Monday, April 20, 2009

Guo Bin Li Cha Mao Feng and Charcoal Braziers

Why went through burning charcoal to boil water for a pot of tea? Or in this case, green tea. Tetsubin has been a necessity for centuries in tea drinkers' spaces. Most of the higher quality Tetsubin could not be used on a stove top, but are recommended only with charcoal fire. This is something I am still puzzled about... perhaps any one could tell me the scientific reason?

What I found as non-scientific fact, only through pure observation and taste, was the charcoal burnt really hot and maintained good heat for a very long time. A pot of 750 ml could bring to a full boil in less than 5 mins. The water boiled this way tastes much more alive, lighter and sweeter. It gives a neutral, pure foundation for making the tea shine.

Here is a couple of braziers I use:
1. A tobacco brazier station for when I am smoking and paring tea.
2. A bronze tabletop brazier for keeping the water in slow/small boiling stage.
3. Pair of Lacquer braziers, one for starting and keeping the charcoal lit and the other for boiling water if I am not smoking.

Starting the charcoal is not that hard, using 3 pieces, place them on the gas stove to start, then pile on top of the well lit pieces with more charcoal in the brazier. Good ventilation and air flow is a must. To burn hot and be ready for boiling, will take around 20 mins. Solid oak charcoal is recommended.

So, all these troubles went into making my first green tea of this year. Thanks to Salsero from TeaChat, a very generous gift of Guo Bin Li Cha Mao Feng from teaspring and 2 other 2009 new harvests.

Floral! Nice light sweetness and Jasmine like aroma. Meaty and fresh like spring blossoms, a cross between Korean Jiri tea and Jade snail spring with some hint of malt/rice in the body. The Tetsubin iron which I believe in this case took the veggie and astringency out, replacing it with a sweet finish.

Building the fire for boiling kind of put me into a meditation, and prepare my mind and body to enjoy a tea moment. Happy Green Tea Season everyone. Enjoy!

Tetsubin source courtesy of hojotea.


Trent said...

perfect timing with the post... I've been toying with the idea of buying a brazier lately.

Does the inner clay part of the laquerware brazier function like imen's ( does? i.e. is there some kind of grate above the vent to allow for circulation beneath the coals?

I'm asking about the structure of the inner part b/c I'm trying to assemble a makeshift brazier to test charcoal before I commit to buying one.

Matt said...


One was told that a clay tang gwan (tetsubin) was never to be heated over a gas range or cooking stove because the heat is in direct contact with the bottom surface of the tang gwan. This direct contact coupled with extreme heat generated by these devices could cause the item to crack.

One doesn't know if the iron tetsubin is capable of warping or cracking but that's at least the story one has been given with claywares.

You make starting the charcoals sound so easy. In Japan they consider making the perfect fire just as important as making the tea itself tea. They have different 'formulas' with the use of different sized charcoal, number of pieces used, and placement within the brazier...

then again one usually uses a propane torch ;P


toki said...

Trent- Great that its the right timing. Hope it helps in your experimenting. The inner clay part do function like Imen's, but way cheaper : ) There is a clay disc with holes for venting and a air intake opening at the bottom for $8.99. I found it easier to use a inner brazier, just so the heat is more concentrated and less wastage on the coal.

Show us your brazier progress on teachat. Would love to learn from you.

And Matt, Always a pleasure to have your comments on my post.

I am kind of into Kodao at the moment. And to lit the little Kodao brazier and build rice ashes over it... made this charcoal building in the water brazier seems like a child play
: P

Propane Torch is a very smart choice, indeed : )

Arcane-Dissonance said...


I have been seeking to use a charcoal brazier for a while now. My last attempt, using regular grilling charcoal, ended in a smoky mess and a tetsubin that smelled like steak for weeks (a good smell when not pared with dragon well tea...).

How do you circumvent smoke, ash, and strong scents when using charcoal indoors (which is my ultimate goal)?


LaoChaGui said...

I was wondering have you ever tried using olive pit charcoal? is it harder to work with than regular charcoal?

toki said...

Hi Arcane-Dissonance, Thanks for dropping by and Welcome.

Here is a link which might helps + entertain : )

I would not recommend using regular grilling charcoal. These are simply not for indoor or traditional water boiling in anyway, just for outdoor cooking.

Hardwood Charcoal is the only material I would use. They don't creates odor, smoke or stain your teawares. Sorry to hear the smoky mess : ( I did learn that lesson too.... Hope this help.

toki said...

LaoChaGui- I never try using olive pit here, but had tried the setup while visiting Phoenix village couple years ago. It's much easier then using the White charcoal, as i remember once you have one or two reg. hot charcoal burning as a starter, you can just drop olive pits over it and will be ready much quicker. I am still searching for it, do you think Imen still carries them?

LaoChaGui said...

I think she has been having trouble getting them through customs. They don't want to put it in the mail in China. But here in China, post office regulations vary from town to town. I have been told I couldn't send things in every post office in town, gone 10 minutes bus ride to the next town over and no problem.

If I find a cheap source, I may buy some when I go to Chaozhou in July. I bought some online for about 10 dollars a pound, but it seems expensive.

I was wondering because if you have seen my blog lately you will notice that I haven't been having as relaxing a tea session as you have been with the charcoal heated water. Maybe its my stove, maybe its the way I lay the charcoal, but I am stumped.

alexis said...

thanks for sharing about the charcoal. I have never heard of this method of boiling water for tea.

The fresh green tea looks absolutely amazing!

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