A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from February 2011

Yamada Jozan

February 28, 2011 · 13 Comments

I’m using this today




Looks awfully like a yixing, but is in fact a tokoname pot made by one of the Yamada Jozan (there have been three so far, in good Japanese tradition of passing down the name).  I’m not quite sure which generation made this particular one — some indication online seems to suggest the first, but I can be wrong.  This type of pot was made basically in imitation of yixing ware, and the Yamadas have been particularly good at it.  I got this without the original tomobako, but it comes with a yuzamashi and five cups.  I’m only using the pot at the moment, and ignoring the rest.  Obviously, this was intended for sencha, but I’m making Chinese tea with this, with good results.

Categories: Objects
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It’s not about the flavours

February 25, 2011 · 10 Comments

Not really, anyway.

I think flavours in tea are the sort of thing that initially attract us.  The beany taste of Longjing, the high fragrance of a gaoshan oolong, or the camphor of a puerh are the sort of things that are immediate and satisfying.  Teas often have flavours that you can’t find anywhere else, or they can come in combinations that are unexpected, surprising, or fascinating.  A friend of mine tried one of my aged oolongs and commented that it tasted of ginseng-vanilla.  Perhaps that’s a new flavour for ginseng that health food makers should consider.

Having said that, I think focusing too much on the flavour of a tea is almost missing the point.  From observations and discussions with other tea drinkers, I think after a while, we all move, slowly, towards a deeper and more subtle appreciation of tea, and that means that we start moving away from just looking at what the tea taste like, and put more emphasis on what the tea feels like. Good (and usually expensive) teas invariably feel good in a way that inferior teas do not.  They don’t always taste all that different, however.

The best example I can think of is teas from a store in Hong Kong that specializes in aged puerh of various kinds.  They have their own storage unit, and the storage unit has a very distinctive and unmistakable smell that leaves a strong imprint on all their teas.  I can probably pick out teas from this particular store from a lineup of different traditionally stored teas, just because I’ve had a number of them over the years.  All of their teas, by and large, display a similar taste profile — a slightly ricey, musty taste that is short on camphor but long on medicine.  It’s a distinctive profile, and it’s there in every one of their own teas.  There are of course subtle variations, but they are not all that obvious.  Yet, these teas don’t all sell for the same price — some are quite expensive, others are quite cheap.

The chief difference among them is the feeling you get from the tea.  What I mean by that is not that it makes you high or your head spin or what not (although I suppose it could do that).  Rather, it is the physical sensations that you have in reaction to, first, having the tea in your mouth, down your throat, and then the reaction that your body has towards it that distinguishes the better from the not so good.  A nice one is full, thick, smooth, hits all corners of the mouth, leaves a strong, lasting aftertaste, stimulates the tongue and throat, and gives you a feeling of qi.  Bad ones are just a beverage — you taste it, it goes down, it’s over.

Vendors, though, are quite unhelpful in this regard.  This is especially true of mainstream vendors, who overwhelmingly talk about flavours, flavours, flavours.  It’s all about the raisin note or the ripe fruit or the earthy flavours.  It is almost never, ever about how the tea feels in your mouth — the most is some mention of astringency, perhaps, in some cases, of huigan, but that’s already getting into specialized territory.  I think this is due, partly, to other beverage cultures, especially the wine community, where (for most people reading those tasting notes anyway) it’s all about the blackcurrants and what not.  Tea, though, is not like that.  It really shouldn’t be just about the flavours, but rather how it activates and excites the sensory nodes in your mouth — not just the tongue, but the entire mouth, perhaps even your body.  I don’t know how we can change that, but I think we should at least try, in our own discussions, to incorporate these unique qualities of tea as much as we can.

Categories: Information

Mystery (tea) ware

February 21, 2011 · 25 Comments

In the spirit of misappropriating wares, I present the latest example:


I’m not entirely sure what this thing is.  I’m pretty sure I’m not using it right.  My guess is that it’s better for cups — putting, say, four small cups on it and then pouring tea into them would be what I think this can be used for, although for that purpose, this thing is slightly too small, unless the cups are tiny.

