A Tea Addict's Journal

Making tea lazily

March 14, 2008 · 6 Comments

I had two teas today, since I was rather busy and made tea in a cup, grandfather style, instead of doing my normal routine. The first I had was a Yunnan black of some sort — no labels, as is my bad habit. It’s one of those where there are a number of golden tips in the leaves, but they do not consist of the majority of the leaves. Most of the dry leaves are more blackish. Nice, mellow, a little sweet, robust…. a bit of that caramel Yunnan taste, and not a bad tea.

Then, later, I had an Assam. It looks quite similar to the Yunnan, with some golden flecks among the black leaves. Smells like Assam. I brewed it also in the same mug. Nice, mellow, a little sweet, robust…. not a bad tea.

Then I started wondering if it’s possible for me to identify these teas using the parameters I did (maybe 2-3g of tea in a 250ml? mug) without knowing beforehand what they are. I’m not entirely sure. The Assam certainly was a little more bitter, perhaps, but I think the difference is slight. I could detect Yunnan notes in the Yunnan black, but only just.

Which leads me to think that in some ways, all our gongfu brewing puts us in a very different mindset with regards to the teas we drink. Of course, the amount of leaves I put in my cup today was small, and so the nuances were subdued. Even after many minutes of brewing, however, their differences are not all that great, and will probably be even less if I didn’t know beforehand what they were.

That is of course a great argument for using gongfu style brewing — it gets the most out of your teas, and what might seem like quite similar stuff when brewed with two teaspoons of leaves for five minutes are probably going to be very different beasts when stuffed into a pot 1/5 full of leaves and brewed for five seconds. The great problem with gongfu brewing, as we all know, is space and time. Space, because it eats up a lot of real estate on a table. Instead of just a mug, you need at least a cup, a brewing vessel, and a water dispenser of some sort. Time, because it takes more attention to repeatedly add water than just adding it every once in a while.

There are, I think, ways of making that easier to do. One is to simply drink multiple infusions together. Instead of downing one cup and then adding water and repeating this process, which takes quite a bit of attention and time, it is possible, I think, to use a pot that is of largish size (say 300ml) and make two infusions of the tea drained into a largish mug that will then be consumed over the next 5, 10, or whatever minutes. When another cup of tea is desired, the process can be repeated. Still takes time, yes, and perhaps a walk to the water heater in the office, but I think it does cut down on the amount of attention it requires (and the strange stares from co-workers) significantly. That’s sort of what I do when I’m on the road traveling with a pot in a hotel room. Drinking infusion by infusion just takes too much effort in a sub-optimal space. Doing that, though, still gives some of the same benefits of gongfu brewing, and if you use the right kind of tea, it will last all day.

How do my dear readers make compromises in the office?

Categories: Old Xanga posts
Tagged: ,

6 responses so far ↓

  • Anonymous // March 14, 2008 at 8:48 am | Reply

    All I have available in the office is a tea machine which gives out 250ml shots of hot(ish) water.

    I keep my sanity by using a thermal camping mug thing as a make shift gaiwan and decanting into a normal mug – it also means that to all but those who sit close to me I might not be as anal about tea as I am and in fact appear almost normal.

  • ChristinaHauck // March 14, 2008 at 9:27 am | Reply

    Two things about this. First, I don’t brew great tea in my office. Right now I’m making my way through a beeng of shu a friend of my brother’s picked up in Taiwan. I think I paid $10 for it, which is probably a fair price. I brew in one of those All-in-one pots (Grand Tea has some): put the tea in the top part, add water, and when you’re ready, push a button and the water flows into the bottom part. I often forget about the tea and get some pretty dense thick brew, but as I said, it’s cheap tea so I don’t care.

    Second, I almost always decant two or three steeps of even my best teas (two in the fair pitcher, one in a cup) and settle in to enjoy. I got a yen last week to drink some old sheng and drank, over the course of two or three days, some Traditional Character (a wonderfully robust and complex tea) and some 1958 GYG (less complex and deeply mellow). The week before I was sampling some oolongs from Tea Obsession the same way. This probably reflects the more aggressive and consumeristic aspects of my personality.


  • lewperin // March 14, 2008 at 2:00 pm | Reply

    I actually don’t need to compromise much in brewing tea at work. (Probably this is in return for having a windowless office!) I use a gaiwan and an electric kettle, and I get a dozen or so steeps in a typical day, drinking them one by one. Oh, there is one compromise: except for the very short early steeps, I time the steeps with a computer program so I can devote some attention to my work while brewing.

  • cha_bing // March 14, 2008 at 9:15 pm | Reply

    I don’t need to compromise at all–in fact it is at home that I have to compromise (because I have small kids that make attention to tea difficult). I brew with yixing pots mostly, and use an electric kettle. I store a bunch of little cups on my windowsill so that I can invite people who visit me to try some tea, which I pretty much drink all day. To capture rinsing water, I place my pots in a little dish and use the wastewater to water some office plants. I place a tea towel under the dish, but inevitably spill water, so I have to make an effort to keep papers and tea as separate as possible on my desk. The only drawback is when I get very busy and don’t have time to sit down much, but usually I have time in the morning to drink a fair amount of tea. If possible, I also strive to turn meetings into “tea times,” where I brew the tea while we discuss whatever issue is relevant. Although my coworkers have on occasion given me a hard time for the elaborate efforts I make to brew tea, many have come to appreciate the tea I serve, even though they would never probably make the effort to brew it themselves.

  • Anonymous // March 14, 2008 at 10:46 pm | Reply

    I too don’t do anything too different at work. I bought an electric kettle to keep on my desk, and brought in a gaiwan and yixing pot, a fairness cup, and an assortment of drinking cups. I mostly brew more forgiving and less interesting teas, because I occasionally forget about them and leave them to overbrew, and in general don’t devote much concentration to making or drinking tea at work. The only convenience I’m really missing is a tray for catching spills. I’m probably violating some fire safety regulation by using an electric kettle in my office, but nobody’s complained yet.

  • MarshalN // March 15, 2008 at 12:58 am | Reply

    Interesting…. I always tried to picture myself back in my desk job trying to brew tea, and I can just imagine my co-workers or boss giving me a hard time making tea. To those of you with a real office (instead of a cubicle) — life must be nice 🙂

    I’m going to try experiment with a trayless set up pretty soon…. and see where that gets me. Spilling, as I can imagine, is going to be an issue….

Leave a Comment