Tag Archives: Yixing

EXCLUSIVE: All About Wulong

IMG_3195Dear Beloved Blog Readers,

As we huddle closer to the warmth of the boiling kettle, we cannot help but to be drawn to tea, especially those we like to brew hotter and stronger. As part of my regular “circuit” of tea-focused lectures, I recently led a tea talk and interactive workshop at Floating Mountain Tea House in Manhattan’s Upper West Side that concentrated on one such tea type. Titled “All About Wulong”, it was a deep dive and exploration into one of the world’s most diverse categories of tea.

As with most of my tea talks (of which you can find many of them linked within this blog either in posts or under the “Education” tab), I began “All About Wulong” with a brief but detailed discussion on the meaning of wulong (note I am using the Chinese written form “wulong”, which in Pinyin is wūlóng, in Wade-Giles it is “oolong”, and in tradition Chinese script it is 烏龍). Next I outlined the historical origins and context of wulong tea production, consumption, and brewing methods. Following this, we spent the rest of the evening tasting a variety of select wulong teas, reflecting varieties that originated in (or were influenced by) Taiwan, Anxi, Chaozhou, and Wuyishan. Teas ranged from freshly-harvested to aged. In this, we examined they myriad of different processing styles and how to approach them from both a brewing method and from the many aspects of connoisseurship.

As part of an ongoing series that examines the diversity of China’s tea culture and tea production, “All About Wulong” was a fully-immersive workshop and tea talk, which not only sought to educate minds and palates, but to also encourage inquiry and help to hone participants’ tea appreciation and brewing skills (i.e. their 功夫茶 gōngfūchá skills). As part of this continuing effort, I offer you, my beloved readers, the video and notes to this event, for you to enjoy and learn from it.

“All About Wulong”

Link to video

All about Wulong Presentation Grid ImageTo aid in the watching of this 3 hour-long recording, I offer you a brief table of contents. The first third of the tea talk is a presentation of over 30 slides (a fraction of which is pictured above), followed by a break-out discussion and tea brewing session.

Presentation Contents:

  • Defining Wulong Tea
  • Locating Wulong Tea
  • Origins of Wulong Tea
    • During the Song Period
    • During the Ming Period
  • Wulong Tea’s Constant Evolution
    • During the Ming Period
    • During the Qing Period
    • During the Late Qing to Modern Period
  • Brewing Wulong Tea
    • “Mind & Materiality of Wulong Tea”
    • The Skill & Challenge of Wulong Tea
  • Final Thoughts

Break-Out Discussion: Teas Tasted:

  • 阿里山高山烏龍茶 Ālǐshān gāoshān wūlóngchá (Alishan High Mountain wulong), Spring 2018 from Alishan, Taiwan (elevation 1300m). Sourced from Tillerman Tea, Napa, California.
  • 鐵觀音烏龍茶 Tiěguānyīn wūlóngchá (“Iron Bodhisattva” wulong tea), Winter 2017 from Muzha, Taiwan (elevation 600m). Sourced from Tillerman Tea, Napa, California.
  • 老柚花香鳳凰單樅烏龍茶 Lǎo yòu huāxiāng fènghuáng dān cōng wūlóngchá (“Old Pomelo Flower Fragrance” Phoenix single bush wulong tea) from 350 year-old bushes, Chaozhou, Guangdong province, China. Sourced from Floating Mountain Tea House, New York, New York.
  • 鐵羅漢武夷山岩茶 Tiě luóhàn Wǔyíshān yánchá (“Iron Arhat” Wuyi Mountain “rock/cliff tea”), Wuyishan, Fujian province, China. Sourced from Floating Mountain Tea House, New York, New York.
  • 1980年 凍頂烏龍茶 Dòng Dǐng wūlóngchá (1980 “Frozen Summit” wulong tea), Nantou county, Taiwan. Personally sourced.

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Look out for more tea talks and workshops soon to be added to this blog. I regularly present and moderate at museums, universities, tea houses, cultural centers, etc. For speaking inquiries, feel free to reach out to scotttea888 (at) gmail.com.

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, History, Oolong, Tea, Tea Tasting, Travel

Sitting Without Sorrow

Almost a year has passed since I began my new life, set up a new tearoom, and began a new journey. During this time, I’ve criss-crossed the continent countless times, each time returning to New York City, each time realizing how much I feel “at home” here.

