Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Gaiwan brewing

J's and my first brew
 J., a European reader came to visit me yesterday. He asked for my help to learn how to brew Oolong properly. So, I set up a mirror Chaxi on a table: we would be brewing my high mountain Alishan Jinxuan Oolong (spring 2013) with the same accessories and the same water.

This let J. see precisely what I was doing and copy my movements. I also explained each step.

0. The preheating

It is not just about preheating the gaiwan and the cups. It's also a first opportunity to practice the pour of your kettle: each kettle has a different water flow. You have to learn how to control the strength of this flow. Pouring the water in the gaiwan and later from the gaiwan in the cups is also a good way to calm down and focus on your movements. You become more careful not to make a mess with the water. And you can also measure the volume of water that will fit in each cup. Remember this level, so that you can avoid pouring uneven amounts of tea in the cups later on.

1. First brew.

A layer of dry leaves in the gaiwan, just boiled water and a rather energetic pour that lets the leaves dance in circles in the gaiwan. Cover and wait until you see/smell that the tea is ready. (This may take some time, because the leaves need to open up).

The result for the first brew was quite different for both of us. J's leaves were pushed on one side in the gaiwan, while mine were open evenly. I also seem to have used more leaves than J. The brews also tasted differently. J. said he tasted bitterness in his, and that mine had a nicer fragrance that seemed to linger forever! What did he do wrong, he asked? The only major difference was the pouring of water in the gaiwan. At the end of his pour, he was uncertain how to end. The flow lost its strength and continuity. The flow was like hesitating to stop instead of slowing down calmly.
Second brew after swap
 2. Second brew

Since the leaves should be well opened, the second water can be poured more slowly and it can brew for a shorter time.

This time, we swapped gaiwans, because J's first brew was uneven and needed a special pour to make it harmonious again. I wanted that J experience with a standard second pour and that's why I gave him my evenly opened gaiwan.

This time again, J felt that my brew tasted sweeter and nicer. Despite having fewer leaves, my brew felt more concentrated! Why? he asked. His pour wasn't very confident and even. Also, even when you know the general principle, you need to think of the particular tea and leaves you have in front of you. With a high mountain Jinxuan, what are the characteristics that you wan't to find in your cup? Here, it's more the fragrances and the mountain energy. This means you shouldn't be too slow.
Qingbai (light green) and yabai (ivory white) cups have an impact on the color!

3rd brew, like second
3. Third brew

The leaves are more open and have released their flavors twice already. This means we should pour with more strength and brew for a longer time than the second time. How strong and how long depends on the actual state of your leaves.

The leaves on the left still haven't fully released their flavors, while those on the right are completely and evenly open by now.

J. identified his kettle at home as a problem: the way it pours isn't precise or well controllable. Having experienced some great brews will also help J know what kind of taste he can/should get out of the leaves.

There are lots of brewing methods floating around. Many people are surprised that I don't rinse my Oolongs (or puerhs). As for the lack of rinse, I just don't want to miss a drop of my good teas. (Notice how nobody rinses green tea or  even cheap tea bags: the best flavors are up front and you don't want to loose them!) Others may wonder about my long brewing times or near boiling water temperature.This reflects the high quality of the leaves in my selection. Such leaves can take the heat and will perform their best if you combine these parameters with good skills. (And if you wonder about the quality of your leaves, subject them to a competition brew: 3 grams, boiling water, 15cl porcelain vessel and 6 minutes brewing).

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