tl;dr Calculation is useful but intuition is the goal.
There was a lively discussion some time ago about the frustration some felt when people review tea and fail to provide the exact measurements of the brewing process. Some are fans of intuition, some are fans of calculation. Personally, I'm an intuition guy -- but I give full attention to calculation. Let me explain.
Certainly, one of the seductive things about brewing tea is that it engages all five senses. Why is tea so closely associated with spiritual traditions in Asia? There you have your answer. There's just not a lot in life that can do that. Herein you have:
1. The SOUND of the boiling and pouring of the water into the vessels,
2. The SIGHT of the leaves, the color of the tea and beauty/simplicity of the vessels, and the raising steam.
3. The TOUCH of the warm cups and the ergonomics of a good teapot,
4. The SMELL of the dry and wet leaves and the brewed tea itself.
5. The TASTE of the tea leaves and the viscosity of the liquor.
Whatever happens don't loose sight of this. It's the singular engagement of the whole person.* One must not lose this in the shuffle of scientific measurements.
I've experienced the perfect cup of tea on occasion in my life and one memorable time I was staying at a friends house in XinZhu, Central Taiwan. He had an acquaintance come over who was a simple taxi driver. He was given the task of brewing up some Competition Baozhong I had just picked up high in the mountains of Pinglin from Farmer Chang. I was busy doing something outside and someone ran to me with a freshly brewed cup. It was amazing. He nailed it and I just stopped what I was doing and slowly drank that cup with complete concentration. I walked inside and complimented this taxi driver on how he brewed this tea. "He's a real tea master, don't you know?", my friend said. So I asked him.... how much tea, how much water, what temp...? His answer was, "Every tea is different. You have to smell the tea leaves and taste them a little bit, you have to taste the water and watch the tea very closely using all your senses"
Wow, so really this is the victory of the whole person over just the brain. I try to use intuition when I brew but I have experience and I know what I'm looking for. What about beginners?
This is where you need detailed instructions but beginners must realize that the water you use in your locale is different from mine as is the altitude. Your heating method may be different, etc... so no matter WHAT recipe you follow, it will be different but at least it gets you in the ballpark. Recipies are general guidelines and are VERY necessary in a country that doesn't have a tea tradition yet.
But I always remember... my wonderful Italian Grandmother made Sunday gravy with nothing more than intuition. Family members wanted to quantify everything and make it into a recipe but NOBODY has equaled it. She smelled the tomatoes and the spices, trimmed the meats, used just the right amount of carrot, onion, garlic (based on their strength that day) and oil. Somehow magic happened. It was filled with love and people talk about it to this day.
Maybe you can't make Sunday gravy every day but the closer you get to it, the more you are rewarded.
*Not to mention that you are utilizing all the basic stuff of earth as well in the same processs (fire, wood, earth, metal, water-that's another blog post)
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