To commemorate this moment, I gifted my partner a Yixing teapot. Being her first, learning how to use the teapot came with its own set of challenges.

As a rather large (~250 ml) 四方壺 sìfānghú (“square pot”), it requires her to pack the tea more mindfully, pour water in and over it more precisely, and decant the brewed tea from it more delicately.

Setting the learning curve rather steep, however, can come with its own set of rewards.

Designating the teapot for traditionally-processed 鐵觀音烏龍茶 Tiěguānyīn wūlóngchá (Tieguanyin oolong tea) has proven to be an excellent choice.

The shape and height of the pot enables the rolled leaves of this particular tea to unfurl and expand upward.

While the teapot’s filter constitutes of only one large hole, this has not hindered its performance as the leaves of the chosen oolong are large enough to resist entering and blocking the flow of the pour.

Being hand-constructed with thick, lower-fired 紫砂 zǐshā (“purple sand” clay), the teapot retains the ideal level of heat when the tea is brewing. Over time, the oils from the Tieguanyin oolong will season the pot and the clay will deepen in color until it achieves an almost metallic glow, offset by the sprinkling of lighter-colored grains of 鍛泥 duàn ní (“fortified clay”).

Even after the teapot’s first use, the tea it produces is strong and the flavor is clean. With each subsequent use, the trace notes of minerality and raw clay from the new Yixing teapot will subside and the true flavor of the tea will emerge and shine.

For now, just to enjoy the subtle aspects of this new teapot’s use is enough for my partner and I to take in. From the way she first learns how to balance the pot in her hand to the way she must decide how long it will take to brew the tea, each becomes a moment to pause and contemplate one’s intention, an opportunity to hone one’s practice. And as she fully decants the teapot, the action reveals a wonderful surprise: a poem recalling a sage in his (or her) hut, sitting without sorrow.

When there is tea, a moment to share is made. When one starts this path, it is always wonderful to be joined by a partner. On this path we walk together.

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, Meditation, Oolong, Poetry, Tea, Tea Tasting

Tea for a Broken World

With October at its halfway point, Autumn’s grip on the world seems at once soft but typified by a growing chill. Cold winds whip through the trees, pulling leaves from limbs and giving the world a distinctive weathered and worn appearance.

Sitting down for tea this afternoon, the sound of the wind outside my window, I cannot help but to be inspired.

Desiring something darker and stronger, as if to offer some sort of resistance to the weather outside, I select a 老欉水仙 lǎo cóng shuǐxiān (“Old Bush Water Immortal”) Wuyi oolong. To brew it, I choose an antique 思亭壶 Sī Tíng hú Yixing teapot, set within a broken Ming-period shallow celadon bowl.

With a kettle set to boil, I methodically warm each vessel; the teapot, the Korean sookwoo, the three small buncheong-jagi cups.

The light of the day shifts from bright to muted dark as clouds pass over the sun. The large, twisted leaves of the dark oolong tea offer up their aroma upon first wetting.

The frantic actions of the bending trees outside offer a stark contrast to the thoughtful, measured movements within the tearoom.

Small vignettes of water rising from the teapot’s spout, steam swirling from the kettle’s mouth, and the Yixing clay darkening as the tea fully steeps.

As the world outside my window tears itself apart in preparation for Winter’s still and ice-bound cadence, within the world of tea, life continues to change and evolve.

The tea is brewed and it’s liqueur seems to glow like copper in the tiny grey cups.

A moment is left to linger as the leaves drift upon a softening breeze.

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, Korea, Meditation, Oolong, Tea, Tea Tasting

EXCLUSIVE: All About Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots

All About Yixing & Chaozhou Tea

Dear Beloved Blog Readers,

I have been on the road (and in the air) for much of August. Now back on terra firma I final have a brief moment to catch my breath and add more delicious video content from a Summer’s worth of tea talks and interactive workshops. So, without further ado, I present to you “All About Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots”.

As with previous tea talks (uploaded to this blog and those still pending), “All About Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots” delves deep into the singular and diverse topic of China’s most famous ceramic ware for the brewing of tea. Prized since the Ming period, Yixing teaware became the hallmark of quality and refinement for any 茶人 (chá rén, “tea person”) from the Ming up to this very day. Conversely, Chaozhou teapots have remained relatively unknown outside of the region of Chaozhou until relatively recently. In this event and live broadcast, we explore the historical and creative interplay of the two as they developed over time in conjunction with the history of tea and tea culture in China. Additionally, we went deep into the qualities that define teapot construction and functionality, and offered insights into sourcing, selecting, seasoning, and brewing with both unique teapot styles.

