Floating Leaves Tea Home ---Shiuwen's Blog!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dong Ding, Farmer, and Tea: Tasting Tea

This is the third post in a series of stories about my experiences in Dong Ding. You can find the first two stories among my January posts.

I was very happy to hear Farmer saying, "Let's go back. It's time for tea." Finally!

The tea table was set up and the water kettle was set on the stove. Farmer said, "Miss Tai, since you are the one who will decide which tea you like the most, you should brew the teas." I asked how many different ones he had. He told me he had seven different days of harvests. "Can we taste the teas in bowl style?" I asked. "Of course" was his answer.

While I was tasting the tea, Farmer's wife would come out from the kitchen and try the teas. She would look at me closely but didn't say much. I focused very much on the 7 bowls of tea. I went back and forth through all the bowls, trying to know all the tea's strength and weakness. "Miss Tai, the society is corrupt. Humanity has fallen. See how many people are sick? Of course they are sick. Look at the food they are eating. If someone gives me that food for free, I wouldn't eat. Even if he gives me $20,000, I still wounldn't eat it. Society is corrupt, and...." He went on and on like a broken tape player that I couldn't turn it off. I probably tasted the teas for 2 hours while he repeated variations of the same statements. I looked at him from time to time and nodded my head randomly. It was the most intense tea drinking session ever!

I tried to stay in my own world and focus on the teas. I was very happy with all the Dong Ding teas on the table. I suddenly said, "I am done tasting tea for the day. I like cups #3 and #4. Maybe I can taste them side by side tomorrow morning?" Farmer replied,"Of course. We should have dinner soon."

My mother, son, and I walked to the place where we stayed for the night. Mom said, "He is very intense." I said quietly, "Indeed."

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Gaiwan Tea Brewing: Timing

I promised in my last post that I would write down how long I brew tea for in a Gaiwan.

I timed myself and found it very distracting to have to pay attention to a timer while brewing tea. I failed a couple of times when customers were coming in and out of the tea shop. It was very frustrating!

Then a tea friend came to visit and I asked him to time me while we drank some tea. I asked him not to let me see the timer.

We shared a pot of ShanLinXi and here is the result:

Gaiwan: 120ml

Amount of ShanLinXi I used that day: 7.7grams (I put the usual amount of dry leaves I put in the Gaiwan and then took the tea out to measure the weight. I don't time my brewing and I don't measure my tea either, I just eyeball it.)

Water Temperature: Boiling water. I heated it back up again for the forth infusion. I did a quick rinse(about 5 seconds).

1st infusion: 25 seconds (a good indication to pour out the first infusion is when the leaves are half open. Please see the picture below):
2nd infusion: 20 seconds
3rd infusion: 17 seconds
4th infusion: 20 seconds
5th infusion: 35 seconds
6th infusion: 55 seconds

leaves that are slightly open: a good time to pour out the first infusion

I know some people don't like to use as much tea as I do, so I did one timing with just a thin layer of dry leaves to cover the bottom of the Gaiwan. I took the leaves out and weighed it. It's 5.8 grams. My friend secretly timed me again and here are the results:

1st infusion: 30 seconds
2nd infusion: 23 seconds
3rd infusion: 30 seconds
4th infusion: 30 seconds
5th infusion: 45 seconds

I have included the above experiments and times as a response to the many questions I get about brewing times; these are not meant as rules for anyone to have to follow. I'd bet that my timing changes a bit when I brew the same tea. This is for people who are new to Gongfu tea brewing to give them a frame of reference.

My suggestion is still the same. After you brew Gongfu tea for a while, stop using a timer or measuring the "exact amount" of tea. Start to pay attention to your tea rather than your timer. Trust me, you will build a good internal clock for your own tea brewing. Without the exact timing, the best cup of tea will show up when you least expect it. Without exact timing, you will reach a deeper understanding of the tea. Why limit yourself and your tea with a timer, be open and your tea will give you the best surprise ever. Happy tea brewing!

*first photography by Douglas King.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Gaiwan Tea Brewing

I am often asked how long I brew my teas for. To be honest, I don't time myself. I only time my tea brewing is when I am brewing teas for initial tastings or comparison using the competition brewing set.

However, I understand the curiosity or frustration with using a Yixing tea pot or Gaiwan for the first time. I remember when I brewed Gongfu style tea the first few times and my tea didn't taste right. I had friends who would brew the same teas, and what they brewed tasted better. When I asked them how they did it, they always looked at me a bit puzzled and told me to use my feeling and intuition.

That's pretty vague, right? Feelings? What kind? I decided to watch them whenever I had a chance to watch people brewing tea. I discovered experienced tea people have developed their feelings and intuition so that brewing tea has become natural for them. They feel the tea. It's like a beautiful dance between tea leaves and the brewers. It's like the person who brews tea has a thougtful conversation with the leaves.

This can sound fu-fu. If you have been doing something well for a long time, like cooking, brewing your own beer, making kombucha etc., you will probably know what I am talking about. You build a very good sense of how you are going to tranform the ingredients into something delicious. You simply know when it's ready for the next step.

However, we don't start by being perfect. We try and make mistakes even when we follow the recipes. I encourage you to be open to making mistakes when you start to do Gongfu tea. If you can watch an experienced tea person brew tea, that might be the best way to learn how to brew tea.

If you have to measure the amounts of leaves, water temperature, and time yourself, do that. But please don't follow any brewing instructions like they are laws. You can follow them the first couple of times to get used to brewing tea in a gaiwan or yixing tea pot, but go out of that box and see what you might discover.

With that being said, it's still difficult if you are new to this. So in my next couple of posts, I will let you know what my brewing times are with some of the teas, with the help of a friend who secretly timed me.

*photography by Douglas King.