Topic: I don't get this about brewing

Hey, guys,

I'm very new to the Gong Fu way of tea drinking. I am from Europe, but currently living in Fujian, China for almost two years. I was drinking some green tea for many years back in Europe, was buying it from supermarket, just putting some leaves, very little amount, in to the mug, filling with some hot water and drinking. That was just fine for me.

Here in China I started to drink really good Chinese tea, for example Tie Guan Yin, only few months ago and doing it like Chinese people do - using gaiwan, small cups and brewing tea only for some seconds - 10-30 seconds. Steeping for 4-6 times. Also, all the time when I'm going to buy or to taste some tea to the shop , Chinese sellers always doing like the mentioned style as well. 

But many times when I'm google something about tea and I read brewing guides it is really strange for me, because usually it is written like this - "For a 12oz pot of light oolong tea, use one to one and one half teaspoons of tea in 176˚-185˚ water for 30 seconds to 2 minutes". So what that means - that you don't wash the leaves at first? And the tea gets really to bitter if you brew it for 2 minutes. For example today I tried to do like that - to keep the tea for 2 minutes - it was not possible to drink.

What all that means? Why they are writing about that kind of style brewing? Why just not to do in Chinese way - use gaiwan and keep it only for some seconds, because it's just the best way.

I hope you understand my question :)


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Re: I don't get this about brewing

"For a 12oz pot of light oolong tea, use one to one and one half teaspoons of tea in 176˚-185˚ water for 30 seconds to 2 minutes". So what that means - that you don't wash the leaves at first? And the tea gets really to bitter if you brew it for 2 minutes. For example today I tried to do like that - to keep the tea for 2 minutes - it was not possible to drink.

What all that means? Why they are writing about that kind of style brewing? Why just not to do in Chinese way - use gaiwan and keep it only for some seconds, because it's just the best way.

Obviously, you're kind of preaching to the choir here. But to me, it's not so much as that one way is the "best" way, but more that different methods are appropriate for different times, places, and teas.

When you did a 2 minute brew, did you use a very small amount of tea (like the 1.5 tsp figure given in your example, which is probably only a few grams, even of a rolled tea like tieguanyin) and use a pot as large as the one described (12 oz)? If you're getting an undrinkable result, you're probably doing it wrong, or need to adjust the parameters somewhat, though some teas will taste better than others brewed this way.

I do think that brewing with cooler water, less leaf, and a long infusion gives a different result. In some cases, especially with low to medium quality tea, you will get a better result this way. I do prefer brewing tea in smaller amounts, but I have tried brewing the same teas Western style, and I don't think it tastes undrinkable. Also, it is harder to mess up - even after brewing gongfu style tea for several years, I brew tea that isn't to my own taste (or to others' taste) occasionally - by brewing tea in such a concentrated way, inferior tea, mistakes in brewing technique, etc. are all magnified somewhat. Knowing how a tea tastes brewed different ways (including Western style) is very useful, because you can make adjustments to maximize the potential of a particular tea. With a tea that's just Ok, often I will back off somewhat in terms of both temperature and leaf quantity, because I know that I am bringing out the best qualities that this tea has to offer.

Why don't people do it the way you describe? Probably a few reasons.
1. Lots of people don't even know about this method, and don't have, or couldn't easily get, the equipment needed
2. Vendors know that non tea people are often intimidated by brewing looseleaf tea. So their instructions are based on equipment and methods that are familiar to people, and likely to come up with a drinkable, if not amazing, brew
3. Many people, even in China, don't want a lot of fuss about their tea, and they don't want to keep boiling water, re-infusing tea -- they just want something hot and not-bad tasting to drink.

Try brewing competition style sometime -- using those little tasting sets... boiling water, 3 grams for 5 minutes or 5 grams for 3 minutes. To me, gongfu and competition style brewing are two sides of the same coin - they both stress the tea. Adherents of each method will tell you that their method is the best, but to me, it's more about sticking to a method long enough that it allows you to judge whether a tea is good or not -- like using familiar monitor speakers for a recording engineer - the speakers don't have to have the most accurate sound reproduction, as long as your ears are attuned to the way they shape the sound.

Re: I don't get this about brewing

+1 what william said

Also, western vendors purchase the teas they carry based on how they turn out brewed western style. When you brew tea differently, you choose tea differently.

~j

"Beware the man of one book" ~Thomas Aquinas

Re: I don't get this about brewing

Yes, yes!

There's a ton of conflicting information on the net.  This is due to a combination of differing personal tastes, and genuinely different optimal ways of brewing tea using different teaware.  Different companies tend to give their brewing instructions in a different way.

With time you can learn how to interpret each company's brewing instructions.  For example, Upton Tea Imports, a company I like, caters distinctly towards western tastes and western brewing methods.  Their brewing instructions are not suitable for gong fu brewing.  However, companies that specialize in Chinese and Japanese tea often give instructions more suitable for brief steepings in a gaiwan or yixing pot.  If I choose to brew these teas in a mug, or a western teapot, with a single infusion or only two infusions, I need to drastically reduce the amount of leaf and increase steeping times.

With experience you learn how to identify each source's brewing recommendations, where they are coming from, and what they mean, relative to the ways you like to brew tea.

However, if you just encounter brewing instructions and you know little to nothing about the source, and their preferences in taste and brewing, the instructions can often be as good as useless!

Experiment, and take everything you read with a grain of salt.  But brewing instructions from the same source are often very useful relative to each other.  I.e. if I am buying from Upton, and they say to only brew a tea 1 minute, I know that it infuses very quickly, because their default recommendation is 3 minutes, or if they say to brew it 5 minutes, I know it infuses more slowly than normal.  I can then adjust that if I'm brewing the tea to my own tastes.

Re: I don't get this about brewing

I'm a little late to the party, I know (a lot late, actually), but I think that it's important to remember that tea is just another food product.

When you buy some chicken at the store, it will often have cooking instructions on it. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that that's the only, or even the best way to cook it. Those instructions are meant for people that don't know much about cooking (brewing tea, in this case), and so they are basic, easy, and meant to produce palatable results for the average layman.

Gongfu cha is about developing skill; you're not going to find instructions for it printed on commercial packages.

Re: I don't get this about brewing

sometimes you drink tea and good taste is not your priority --- priority can be to energize yourself, for example. If you want to maximize the caffeine intake, you will end up with "undrinkable" tea. There is just no other way.

and of course, i totally agree, for everyone "good taste"  is something different


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Re: I don't get this about brewing

kirmakX6on wrote:

sometimes you drink tea and good taste is not your priority --- priority can be to energize yourself, for example. If you want to maximize the caffeine intake, you will end up with "undrinkable" tea. There is just no other way.

and of course, i totally agree, for everyone "good taste"  is something different

I have not had this experience. I've overbrewed tea (to my taste), but not generally because I'm trying to get more caffeine. I'm fairly caffeine-sensitive. Overall, I drink my tea quite strong, and in fairly strong amounts, and that's more than enough caffeine for me. If I'm really just in a hurry to get my caffeine fix fast with a minimum of fuss, I'll sometimes drink coffee instead.

That said, if you brew good quality tea very strong using the right technique, it should still taste good. Getting to the point where you can do that takes a while.