As part of an ongoing series that examines the diversity of China’s tea culture, “All About Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots” was  a fully-immersive workshop and tea talk, featuring tea tasting, discussions and education on art history, and offered hands-on opportunities to brew tea and hone teapot brewing skills. Participants were encouraged to ask questions, taste tea, and bring their own teapots to use and share.

“All About Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots”

Link to video

Yixing & Chaozhou Presentation Thumbnail

To aid in the watching of this almost 3 hour-long recording, I offer you a brief table of contents. The first half of the tea talk and interactive workshop is a presentation of over 30 slides (a fraction of which is pictured above), followed by a break-out discussion and tea brewing session.

Presentation Contents:

  • Locating Yixing and Chaozhou
    • Clays, Quarries, Kilns, and Tea
  • Origins and Evolution of Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots
    • Precursors to Popularlization
    • Historical Forms
    • Place in Tea Culture
  • Qualities of Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots
    • Clay
    • Firing
    • Pot Construction
    • Pot Form & Function
  • Brewing with a Yixing & Chaozhou Teapot
    • How to Pour, Brew, Hold & Other Considerations

Break-Out Discussion: Teapots Used and Teas Tasted:

  • 1970s-1980s 綠泥 lǜ ní (“green clay”) 西施壺 Xīshīhú (“Lady Shi of the West Teapot”) brewing 大禹嶺 Dà Yǔ Lǐng from Taichung County, Taiwan (elevation 2650 meters)
  • Late 19th-20th century 朱泥 Zhū ní (“cinnabar clay”) 思亭壺 Sī tíng hú (“Master Si Ting Teapot”) brewing a traditionally oxidized and roasted 鐵觀音 Tiě Guān Yīn “Iron Goddess of Mercy” from Anxi County, Fujian, China
  • Late 1990s 朱泥 Zhū ní (“cinnabar clay”) 肉扁 Ròu biǎn (“Lump of Meat”) teapot, commissioned by Roy K. Fong of Imperial Tea Court, brewing 大烏葉 Dà Wū Yè (“Big Black Leaf”) 鳳凰單樅烏龍茶 Fènghuáng dān cōng wūlóngchá (Phoenix single bush oolong tea) from Chaozhou County, Guangdong, China
  • Late 1980s-early 1990s 黃泥 Huáng ní (“yellow clay”) Chaozhou high-fired 羅漢 Luóhàn-shaped teapot brewing a 大赤甘 Dà Chì Gān (“Large Red Sweetness”) from Wuyishan, Fujian, China

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Look out for more tea talks and workshops soon to be added to this blog. I regularly present and moderate at museums, universities, tea houses, cultural centers, etc. For speaking inquiries, feel free to reach out to scotttea888 (at) gmail.com.

 

 

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, History, Hongcha, Oolong, Poetry, Pu-erh, Tea, Tea Tasting

Curling Leaves and Unfurling Flavors

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Sitting down to brew a fabulous 鳳凰單樅烏龍茶 Fènghuáng dān cōng wūlóngchá (Phoenix single bush oolong tea) gifted to me by a visiting artist and tea collector. The tea and the moment it creates is the perfect complement to a Summer’s morning, just minutes after a light rain and illuminated by the warm light of the dawn.

As I have done countless times before, I choose to brew tea with a well-loved 肉扁 Ròu biǎn (literally “flattened portion of meat”-shaped) Yixing teapot. Acquired in San Francisco at the city’s famed Imperial Tea Court (founded by the Bay Area-based tea master Roy K. Fong), the little teapot has been brewing Phoenix oolongs for over a decade. Well-loved and well-seasoned, the little russet-colored 朱泥 zhū ní teapot now bears the patina of years of continued use, transforming its surface from a dull terra cotta to soft and almost luminescent cinnabar.

