A Tea Addict's Journal

The drinkability test

October 22, 2015 · 13 Comments

As I mentioned last time, I’ve mostly been reduced to drinking tea grandpa style, and have no real prospects of doing a lot of gongfu in the near future. This, however, has proven to be a pretty interesting experiment, because drinking tea grandpa style not only significantly alters your preferences, it also alters your perceptions of why we drink tea and what makes a good tea.

One of the things you do when you drink tea gongfu style is you try (or at least should, anyway) to mitigate the negatives of a particular tea. Is it bitter? Is it sour? When brewing, you try to minimize those things and maximize the pleasurable parts of a tea. When you drink tea grandpa style, however, and especially when you do it like I do with quite a bit of tea leaves, what is actually being drunk is a fairly concentrated, never-ending brew of a tea. Since the water going in is usually boiling hot, it’s not really drinkable until at least a minute or two after the brew has begun. This means that the first few sips isn’t all that different from what you might get from a standardized taste test that you see in tea competitions or the quality evaluation table.

What this has done is to force me to think about what I want to drink, and why. Some teas that are acceptable in gongfu are all of a sudden undrinkable. They reveal to me a sharpness, or unpleasantness, that is otherwise not really detectable when brewed gongfu style, because I have used so many ways to soften the blow, so to speak. So in a sense, what this has done is to reveal to me what each tea is lacking, what the tea’s flaws are, and why it is not good to drink.

Funny enough, most of the teas that I love to hit up when I drink gongfu continue to be great in the grandpa style. It is usually the teas that are on the margins – teas that I felt were decent enough to drink – that have really shown their weakness through drinking them grandpa style. For example, the very cheap 2003 Menghai tuos that I bought a lot of. The tea is decent enough, and even in grandpa style is quite drinkable. However, it does have a bit of sharpness that will still take some time to fade, and makes it currently not my top choice. Another tea, a Yiwu Mahei from 2003 or thereabouts, is rather undrinkable using grandpa style – it is simply too sharp, there are some really unpleasant notes that come through. When drunk gongfu the tea is quite ok – not the greatest, but decent enough. When I grandpa it, I wonder why I bought it at all. It’s not a good thing.

This prolonged period of drinking grandpa style also reminded me of why green tea is favoured to begin with by so many – it’s really quite pleasant to drink in a cup, with just a little bit of leaves, and some water. It’s smooth, it’s fragrant, it’s refreshing. This is especially true of something like Longjing, which is, well, very refreshing. You can’t say the same for the heavy Japanese greens, which tend to overload you with umami. You also can’t say that for some of the more robust greens from other regions. Young puerh is simply too harsh in comparison, and is a much inferior drink. Green oolongs are a wholly different beast, and behave sometimes more like Japanese greens. Longjing is just right – it is what a drink needs to be, after dinner, washing out that heaviness with a little bit of crispness. It was what I started with on this tea journey, it’s what my grandpa favoured the most, and why this tea deserves so much respect.

Categories: Teas
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13 responses so far ↓

  • david // October 22, 2015 at 12:11 pm | Reply

    I have a large collection of Yunnan black teas that I drink grandpa style at work. They are deliciously malty and fruity in various combinations and work perfectly (in my opinion) in this style.

    • MarshalN // October 22, 2015 at 12:22 pm | Reply

      Yunnan blacks are indeed pretty awesome for that purpose

    • Von Monstro // October 22, 2015 at 3:39 pm | Reply

      Fujian black teas are my go-tos. I have one that sometimes comes out surprisingly sweet and seems a bit different every time I go back to it. Last time I simply gave it a smell, even, I found it much more fruity as it was exposed to more air whereas the more contained batch still had those Fujian black tea base characteristics and a less “bright” character.