I tried using it like this yesterday, and it seems too precarious for the pot to sit so high.  It does hold a decent amount of tea underneath though, so that when I pour the wash over the pot, it does collect and go right in.  That’s almost certainly what the holes are for — some sort of liquid.  I just can’t quite figure out what’s supposed to go on top…

The mystery continues

Categories: Objects

Finding winners

February 19, 2011 · 6 Comments

I think one part of any hobby that requires collecting is the fun in finding winners.  Some hobbies, like stamp collecting, have what I think of as high transparency.  Everyone already know what’s out there, and generally speaking, people have a fairly good idea of the rarities that may exist and how much they would go for.  Once in a while there’s a surprise, but those are few and far between, and generally require some luck to land on.  Then there are things like puerh drinking, which also has a collecting component to it.  Here, I think the transparency is both high and low — high for a small constellation of “famous” cakes which everyone knows about and is sought after, not always for the right reasons.  Then there’s the rest of the teas out there, largely unnoticed, flying under the radar.  Some can be very good, and in some cases even better than some of the more famous productions, but very often, they are duds and deserve to remain in the background.  The joy of finding a hidden gem, however, is great.

Hobbes at Half Dipper has just talked about two cakes that I recently got samples for from Yunnan Sourcing — the purple and red Yisheng from 2005.  These are sister cakes to the red Yisheng that I bought in Beijing back in 2007, and which Hobbes has diligently reviewed after he purchased some himself.  I remember trying the one I bought with the one that YSLLC currently offers, and decided on the one that I eventually bought because I thought it slightly better.  I don’t remember seeing the purple there, or if I did, it was more expensive and thus ruled out of consideration.

I’ve seen the cakes surface on Taobao since then, but never really found reason to try them again, especially since it involves buying a whole cake.  With YSLLC offering samples though, I decided to take the plunge.

Yesterday I had the red, since I know it better.  As soon as I opened the sample bag, I could smell the tea.


Using my trusty young puerh pot, it brews dark


The tea was, according to Scott, aged in Xishuangbanna, and it shows.  Kunming teas don’t age like this, and one of the reasons I decided to try the tea at all was because of this storage claim.  In my experience, teas stored in Xishuangbanna in general are quite good.  They mellow much faster without the dryness that Kunming has, which I find to be draining on a tea.  Drinking this red Yisheng, I am reminded of my own cakes — and wonder how they’re aging in Hong Kong.  Unfortunately, I have no basis for comparison, but this tea is very nice, showing signs of age as well as a solid Yiwu taste and mouthfeel, with good qi and longevity.  I like this.

The red is, according to Scott, a fall tea, while the purple was picked in the spring.  So it’s only natural that I try that today as a comparison.  Right away, you can tell that the leaves are smaller and more buds are present.


The colour of the liquor is largely similar, with perhaps a hint darker than the red.


The true test, of course, is in the way it goes down, and here the extra rainy season it endured is obvious — the tea tastes more aged.  It also has more punch, being a spring tea, and it lasts forever.  Three kettles of water later, it still yields a strong cup.  For the purposes of record keeping, I took the leaves out for some pictures




With the purple on the left and red on the right.  Then, having taken said pictures, the purple leaves are now back in a mug for some grandpa style drinking.  Interestingly enough, drinking it this way yields a slightly smokey note that was not present in the normal brewing.

Both of these teas are what I would consider great young puerh that are starting to show some age, while having enough “stuff” to go on aging without worries about deterioration, which is more than I can say about many other cakes of this vintage.  The purple is punchier, while the red is mellower, which some might like.  I remember the great feeling of having found a “winner” in the spring of 07 when I bought the Yisheng in Beijing, back when Douji was a relatively obscure brand and nobody has heard of Yisheng before.  Drinking these now, I have the same feeling, and wonder why I didn’t try the purple one first.  I wish I have my own cake here to compare, but it’s probably better that they are in Hong Kong, safely tucked away from my evil clutches.  Taobao’s offering are similarly priced, and if you factor in proxy costs and other sundry charges, YSLLC is as good as any.  Of course, your mileage may vary, but I think this tea deserves at least a hearing.

