Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oolong tea brewing. Now and then....

Over the years, I have been documenting on some brewing methods for Oolong tea. Looking back and comparing the progress is one of the most self educational & learning experiences. From the very beginning, I only concentrated on the surface and 'packaging': eg. looks, brewing steps, aroma, feeling of front of mouth and the first couple of minutes of 'expectations'. All these do not excite me any more, but the lingering effects and experience afterwards is more what I am searching for at this point.

A couple of readers asked what is a good oolong and how do I brew it.... All I can answer is that it is a loaded question. Perhaps an endless quest? Awakening of "Self and Surrounding", or a lifetime experience to search for Ethereal... a great character/bouquets of maturing process like a 30 yrs+ fine Bordeaux, Burgundy or even Habanos. And the refinement of brewing a tea without thinking too much of it... just like breathing?

The only fact that I am confident of concluding based on my experience is, if you can use 16g of tea on a 80ml pot and you can very much enjoy it, it is a good tea and a good brewing method.... at least to my latest enlightenment, and of course, this will only change in time.

Most often these days, when drinking with Masters, or beginners, I always observe in a very intense way.... Not intruding nor asking, but just looking and enjoying the results. Often enough, I will learn something new, and could tell why and what made someone do what they are doing at their own stage. Can you translate what I am doing in this silent animation?

Beginners often use less tea to water ratio, and Master usually do the opposite. A seasoned tea drinker once told me, the reason to do this is often someone has not yet found something good enough or confident enough. When you use a load of not-so-refined tea, the best you get is a cup of not-so-refined brew. A high quality tea, when you pack it to the top, you will always get a top cup. That's why you have tea bag, and the normal way to brew it? A bag to a big cup, you can make any tea bag taste passable.

Old posts of brewing methods for Oolong tea:

2006 Light Anxi Tieguanyin brewing

2006 Traditional Chaozhou/Hong Kong Oolong Kung-Fu brewing method

2007 Traditional Anxi high fired 16 years old Tieguanyin brewing

2008 Detail brewing method on old bush Wuyi Shui Xian

I am still enjoying this pot over it's third night, paring with a 2002 Trinidad Fundadore. Creamy, concentrated espresso and orchid. A nice balance and kicks all in all.


Will said...

Does that pot have a volume of 80 ml empty, or 80 ml of brewed tea? Because I use a 70-80 ml pot to brew tea in a similar way, and I can only get two cups out of it -- sometimes not more than 1/2 full each, and I'm almost certain that's with cups that are the same size or smaller than you... I think they probably hold about 10-15 ml at most.

With a "6 cup" size pot (around 120-130 ml raw capacity), I can get 3 cups. Maybe 4, but I think it would be a stretch. I think I'd need an 8 cup pot for 4 cups.

I think there are people who know quite a bit about tea who can tell whether a tea is good by stressing it in the opposite way (like competition style tasting) - I think having a developed palate, and using the same method of stressing the tea all the time probably matters more than the exact method used. I'm sure there are people who can judge the quality of tea using 3g better than I can using 20g.

In fact, in some ways, I find that certain teas taste better when brewed with a lot of leaf and almost instant infusions, but don't hold up quite so well when brewed a little more moderately, so I don't know that it's always true that this method will show more flaws than other methods in all cases. Also, I would think that (since using so much leaf creates thickness of its own), it might be harder to gauge a tea's mouthfeel / viscosity when brewing the tea so strong.

The other downside of using this method is that it makes it a little harder to compare two teas side-by-side... I find so many differences in how I taste things from session to session, and it's hard to compare two things by memory.

For me, at least, at this stage in my education, the only way to know for sure if I like a tea is to try it several different times, and often I'll vary the brewing technique depending on my past experiences.

For brewing roasted tieguanyin, and even some other teas, my method is very similar to yours, though I'm sure your gong fu is better I am curious whether you drink all 4 cups when you're brewing alone, or whether you drink one and pour the rest over the pot.

Lastly (sorry for the long reply), I think that when I'm drinking tea, there are often two different goals I might be looking for. One would be to flatter the tea, i.e., to make it taste as good as it's possible for that tea to taste. The other would be to evaluate the tea (i.e., to determine how good it is), in which case I'd want to stress the tea, either by using a lot of leaf and very hot water, or by using a small amount of leaf and a very long infusion. Both could show certain flaws in the tea, though maybe not in the same way, and maybe not the same flaws.

Hope we can manage to meet up and make tea while I'm home!

toki said...

Hello Will. Glad that you stop by and thanks for the comment. You are right, this is a 80ml empty pot, each brew produces 40ml of tea, and each cup is 10ml.

I think there are big difference between cupping, tasting and enjoying. Cupping brew time could be as long as 5-10 min. Competition style tasting varies between different tea eg. Anxi TGY usually is under a minute. Enjoying for me could be anything. By pushing, I don't mean competition style. Just stressing the tea to show its limit.

Hope you did enjoy the TGY I sent from xiáng xīng chá háng, its the same as in this post.

Cheers and will have a cupping/tasting/drinking soonest. T

author said...

Toki wrote:
the lingering effects and experience afterwards is more what I am searching for at this point

One lingering effect I enjoy is a kind of scent or perfume that lingers for hours after a tea. It's similar to the sweetness in the rim of the empty cup. It can be so elusive that you don't understand where it is coming from. But it's lovely.

Of course, this is most pronounced with oolongs, but I find it with all kinds of teas too. Perhaps I am simply becoming more sensitive to it.