  • Ken // October 22, 2015 at 12:11 pm | Reply

    I’ve had my share of grandpa tea while traveling and second your points re. Longjing (+1) and Sencha (critical). Some of my favorite grandpa teas are dragon pearls (w/o jasmine) and not to forget white teas, especially Bai Mu Dan and Yin Zhen, preferably cakes while on the road.

  • Von Monstro // October 22, 2015 at 3:35 pm | Reply

    Indeed longjing is a perfect tea. A nice longjing is something I am always eager to drink when nothing else seems to feel appropriate; I can always count on longjing to be refreshing and relaxing while having enough depth. Perfect for when you have a lot of tea and nothing to drink. The downside can be the effort into not pulverizing it with water that is too hot, but depending on your preferences and the quality of the particular longjing and you water, temperature might not matter. I personally find I get results for easier drinking if I end up having to use my teeth as a filter due to the water being a bit on the cool side.

    My other always satisfying teas are nice roasted oolongs, like a trusted shuixian, and cooked puerh with decent body. I bought a cheap “2013 Nan Jian 703” cake off of yunnan sourcing and found it to be surprisingly pleasant for everyday drinking. These too, are very easy to brew which completes the flavor of experience.

  • Emmett // October 23, 2015 at 9:14 am | Reply

    I always test my teas both ways, as I drink grandpa style at work everyday a good tea needs to perform well both gungfu and grandpa methods.

  • John B // October 28, 2015 at 5:48 am | Reply

    I’m not really clear on the requirement for brewing “grandpa style” versus just brewing “western style.” If I’m understanding this correctly you mean brewing by keeping the leaves in contact with the water while you actually drink the tea, which is fine for something like longjing, or a mild, lightly oxidized oolong, but for most tea types you really need to control that infusion or steep time, right? Put another way, that’s not going to work for most black tea, unless escalating astringency is not an issue. Or maybe I’ve just not been following this blog closely enough and understand wrong, although I do read this somewhat regularly.

    • MarshalN // November 3, 2015 at 1:36 am | Reply

      Grandpa is just slightly different – you’re drinking from whatever it is you’re brewing in. You don’t need to control the infusion time if you know how to handle the water – and the point is to not care so much and enjoy the tea that way, which is actually how many people in Asia drink their tea anyway.

      • John B // November 4, 2015 at 5:10 am | Reply

        I saw a lot of that traveling in China, people carrying tea bottles, either partly filled with water, or just with wet leaves in them, awaiting the next time they wanted to go through an infusion, maybe whenever they ran across hot water. That would seem to work well for some teas, and not at all for others. I live in Thailand and people here rarely enough drink tea, certainly not like that. I was also surprised that in Vietnam they use the same type of approach in restaurants, leaving the green tea leaves in a pot with boiling hot water, so that after 10 minutes or so it becomes quite bitter. Per my understanding they like that aspect of the tea. It’s like briskness, just taken further. For me I’d start to panic and pour it out into whatever cups I could find around the 5 minute mark while it was still drinkable, plenty astringent already due to using hot water.

  • Mei Lan Hsiao // October 29, 2015 at 6:36 am | Reply

    Traditional Kungfu grandpa (traditional) tea lovers would appreciate the taste of Oolong —- high oxidation, mid. fermentation, mild roasting. It is not about how strong the tea one can taste, but it is about how people can appreciate and enjoy the authentic aroma and taste of tea.

  • Mei Lan Hsiao // October 29, 2015 at 6:38 am | Reply

    The suitable tea ware for Green Oolong is porcelain Gaiwan.

  • Caras E Esta // October 30, 2015 at 5:50 am | Reply

    There is a type of Grandpa tea bottle with a separated, filtered compartment for the moucha. The separate section can be screwed on to the bottle top or bottom, poured through or used as if it were a Gaiwan, gradually filling the bottle, then separated form the liquid and stowed conveniently underneath the bottle. So many who drink their tea in a bottle with moucha in the liquid become insensitive to the overbrewed bitterness of otherwise good revealing teas.

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