Categories: Teas
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Thinking about oolongs, part two

February 16, 2011 · 3 Comments

Although the natural environment in which teas grow obviously affect how they taste, processing, for oolongs at least, is king.  The sheer number of variables is astounding, and the range of tastes that are possible, from the really light and floral baozhongs to the really dark and heavy wuyis are what make oolongs so much fun (and why so many people drink them).

I’ll try to proceed in the order in which these things happen in the production process: oxidation, rolling, roasting, aging.

Oxidation is the first step in oolong production that makes it distinct from green teas, and it really happens immediately after the tea leaves are plucked.  When leaves get harvested, they usually go through a withering stage, and then they are bruised so that the cell structure breaks down, so that the enzymes can get to work and oxidation can begin. How much bruising, how much time for oxidation, under what conditions, etc, are the kinds of things that create particular flavours in a tea and are also the domain of a master tea maker. I suspect, for example, that darjeeling oolongs have generally turned out to be similar to their first flush is because they haven’t quite gotten the hang of the oxidation process yet, so everything still taste sort of vaguely similar.  I have talked to folks who tell me that they have to control for everything from weather, to time of day, to moisture level in the air, etc, and they know when to stop the oxidation process and start the kill-green by the way the leaves look and smell.  That’s stuff that I think I will only be able to learn if I become a tea farmer and work on it for thirty years.

The kill-green stops the oxidation process, and then you have to roll the tea — literally rolling them in the old days, in cloth bags with the farmer’s feet doing the rolling.  These days, that’s more often than not done with a rolling machine.  The purpose of rolling here is more or less like the purpose of rolling for puerh — squeezing out liquids, and basically allowing a lot of the dissolvable materials to stick on the surface of the leaves rather than remaining inside.  The rolling process can take a while, and depending on the area in which this is happening, rolling will also determine, to a large extent, the final shape in which the tea takes.  Just look at any dancong and compare it to a Taiwanese gaoshan oolong and you’ll know what I mean.

The drying and roasting process is then the step in which tea becomes tea — drinkable, brewable leaves.  This can be done in different ways, but generally speaking, this is mostly done through machines again.  At what temperature and for how long is really a matter of the craft of the teamaker again, because the retained moisture at the end of this process affects how the tea will taste by the time it gets to you.  Even though leaves look dry, there’s always some moisture in them, and the amount of drying/roasting that it goes through affects this value, which then changes the way it keeps and the way it ages through time.  That’s why, for example, vacuum sealed packs of somewhat wet leaves don’t keep too long and need to be left alone in the fridge — they go bad, fast.

Generally speaking, the drier the leaves, the longer/better they keep.  Roasting is a process through which moisture gets taken out of the leaves, and re-roasting, which was done often, was something that tea merchants would routinely do themselves in order to refresh a stock of leaves — reigniting (and changing) the aromas of a tea, and to take out excess moisture that usually ends up imparting a sour flavour on the leaves.  Oolongs can go from virtually no roasting to really heavy, pitch black roasting, and the skill of the roaster in handling this again has a direct and immediate effect on the way the teas come out.  There is also a regional preference here, with Wuyi teas generally being of higher roast, for example, and modern day tieguanyin from the mainland are increasingly little to no roast — nuclear green, in other words, which I personally find terrible to drink. There’s literally something for everyone here, depending on one’s likes and dislikes.