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For this morning’s tea I employ an antique Japanese tea scoop (茶合, sagō) cut from the stalk of an old bamboo and fashioned in the manner of a wooden wrist rest, an object once commonplace within a scholar’s studio of classical China. Written upon the surface of the scoop is a poem, a fourteen-character 山水詩 (shānshuǐ shī, literally “mountains and rivers poem” or “landscape poem”), within which are allusions to life amidst mountains and clouds.

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The old piece of bamboo is perfectly suited for the large leaves of the Phoenix oolong, allowing them to sit loosely upon the expansive, concave hollow of the scoop. Like the Ròu biǎn teapot, this tea scoop, too, has enjoyed its fair share of tea, acquiring the luster that comes only from years of tea oil accumulating upon its surface. It, too, seems to glow and hold a presence that time has imbued it with.

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The shape and construction of this teapot is perfect for the long, twisted leaves of the Phoenix oolong. The wide opening of the teapot helps to allow the wiry leaves that are typical of this style of tea to enter the vessel naturally. The tea slides smoothly from the scoop into the pot with a single, effortless motion.

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While it may appear to be small in size and volume, every leaf seems to sit with ease, gently inside the teapot.

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Its low, flat profile lets the leaves of the Phoenix oolong expand outward, allowing them to unfurl and offer-up their abundant flavor and spectacular fragrance.

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The egg shell-thin walls of the Ròu biǎn teapot retain just enough heat for a short, hot steeping. Only moments after water is poured into and then over the pot it evaporates, indicating that the tea is close to being suitably brewed.

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The result is a series of beautifully-hued and complex-flavored cups of tea, revealing endless layers and notes of fresh flowers, incense, citrus peel, and tropical fruits.

In a finely-crafted piece of teaware such as this Ròu biǎn teapot, the mindful decisions of the artisan can inform the subtle practice of the tea brewer. When form and function are perfectly balanced, intent and action can meet in unison. When a teapot’s construction both alludes to the tea it prefers to make and offers insight into how it should be brewed, then the teapot can become the teacher.

 

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, Oolong, Poetry, Tea, Tea Tasting

Making tea in time of work


(IMAGE: Rather than distract from work, tea can be used to fortify one’s focus. How to do that is the challenge.)

Dear beloved blog readers,

I will admit, making tea isn’t always convenient. Sometimes bringing out the yixing teapot or gaiwan or ceramic chawan (茶碗, “tea bowl”) just isn’t practical when I’m in work “crunch mode”.

Lately I’ve been working on a variety of projects and , well, sometimes tea can get pushed to the bottom of my “to do” list. However, like anything in life, there is a gong fu to approaching tea in the time of work. In this entry, I’m going to share some of my insights into this, and, as always, I hope to hear some of yours as well.

Become part of the 99%

Tea people love their tea and love their teaware. Speaking from personal experience, when given the chance I will almost always use a teapot. The act of making tea in this manner is centering and can change my mental attitude. Studies have even shown that meditative acts like this can even alter one’s neurological state. That said, setting up the tea equipage can take time and has the potential of shifting focus away from a particular priority.

The “work around” for this tea in time for work is to make tea like most of the world (certainly most of Asia) makes their tea: the jar.

Taking just a handful of tea leaves and placing them into a jar and pouring hot-warm water over them can do wonders. The glass walls of a jar will quickly dissipate any excess heat, and the added transparency offers a view into the “progress” of the steep. Filtering the tea leaves is simple: your teeth and gravity is all that’s needed. For this point, I generally brew larger leaf teas for jar tea like Tai Ping Hou Kui 太平猴魁, Taiwanese high mountain oolongs 高山烏龍茶, and da ye (大葉, “big leaf”) puer.


(IMAGE: Making semi-wild Tai Ping Hou Kui 太平猴魁 green tea using the jar tea method produces a gorgeous liqueur and balanced flavor.)

When the tea becomes too strong, I add more water. From what I’ve observed, more robust and balanced steeping a come from this method rather than drinking all of the tea and then refilling the empty jar. Likewise, I find that as the tea cools after a long steeping the flavors become more pronounced and complex. Maybe this is why jar tea is so popular!

Mizuya cha: “kitchen matcha”

Another quick tea alternative is to go the matcha route sans the ceremony. In Japan this is called mizuya cha (水屋茶, みずやちゃ), or “water room tea”, referring to the small preparation room that is often attached to a Japanese tearoom/teahouse (茶室, chashitsu). In traditional tea ceremonies where there are often large numbers of guest, only one (or sometimes just a few) tea bowls of matcha are ceremoniously prepared. The remainder are prepared “off stage” and are offered to guests pre-made.