I've had a cold and been off my regular tea and drinking herbal instead. Then finally back to tea; in this case a rich Yunnan black tea. There was a wonderful perfume scent on my fingers an hour or two afterward; I couldn't name it but it was familiar. A scent from the cold brew left in a cup wafted toward me and I knew what it was. Ah. Tea.

I think loving tea can come in many forms, and you have helped me in so many ways to enrich that more. Thanks, T.

- J.

Will said...

I do like that one. I just drank it the other day when a tea friend came over.

I think I've got one more good brew left, so I'm saving it.

Thomas said...

Hello !

Thanks for blogging on that topic of bewing Ollong! What a big, complexe and sometimes surpring fields of reaserch.

I read very often your blog and I see that you seem to brew always with very short time of steeping on a quite big amount of tea.

In this prsent case, You used 18 gr? How long did you steep these leaves ??

Why do you think bewing like this is a "good" way of doing?

I knew for a long that chinese put a lot of leaves in a pot and bew for very short period. So I tryied to experiment on that way form myself, using the maximum of leaves for the volume...

After experience, I can relates some first hand knowledge.
> With a very short brew, one can extract only a very small part of the different substances prsent in the leaves. If a brew is below 30-40 sec, there almost nothing significant in the brew... only a very small part of the messsage of the tea. And if it's interresting to hear, it's only because the "sound level" is high due to the big amount of leaves

> Brewing short time with big amount of tea, give very frangrant tae, with very complex aroma... It's the good pooint of this method. But what about the mouthfell ? Very often, I think that for my taste, the tea is too "ethereal"... someting is missing in the body

So after that, I decided to change completely my way of brewing oolong: I experiment with very long brew on medium amount of tea.

In fact, I did 2 very interesting and amazing experience:
> I put a quite bitter Dan Cong in a big porcelain teapot and brewed for 6 minutes: I was expecting a very bitter cup, because when brewed in small teapot Gong fu this tea was bitter and astringeant, And... amazingly, I get a very smooth, oily, flavorfull cup, with a long sweet honey aftertaste
> second step, I made gong fu experiment with a Zhong. I used 3.5 gr
- With 15 sec of 1st brew: tea is perfumed, weak, but OK
- With 45 sec of 1st brew: Tea is awfully bitter, almost undinkable
- with 2 min of 1st brew: tea is sweet, full body, complex, the honey make a ggod balance with bitterness

Amazing, isnt'it?

In fact, what happend? In the leaves there is different substances that do not relesed at the same moment of the brew. In the first second, perfumes are relesed with tannins, with a more longer brew (2 or 3 min), others substances are released... In the case of a quality oolong, there is something like sugar, a swwet taste, that comes after 1 minute or 2 minutes, sometimes more... that "second wave" make a balance with what is first released (which is often coupled with bitterness).

So the longuer you brew a (high quality) tea, the more rich, complex and sweet it is...

It's a quite new discovering for me, more than a year and I'm still experimenting with that. But I've changed my mind about the orthodox gong fu pratice...

Now, if I brew wulong like Fujian Yan Cha or deep fired anxi or taiwan, I use this parametres:

6-7 gr for yixing of 15 cl: brew 2-3 min, 3min, 3 min, 3 min 30 sec, 4 min... with increasing

If I brew Dan Cong, I use 4.5 to 6 gr for 15 cl and brew: 1 min 30 sec to 3 min for the 3 first brew and after inceasing.... It's amazing how Dan Cong are sweet when brewed like this, with bitterness well balanced with a honey taste

The critical point in this method is to brew the maximum but with no outpassing the limit of the tea. Of course, it depend of the quality of your tea: for a hig quality, there is no trouble to brew 3 minutes, for some teas 30 sec is too much...
And the point is also to find the good balance with the very light and subtles fragrances that released first and the more heavier honey taste that released later... If your brew too long that honey taste can occult and disturb the lightest component of the tea

I write about that topic on my blog in french...
English is not my mothertongue, I'm from belgium, sorry if my english is not always very clear

I 'll try to post in englih on my blog on the future...


toki said...

Thanks for sharing your experience with me, Thomas. Funny enough, I just had a conversation with my wife regarding brewing oolong. Most tea companies' brewing instructions on their label (loose or tea bag) are usually in your parameter. The result of your 'Dan Cong in a big porcelain teapot and brewing for 6 minutes is a classic example of this method. Pretty much most common grade could provide a decent cup, almost fool proof. But, if you are looking into the deeper quality of high grade oolong, the method is not a practice of 'Kung-fu' tea.

How to extract a certain stage or certain character from a tea is the reason/function of a yixing pot. If we fill 1/3 or 1/4 of tea to water ratio in a yixing, there is no difference of brewing it in the Dan Cong big pot way.

End of the day, there is no right or wrong in brewing a cup for yourself, but there is always a better way. That my friend, is what we are trying to practice and learn from each others.

Traditional Kung-Fu only produces 3 cups of tea. From these 3 cups, the brewer have to present the full stages of the tea's potential. Aroma, Body, and the marriage of both with the energy (Qi).

We can always have fast food with everything on a tray. But would it be nice to have a proper 3 course meal sometimes?

Bret said...

Normally I,m not a big fan of TGY but after having tried the High Fired TKY that you are offering I,m begining to see what I,ve been missing. Delicious! The roast doesn't dominate the other flavors, I find the citrus (grapefruit) flavor and aroma to be a perfect counterpart to the teas rich, buttery texture. This is maybe an "I want more" tea... we will see.

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