Then there’s the question of aging, which I have written plenty about before.  I don’t think all oolongs will age well — only a select few do.  Badly aged oolongs are usually sour and pretty disgusting, and sometimes re-roasting them will fix the problem.  However, there are lots of fake aged oolongs out there that are simply heavily roasted teas pretending to be aged teas.  They can be nice, but they’re not necessarily very old.  I personally find aged teas to be most fascinating, and since I don’t drink nearly as fast as I buy tea, I end up having some teas that I age myself without really having intended to do so — such as the cup of 2006 Beidou that I’m drinking right now.  Over time, a properly aged oolong should have a reddish appearance in both the leaves and especially the liquor, and the taste should be sweet and aromatic.  Then they eventually acquire the type of taste that all aged teas get — hard to explain, but you know one when you see one.

The interesting thing here is that the permutations of various factors – location, processing, aging – combine to form all types of flavours and aromas that you can get from oolongs.  I can safely say that almost no two oolongs are the same, and every time I go to a store in China that specialize in some type of oolong or another, each batch that I try are going to be different in some way or another.  Because so much of it also depends on post-processing and storage, even after the same batch of tea left the factory, the ultimate result in your cup may still differ.  I suppose that’s what makes it fun.

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Thinking about oolongs

February 16, 2011 · 2 Comments

Of all the families of teas out there, oolongs are probably by far the most versatile and varied in appearance, aroma, and taste.  Situated between green and black, oolongs, by definition, are semi-oxidized teas that can be almost as green as green teas (very light baozhongs come to mind) or very dark, almost black tea like (oriental beauty).  By virtue of the variations possible, oolongs are complex and interesting teas that often bear little resemblance to each other, but offer the drinkers a wide range of possibilities.  Making sense of all this can be difficult; I’m going to try to at least systematically lay out what these various issues are, and what I have learned so far.

There are I think three different factors that go into the growth of oolongs that we, as consumers, need to consider.  Those are, in no particular order, terroir, varietal, and season.  Then, in the processing from raw leaf to the finish product, there are additional variables that a tea farmer/maker can manipulate to change how the tea comes out, and those variables can include oxidation, rolling, roasting, and in some cases, aging.  I’m going to just try to talk about the first set of things and worry about the second set later.

When dealing with terroir, to borrow a wine term, we are really talking about the soil, climate, and other environmental factors that go into the growth of the tea, which in this case would also include altitude.  I think we can talk roughly about large geographic areas, but also small microclimates.  For example, teas from Taiwan tend to share a similar set of taste profiles, especially in the aftertaste of the tea.  They could be from different varietals, using different techniques, and grown in different areas of Taiwan, but many Taiwanese teas end up tasting similar in some fashion, and are often easily identifiable as Taiwanese.  Likewise, Wuyi yancha can (and to many, should) have a similar taste, especially that fabled yanyun, which roughly translates into “rock aftertaste”.  Even when Taiwanese tea farmers make teas using Wuyi varietal and methods, they can’t achieve the same results.  That’s terroir for you.

Location matters though, so whether or not the tea you’re having is from a hilly slope or flat ground, high up or down low, moist or dry, well lit or not, and shaded or otherwise all have to do with how the tea comes out in the end.  So while we can talk about large swathes of land when discussing tea, we can also talk about smaller areas.  Anxi tieguanyin costs more than teas from nearby counties, and not all Dongding teas are created equal, as anyone who’s tried a number of them can tell you.  Things like that are hard to control, and often for the end buyer, relatively meaningless, because we rarely know exactly which farm a particular tea came from.  When we can find out, however, it often tells you something about what you’re drinking, and accumulating experiences in telling apart various kinds of growing conditions is a true mark of a tea expert.

Varietals obviously also play a role here, and the most famous of these is perhaps tieguanyin and all its imitators.  A maoxie or huangjingui might look and taste somewhat like a tieguanyin, but it never is one, and those who drink a lot of tieguanyin can generally tell you right away if the stuff is real or not.  Likewise, we all know the story of the original dahongpao, and all the generations that the originals have spawned.  Varietal matters, and also changes the way the tea taste in a fundamental way.  Unlike terroir, for the consumer, varietal is difficult; it requires a great deal of experience to be able to tell apart different kinds of oolong trees and their leaves.  Whether that is a jinxuan or a siji or a ruanzi or a taicha #18, is not something that a tea novice can do easily.  If you don’t drink it often, chances are you are entirely at the mercy of the vendor, who is often at the mercy of the maker.  I think this is why finding reliable and trustworthy vendors is so important — not only that you can trust them to not lie to you, but you need to be able to rely on the vendors to do the due diligence and basically fact check the maker of the tea.  There are many out there who merely parrot the story told to them when they bought the tea — that’s sometimes a recipe for disaster.