In modern day practice, mizuya cha typically translates to “kitchen tea”, or tea simply made in the comfort of one’s own kitchen, devoid of the “ceremony”. Making tea this way, with a bowl (either traditional chawan or even a basic rice bowl), a whisk, and hot water can be done within a matter of minutes and can offer a quick respite from work without breaking “the flow”.

(IMAGE: An antique Japanese Hagi chawan used for today’s mizuya cha has its historical origins in Korean rice bowls, which were treasured by the likes of 16th century tea master Sen no Rikyu for their functionality and informal nature.)

What’s great here too is that making tea in this manner is still very much part of the “tea mind” cultivated in Chanoyu (茶の湯, lit. “hot water for tea”, the practice of Japanese tea ceremony), stressing lack of formality and a humble manner of “just making tea”. So long as your mind and heart are still in it, this way of making tea can still be a meditative act.

(IMAGE: An antique Japanese Hagi chawan is paired with a contemporary negoro-nuri black-and-red lacquer chashaku teascoop balance the informality of making tea in the kitchen.)

Drinking from the teapot

My last “pro tip” for today is maybe my favorite guilty pleasure.

Again, I love teaware (especially yixing teapots), and when there is any excuse to use a finely-crafted piece I will. That said, having the whole “gong fu cha kit” at my desk or work table (or park bench) can quickly clutter the work space and mind. To avoid this, I pare everything down to their most elemental: just the teapot.

With just a teapot, one is left with really just one option: to drink directly from the teapot. While this might seem a bit ungainly (and for those opposed to public breastfeeding, a bit reminiscent and disturbing… for the record, I’m all for public breastfeeding, it’s natural, let people be free damn it!), it is very effective and has historical precedent.

While I am currently unable to cite historical documentation to back this up, I have had countless tea farmers, merchants, and masters tell me that they do this and that their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents have done this. Some have even gone so far as to say that this was the particular habit of the young, well-heeled scholarly/playboy brats of the late Qing/early Republic era. I, too, have done this on numerous occasions, sauntering down streets in San Francisco sipping from my small teapot and wandering into local establishments to get a “top-off” of warm water. (I have yet to do this in New York City, but hope to soon)

The results of brewing this way is quite remarkable, offering a level of control and intimacy with the tea not available through more “orthodox” means. Like brewing with a jar, one should use warm water, obviously so as not to scald one’s hand while holding the teapot, but also to achieve a smooth and balanced brew.


(IMAGE: For drinking directly from the teapot, I favor my 1980s duan ni Xi Shi hu (鍛泥西施壺). The shape of the pot feels good in the hand and the spout is easy to drink from.)

Also, by cradling the teapot in your hand and using your thumb to press and release the top hole of the teapot lid as a carburetor, you can adjust the flow of the tea from teapot to mouth. Speaking again from experience, I typically find more success drinking directly from the spout, rather than pouring the liquid into my mouth (however, this is completely up to you, though the aforementioned approach can get messy).

What works for you while working?

For sure this is a very basic “list” of approaches to making tea in time of work. As always, the environment is going to dictate what works best for you (and for the tea). This is where we as tea people can be creative.

So, what works for you? How do you make tea while working…and how do you strike that balance between quality of work and brew? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Filed under Ceramics, Education, Green Tea, History, Japan, Oolong, Pu-erh, Tea, Tea Tasting

Enjoying traditionally-crafted Tieguanyin: from historical trends to teapot tips

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(IMAGE: Today’s set up for brewing a traditionally-crafted Tieguanyin oolong.)

Dear beloved blog readers,

It’s been a long time coming. The urge to drink some real Tieguanyin (铁观音, “Iron Goddess of Mercy”) finally took hold and today I broke-out the “good stuff”.

The tea is a high-roasted Tieguanyin, gifted to me by two of my favorite tea friends who are now far-flung across the globe in search of tea (one in Bohemia, the other trekking throughout East Asia). The two recently sent me a care package with a variety of teas (of which I will most certainly review in later posts), the first of which is this splendid tea.

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(IMAGE: Fresh from the tea caddy, the gifted Tieguanyin.)

