accurately judging tea) said "The standard is in your heart," which has essentially meant to me: TRUST YOURSELF.
Now the question arises: "How?"
Very natural question, don't you think?
The Rasta people have a word to explain this: overstanding.
When one is faced with a truly fundamental problem, success is often found in bundling together all of the technical data, making order out of it, and then meditating on the problem. True knowing is established when one finds themselves "rising above" the situation while the answer reveals itself in the let-go of meditation.
Overstanding. Too esoteric? Please bear with me...
Take, for example, the feeling that something isn't quite right in an interpersonal relationship. Thoughts of possible problematic elements in the relationship swim in your head. Replays of discussion topics that could have pressed uncomfortable buttons turn over in your mind as you gnaw on the seemingly unsolvable problem.
If you're honest, and slowly let go of all the logic that discerns the data of this relationship (i.e. what you think you have in common, what you think you agree on, justifications of how nothing could possibly be truly wrong being that the all proper adherence to protocols has been met), you will most likely find yourself dwelling in that place where you truly know what was said, what button was pushed, and how the trouble started. You know, right down to the exact situation that began it, what the trouble is.
Actually, you realize, you knew it all along.
Fixed ideas and preconceptions based on the "facts" of the laws of man keep us uncomfortably distant from our own true knowing. For those of us following the Way of Tea, a training in trust is truly essential in assessing the value of the teas and teawares we adopt into our practice. Not only that, but the timing, setting, and carrying out of the tea ritual can be said to be perfect only when the true knowing of the tea master leads them through the entire process of tea ceremony with such grace, naturality, and equilibrium that it seems as normal as any other daily affair.
At that point, what's the point of having a tea ceremony!?
That's the point.
In assessing tea, there are a few key factors we look for in the introductory data presented. In our lineage, seed-grown plants are paramount to the continued vitality of the tea. How they grow and the transformations that ensue in the harvesting and processing of the leaves are inextricably linked to this foundational prerequisite. Organic growing practices should be a given, in the "no brainer" category, but unfortunately the tea industry is plagued with an overabundance of chemicals in the yearly yield of tea worldwide.
Handmade is essential, too, as direct human contact with living tea plants and hand-harvested leaf creates a symbiotic relationship that no machine could ever rival. In the case of hermetically stored teas, conditions need to be stable to ensure the maximum longevity of the leaf. And, in the world of air-stored dark teas (pu-erh, liubao, liuan, fu and others), carefully managed environmental factors are needed to keep them clean and progressing towards their highest potential.
All avenues of exploration, it seems, are very worthwhile.
Learn your facts and philosophies. Form opinions and hypothesis. Allowing for the natural unfolding of your tea journey is truly honoring yourself.
I encourage you to try all tea, engage in all methodologies, exchange all of the information in the world, but please - just indulge me in this - look for your true knowing in the midst of it all!