The season in which the tea is picked is the final big variable for those of us trying to drink oolong.  A spring tea is inevitably different from a fall tea, and mostly on Taiwan, you often see a winter crop as well that is yet again different.  In my personal experience, spring teas tend to be floral while fall teas often have more body, and winter teas have a unique fragrance and sweetness that is quite distinctive.  You rarely see anyone advertising summer tea, and there’s a good reason for it — slower growing tea tend to be better tea, and summer is usually when the tree undergoes a growth spurt, leaving relatively thin and uninteresting leaves for you to consume.

Already, we’re dealing with a dizzying array of possibilities that can significantly impact the teas we drink.  Puerh-heads spend a lot of time worrying about these issues all the time — where the tea’s from, what season it’s picked in, etc, but oolong drinkers tend to obsess a little less about these.  I think a big reason for this is simple: the lack of clear and obvious ways to tell different sorts of teas apart, and the importance of post-processing that creates the final tea.  Those are serious mitigating factors to everything I’ve just talked about, and can change the tea in drastic ways.  Not having an easy way to tell apart different kinds of teas sold under different names is obviously a difficult issue as well.  Just witness the number of teas out there that are advertised as tieguanyin or dahongpao — surely, they can’t be making that much of these teas.  Something obviously has to give, which means that there is a fair amount of false advertising out there.  Since it is virtually impossible for the regular consumer to compare two of the same sorts of teas from two vendors easily, it is all the more important to at least educate ourselves with regards to what may be out there, and in doing so, become a more discerning drinker.

To be continued…

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Aged Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling

February 11, 2011 · 7 Comments

A few years ago, Mr. Rajiv Lochan of Lochan Tea sent me a few really big bags of samples.  I’ve had some in the intervening years, but never quite finished any of them despite my best attempt, mostly because I don’t drink black tea very often.   Since I’m on the road today, I pulled out the bag labeled Margaret’s Hope Black Tea, and had it grandpa style.  The tea, I must say, has aged very gracefully in the four years that it’s been under my possession.  I’ve always known that blacks often taste fuller with age, at least in the first year or two, but this tea, drunk in this way, was just really, really nice.  Long gone are the aggressive notes that you get with Darjeeling — that bitter bite that comes with the territory of drinking Darjeelings grandpa style is not to be found.  Instead, a very welcoming sweetness pervades the tea, coats the mouth, and slides down the throat.  The sweetness is not too different from the type of taste you get from a good, somewhat (but not very) aged puerh — a 5-7 years tea that’s turning the corner.  You can still taste the typical Darjeeling scent underneath, but this is much better than, say, a young 2nd flush.

This makes me wonder if I should stock up on some Darjeelings and just let them age.  Might not be a bad idea, actually.

Categories: Teas

Silver revelation

February 8, 2011 · 3 Comments

Today I drank a sample that I got recently, without any real labels or anything.  All I can remember (and discern) is that it’s some sort of an aged oolong — not really aged, just a few years under its belt, with a little sourness in the smell and that characteristic aged smell.  I brewed it up normally, did not think much of it — seems a little hollow, and one note, but not particularly interesting.  I brewed two kettle worth of water with it, and decided to basically call it a day.

