Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tea for 42

A friend and regular reader of this blog has written me that he and another tea friend intend to organize a big gongfu cha party for 40 people (1+1+40=42). From his letter, I guess that these 40 people are his friends/family members. He intends to run this tea party is with 6 teapots of 20 cl, 6 or more pitchers, 2 tetsubins and 2 more kettles for backup. He and his friend would do all the service. What advice can I (and you) give him to make this a success?

First, I think he must decide more clearly whether he wants to brew the best possible tea for drinking or if he wants to make demonstration of the beauty and harmony found in a Chinese tea ceremony. With 40 guests, you can't have both. Either you brew for the eyes or for the mouth!

This reminded me a little the tea party Teaparker organized last year for the Taipei Tea expo: 3 people brewing, a large crowd of tea enthusiasts (and me bringing the tea to the spectators).

So, it's possible to make a demonstration of Chinese gongfu cha in front of a bigger audience. Here, my friend clearly brewed to show the beauty of here tea set, especially since she designed and made the square tea clothes (on the table) and the ceramic teapot stand by herself. I did my best to bring 1 small cup to each viewer, but there were many who didn't get any. This didn't matter to them, because they were happy with what they saw and the short speech Teaparker gave about tea before and after the demonstration.

In the case of my friend, though, it seems that he plans for the drinking experience to play a more important part. This is understandable when audience is more curious about the drink than about Chinese tea culture (and if they are thirsty because it's summer and they are talking a lot to each other). In that case, I recommend the use a big teapot (around 1 liter) and bigger tea cups. Keeping track of several teapots seems contrary to the spirit of gongfu cha, having a peaceful time.

The original meaning of Gongfu cha is to make tea with skill, making the best tea possible under the circumstances. So, here is my advice to make good tea with big teapots for a larger public:

- Preheat the big teapot well,

- Like for a small teapot, think about how the material, shape, spout... of the teapot will influence your tea. This will influence your choice of tea and/or the brewing time.

- Choose a tea that can withstand longer brewing times, not one where a few seconds difference make a big difference in taste. This is generally a superior grade tea, but not the highest grade. I find that medium to strongly roasted Oolongs are good choices. They 'speak' more loudly than delicate Gao Shan Cha.

- Change your brewing parameters: proportionally less leaves, but longer brewing time.

- Try to preheat the tea cups as well. One way to keep the tea warm, though, is to forgo the use of a pitcher. If you pour directly in the cups, the tea will be hotter than if you first pour it into a pitcher. This will depend on how well the tea can stand long infusion times.

Therefore, since they are 2 for the service, I would suggest that my friend choose to brew 2 different teas with 2 big teapots. This should be easier to handle and still give him time to talk to his friends. As for the pleasure of the eyes, I recommend he sets up a complete gongfu cha set on a table, close to where he's brewing the tea.


Michel said...

Thank you Stéphane,
I will take your good advice!
Now that you have made me think about it more carfully, I realise that my initial idea was way too stressfull to be enjoyable and therefore this would affect the quality and purpouse of this ceremony.

Mislav said...

Hello!! What wonderful description of the gonfu cha party...I could imagine myself being there. Chinese tea culture is really amazing...
Greetings from Croatia.