Before I reveal any more about this particular tea, I should go over the basic history of Tieguanyin, one of China’s famous teas (中国十大名茶, “Ten Famous Teas of China”… of which there always seems to be an ever-expanding roster). As with other oolongs that I’ve discussed in this blog, Tieguanyin most likely has its origins within the oolongs that were first developed during the Song dynasty in what is now Fujian province. During this time, oolongs were pressed into tea cakes, which were later ground up and whipped into a concoction similar to modern day matcha. Famously consumed as part of the diancha (点茶) whisked tea preparation, these teas later evolved into several well-established classes of oolong tea. By the Ming period, oolong was being consumed in its whole-leaf form, and by the Qing dynasty, a recognizable form of today’s Tieguanyin emerged.

Outside of the various “mytho-histories” that surround Tieguanyin (some involve the Qianlong Emperor, others telling the tale of a farmer who dreamed of Guanyin), the tea itself comes from a style of tea that is less-oxidized that the yancha oolongs of the Wuyi mountains. Earlier and more “traditional forms” usually receive around 30% oxidation, lending to a reddish-green hue to their leaves. The leaves undergo a processing that involves a series of tossing, drying, rolling, and roasting, resulting in leaves that are curled into small pellets, as opposed to their Wuyi yancha counterparts. These pellets, depending on the maker, can sometimes consist of one leaf or two leaves and a sprout. The latter form eventually made its way to Taiwan (by way of Fujian, but that’s a whole other story). Tieguanyin is now a very popular tea (again, a noted “famous tea”), and is a staple tea for populations inside Anxi county (where it is produced), but also within outside regions such as Chaozhou county (where it is celebrated in the Chaozhou gong fu cha tea preparation), as well as in southeast Asia and in Chinese populations outside of Asia.

Traditionally-crafted Teiguanyin is its own beast. Unlike the very green and vegetal Tieguanyin oolongs that have become quite popular today (often categorized as a “Jade Tieguanyin”), traditional Tieguanyin tends to be more highly and evenly-roasted (although not as highly-roasted as a dark-roasted Tieguanyin, which are often very charcoal-forward in flavor). The objective here is to balance the higher oxidation with a mild roastiness. The end result creates a flavor profile that tightly ranges from burnt sugar to caramel, floral notes of gardenia, rose, and marigold, and fruit notes of dried apricot and red date. The layers of oxidation and roasting removes any of the grassiness present in Jade Tieguanyin oolongs, instead, replacing them with notes of dark greens akin to still-green sheng pu-erh or beet greens.

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(IMAGE: A close-up look at the traditionally-crafted Tieguanyin oolong. Note the balance between the “red and green” of the tea leaf, and tightly-coiled leaves.)

Finding a tea like this nowadays (this makes me sound old…ugh) is becoming more difficult. Part of this is due to the amount of steps involved in making this tea, part of this is due to the depth of knowledge and experience required to execute this processing.

From what I’ve been told by tea farmers and tea masters (those who “finish” the tea), this is a style of tea that is disappearing in China. Part of this story is linked to the modern history of China, from the fear and chaos seen within traditional arts during the Cultural Revolution to the recent economic boom-bust tension felt in rural v. urban areas in China. Additionally, due to the “trendiness” of some teas versus others, the demand for traditionally-crafted Tieguanyin has dipped in recent years, shifting to pu-erh and other “big name” teas. Overall, the capricious nature of the Chinese tea market has created interesting innovations, often with “interesting” results (for additional background into this dynamic, I highly recommend the great book by Jinghong Zhang Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic, 2013). In response to this, there have been some die-hard traditionalists who continue to produce this tea in China, as well as tea masters in Taiwan who have begun to develop their own take on traditional Tieguanyin oolongs (of which there are great examples!).

Today, as I sit down to appreciate this Tieguanyin, I find great comfort in this tea. Almost a decade ago, as I was beginning to dive deeper into my pursuit of tea knowledge, Tieguanyin was the ONE tea I studied the most. Guided by my tea teacher in the Chaozhou-style of gong fu cha, we easily brewed-through pounds of this tea (which he and famed tea person Roy Fong) had acquired through the years. Throughout this, I used JUST ONE teapot: my trusted pear-shaped “teacher pot”.

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(IMAGE: A top-down look at the “teacher pot”. Note the deep “lip” of the lid. This is common within older-style teapots. This pot is one of a five-part series commissioned by famed tea person Roy Fong during the early 1990s.)