Then, late night, I thought I wanted some more tea, but adhering to my one-tea-a-day rule, I had to just boil more water for my tea, instead of using new leaves.  For some reason, I picked up my silver kettle instead of my usual tetsubin for the water.  In the water goes, out comes the tea…. and the tea seems to have gained new life.  All of a sudden, the taste is richer, with a fuller body and a deeper penetration into the back of the mouth and the throat area.  The high note, which was already present in the original brewing, is now really obvious, but has undertones to support it so that the tea is not bland and hollow anymore.  All in all, the tea is now good, and I want more.

This of course confirms what I already know, but sometimes forget – silver tends to be better for the teas with lighter notes.  Sometimes, when faced with teas like aged oolongs, it’s not always easy to tell what’s going to happen, and experimentation is necessary.  Now I wonder if I should go back and test some other recent teas with the silver kettle, which, until today, has been neglected in the back of my teaware cabinets.  I think it’s time to work on water again.

Categories: Information · Teas
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Principles of Chinese tea making

February 5, 2011 · 8 Comments

Every cup of tea has two ingredients – the tea leaves and the water.  To fuse these two into a cup of tea, it goes through the process of brewing, and as every tea drinker who’s ever tried an overbrewed cup of tea knows, even the best leaves and water can make a terrible cup if the brewing method is flawed, whether by design or accident.  In fact, among all the major beverages of the world, tea is perhaps the most demanding on the drinker in terms of what it asks for — to make a nice cup of tea, the drinker must be able to brew the tea, and hopefully, brew it well.  It is not an accident that we call the Chinese style of tea making these days “gongfu cha”.  Gongfu roughly translates into skill and ability, and the tea that results is really determined not by the ingredients that went into it, but by the hands of the person brewing it.

What exactly does this skill consist of?  One way of thinking about it is to start with the end goal — a pleasant, presumably fragrant, and enjoyable cup of tea.  This means that the cup should possess as few undesirable traits as possible, such as an overabundance of roughness, bitterness, or odd flavours, and also be flavourful, has depth, and a good body.  An insipid cup does not have any bad traits, but the absence of any distinctive features at all is itself undesirable.


Now, the question is really how to get from leaves and water to an enjoyable cup of tea. If we leave out the issue of the leaves and water (you can read the rest of this blog for my thoughts on those issues) the only variables that we can actively influence as the tea brewer are the teaware, the leaves/water ratio, the temperature, and the time.  Let’s talk about them in turn.

For most of us, teaware is often an automatic choice based on the type of tea in question and the number of people drinking.  The most versatile, of course, is the gaiwan, and it is also perhaps the most neutral. For those of us who, by and large, use yixing or other kinds of teapots for brewing, there are a few things worth thinking about when assigning pots to teas.  For example, is this an aged tea with a strong flavour, or a fragrant one with a delicate aroma? For the former, a more porous pot may be more useful, while the latter might suit a high density pot like a zhuni better.  The shape of the pot may also come into play, as I generally find flatter pots with large openings more suitable for Wuyi yancha, while rounder shapes work better for rolled oolongs.  How the pot pours is of paramount importance — not in terms of whether the flow stops if you stop the air hole (which I believe is of zero relevance) but rather how fast the water drains from the pot.  If it takes too long, you should take that into consideration for the next question, which is the water/leaf ratio.

The question of how much leaves to use in a particular pot/gaiwan is really one of the biggest decision a tea brewer can make, and has implications for all kinds of issues like how fast to pour and what to expect from the cup.  Examining the dry leaves and knowing what type/nature it is will help determine the amount of leaves to use.  Lighter teas generally require less leaves, while heavier ones can take more, even though that may sound odd.  When I say light, I mean lightly processed — greens, whites, qingxiang (little to no roast) oolongs, very young puerhs.  When I say heavy, I have in mind nongxiang (heavily roasted) oolongs, aged teas of all kinds, heavily oxidized teas, etc.  The amount of leaves, in grams, is really not a very useful unit to measure, because what really matters in terms of brewing is how much leaves there are versus how much water there will be in the vessel.  7g of tea is a lot in a 50ml gaiwan, but is not a lot in a 150ml pot.  I always measure the amount of tea I use by how much of the vessel I’m filling up with the dry leaves.  This can range from 1/8 to 3/4 of the vessel, depending on the tea and the nature of the leaves.  Rolled leaves, for example, will expand greatly, so you need to leave room for it to do so, whereas flat leaves, such as certain Wuyis and dancongs, unfurl pretty much in place, and you sometimes need to pack more in to achieve certain tastes.  There are also the special cases of brewing using Chaozhou style techniques (that’s another subject entirely) which needs different types of preparations.

