Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Tea Lesson

Tea is probably my most consumed beverage. Well, at least a very close second, then. That will change when I go home for vacation in summer and have an ample stock of Dr. Pepper and am without the convenient selection of Taiwan teas.

I prefer the traditional way of brewing - 老 人 茶 (Old Man Tea) or 功 夫 泡 (I'm translating this as Kung Fu Brew ). This involves a tea pot, decanter, drinking and smelling cups as well as tea tools. The common tea house (茶 藝 館 ) tea method in Taiwan is not as rigid as in Japan, but does have procedures to ensure that if you follow them, you can blame the tea and not yourself.

On Thursday, my Chinese class was moved from our regular bubble-tea house meeting place (bubble tea is flavored, shaken tea very popular in Taiwan) to a traditional tea house at my suggestion. In the past I would visit this style of tea house once every one or two weeks. It has a much more relaxing atmosphere, is very pleasant and amenable to studying or reading. Following are the steps to brewing a proper pot of Taiwan tea as taught to me by my Chinese teacher, David Huang. David chose Jin Hsuan Tea ( 金宣茶 - ㄐㄧㄣ ㄒㄩㄢ ㄔㄚˊ - jin1 xuan1 cha2 ), a tea that has a very subtle milk aroma. If the milk aroma is noticeable, additives have probably been used.

  • Water temperature is important. Tea houses supply large water pots for your use. David, the tea house menu and others I have spoken to agree that 80 degrees Celsius and below is the correct brewing temperature.

  • Fill the tea pot with the hot water and pour it into the other vessels. This is done for two reasons. One is to clean them of any dust and the other is to bring them closer to the temperature of the tea to be brewed. Pour back and forth among the vessels and then discard into the tea tray.

  • Fill the tea pot 1/4 to 1/3 full with tea leaves and add water. Swirl around and discard. This, again, is to wash the leaves.

  • Now we are ready for the first brew ( 第一泡). Add water and let steep. Steeping times vary according to who is talking. I've heard anywhere from 15-20 seconds to 1 minute. For the first brew, 1 minute sounds a little long for me. Brewing times will become longer each time water is added to the same leaves. We started with 20 seconds and it was fine.

  • Pour tea from pot into serving pot. The serving pot has a fine strainer to catch any small particles.

  • On the first brew with a new batch of leaves, be sure to take advantage of all that the tea has to offer. You will have two cups: one is shorter and rounder and the other is taller and narrower. The tall, narrow cup is the smelling cup (聞 香 杯 - wen2 xiang1 bei1 ).

  • From the serving pot, fill the smelling cup with tea and cover with the shorter drinking cup.

  • Let sit for a few seconds and then invert the cups onto the saucer with the drinking cup now on the bottom.

  • Slowly remove the smelling cup and breathe in deeply the tea's aroma. It is common to roll the smelling cup between your hands to warm them on colder days.

  • Drink, order tea snacks and enjoy. When the leaves have unfurled completely, dump them and put in new leaves. You can do this for hours, for a little really does go a long way.

Here is a link about Taiwan teas that offers insight into the different types of Oolong tea in Taiwan and how they are made.

1 comment:

Red A said...

If you learn these basic steps, you can also be assured of being more informed than some significant percentage of Taiwanese...

Just knowing Cha Hai and Wen Bei is enough usually to impress.

Cha Hai (Tea Sea) is the serving pot J-hole speaks of...

My wife actually did not know what a Cha Hai was....