The micro-history of the “teacher pot” began in the late 2000s as I was a much-suffering graduate student at UC Berkeley. Having acquired several yixing teapots prior to the “teacher pot”, I had a good understanding of the dynamic a teapot played in brewing tea (from its shape, firing, thickness, etc). When I was presented this teapot by my then tea teacher (thus the name “teacher pot”), I was told it would be just for brewing traditional Tieguanyin. The reason: the teapot’s shape, bulbous in nature, high-fired, and medium thickness in construction, was perfect for this type of tea. Brewing Tieguanyin in this teapot for close to a decade now has not only told me much about the tea, but it has also informed me to how a teapot should work.

Beginning to brew the tea, I pre-heat the pot. Carefully placing a healthy amount of leaves into the center of the bottom of the pot, I pour just a bit of boiling water into the pot to pre-wash the tea leaves and close the pot. This water is immediately poured out into a cup (to be poured-over the teapot during the first steeping). Next I nearly fill the teapot with boiling water and close the pot, pouring additional boiling water and the “rinse” over the pot.

As the teapot brews the tea, there is very little information as to how the tea is brewing. The skill of brewing tea in a yixing teapot is to be able to know exactly what is going on inside the pot. For this, one must be able to “read” the teapot.

For the “teacher pot”, to do this, I am given several “clues”. First, the water poured over the teapot will evaporate. If I wanted a “light” brew of this tea, I would simply pour out the tea at this point and enjoy. However, for brewing in the Chaozhou-style, I will bravely press on!

The next “clue” present will be the meniscus at the spout of the teapot. Upon first pouring the boiling water into the pot, the meniscus will puff-out of the teapot’s spout in a convex, dome shape. As the tea begins to expand and unravel, air pockets will open and the tea will begin to absorb the hot water. This will slightly reduce the liquid volume of the water, resulting in the tiny meniscus dome to contract and pull down into the spout. This “clue” is crucial to brewing tea! If I wanted a “medium-steeped” Tieguanyin, I will pour out the tea upon this moment (if it was a highly-roasted Tieguanyin, I might pour out the tea right before this moment… this takes practice).

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(IMAGE: The first stage of the meniscus, dome-like in shape, indicative of the early-stage of brewing.)

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(IMAGE: The meniscus begins to crawl-down the spout of the teapot as the tea leaves begin to expand and uncurl, absorbing the hot water.)

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(IMAGE: After several seconds pass, the meniscus has completely crept-down the spout of the teapot, noting the progress of the tea steeping.)

The final “clue” requires a greater knowledge of the individual teapot. For this “clue”, one will need to pay very close attention to the color of the teapot, as a high-quality teapot will ever-so-slightly change color. In the case of this zhuni (朱泥, “cinnabar clay”) teapot, it will darken in color. Once this happens I quickly and intently pour out the tea from the teapot.

The result is fantastic. The color of the tea is a dark gold/amber. The aroma is unavoidable, filling the room in my apartment with a sweet toasted sugar scent, swirling with floral and incense notes. The flavor is punchy, though not bitter. Instead, the flavor is incredibly balanced, full, and complex. In the style of Chaozhou gong fu cha, every flavor is extracted to the point it is almost too much to handle (as my teacher would say “It’s like you’re running up to a cliff, only to stop right when your toes are hanging-off the edge.”). As with any great traditionally-crafted Tieguanyin, this tea is both deep and exciting, with flavors of burnt sugar, marigolds, toast (yes toast), and a lingering apricot and incense finish. The mouthfeel is almost as big and complex as the initial flavor and one cup can easily coat the palette for hours. Subsequent steepings (of which I was able to achieve seven) are equally interesting, remaining full for three and trailing-off towards the fourth, fifth, and sixth, becoming wonderfully light and sweet by the last.

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(IMAGE: Deep color, bold flavors. The results of a Chaozhou-style brewed tea.)

Brewing tea in this style is not easy but very much worth the effort. Honing one’s tea practice is not just about getting to know the tea but also the value of teaware and its usefulness as a tool towards this end. As always, I encourage you, my beloved blog readers, to share your experiences with this. Also, if you have a tea that you just love, show it that love, and share your stories! Until then, I sign-out to enjoy the final steeping of this epic little oolong!

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