The amount of leaves used determines, again, how fast the infusions should be, and also to a slightly lesser extent, the temperature of the water used.  The teas I drink tend to be on the “heavy” side of the scale, so boiling water is generally required.  When making lighter teas though, starting from qingxiang oolongs, it is often important to pay attention to how hot the water is and adjust accordingly.  Lighter generally means cooler, as most of you already know.  Cooler, however, also means longer steeps, and this is where it gets tricky, often involving active adjustments on the brewer’s part to get it right.  Whereas using boiling hot water often means pouring the tea out quickly, often immediately, using cooler, longer steeps will result in different kinds of tastes.  A heavy tea that is steeped quickly with hot water should be full bodied with the fragrance that is desired, but not the bitterness and roughness that will surely follow if steeped even slightly too long.  With lighter teas, water that’s too hot will scald the leaves and can make the tea less fragrant or even bitter and nasty almost immediately, with no remedy possible once done.  Cooler water with longer steeps will bring out the fragrant and sweet elements of the leaves without the tea suffering from damage.

It is, however, in the adjustment process where I think gongfu tea really gets its name.  How to manage all these moving parts in a satisfactory way is the key to making a good cup of tea, Chinese style, and to be able to do that, it involves a certain amount of practice and experience, which then translates the act of brewing into an intuitive process that flows naturally, rather than something that resembles a science experiment, with measurements and timers and thermometers.  Part of this is very much a practical problem — I’ve observed people who learned tea making a certain way who then follow the directions given to the letter (heck, I’ve done it myself early on — we all have) and it just doesn’t work.  5/10/15/30/30/60/60 is not how you make a good cup of puerh, or oolong, or anything.  Being able to mix and match and adjust on the fly depending on what’s coming out from the pot is.  If the last cup is too weak?  Brew a little longer, or if the water hasn’t been reboiled in a few minutes (depending on the way you handle water in the brewing process) maybe it needs to be heated again.  Or, if you’re not achieving a certain taste, perhaps you can push the tea a little further.  Likewise, don’t be afraid to actually take leaves out of the pot — sometimes there’s just too much leaves in the pot, and as non-intuitive as this is, pull some leaves out.  The resulting cup may actually be better.

Most importantly though, the adjustment process allows the tea to be brewed according to individual taste.  I know that I like the tea certain people make more than others.  They are just better tea brewers, at least in my eyes, regardless of what tea is given to them.  There are those whose tea I had the misfortune of drinking, and by mangling it thoroughly, what should have been a great cup is destroyed.  Sourness that should have been subdued became pronounced, Wuyi that should have that strong rock aftertaste turns into insipid brown tea, and young puerh brewed in such a way as to make me wonder if I should be drinking some white tea instead.  When making tea for ourselves and ourselves alone, the adjustment process is easy — you have perfect feedback from yourself, and can tune the tea making a certain way.  When making for a group of people, asking them how the tea is coming out is equally important.  It is easy to fall into the routine of our own tea habits without thinking about the fact that now someone else has to drink that cup of tea.  Maybe they don’t actually like (or can handle) 10g of Lao Banzhang in a 60ml pot.  Maybe lightening up on the leaves will be a good idea.  Drinking tea by yourself or with others is always a learning experience.  The end goal, I think, is elusive, but every day we think about what we’re drinking, we’re getting closer to a better cup of tea.

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Happy Chinese New Year!

February 3, 2011 · Leave a Comment


May you all have very nice teas this year.

Categories: Misc