Friday, April 03, 2009

Tea pouring skill

This Sunday afternoon, the Cha Ren Ya Xin tea association will host a 'Spring Oolong Cha Xi' at the Taipei Story House. (Please come if you're around!) I have now finalized my Cha Xi set up for the occasion. 

Each teapot pours a little differently, so I practiced pouring with my zhuni Da Bing Ru Yi for several brews today.

The easy way would be to use a chahai, a pitcher, to collect all the tea and then distribute it in the cups. But it wouldn't be very 'gong fu', would it?

It takes much more skill to pour directly in the cups. The goal is to pour the same volume and same concentration into each cup without spilling too much tea around. It is a (difficult) skill to master, but at the same time it simplifies the process by bypassing the cha hai. Done with grace, it looks nicer, saves time and maintains the tea at a higher temperature.

Here is my third (and best) attempt today:
video

There were a couple of drops here and there, but the result was quite OK, I think. Now it's your turn to try!! But before you do, let me give you several 'tricks' or details:

- Dry the foot of the teapot. If you see it has collected water, place the teapot on an absorbing cloth just before starting to pour,

- stop your movement for a second or two when the teapot is next to the cup and before you pour. If the water is still shaking inside the teapot, it is more likely to come out unevenly and cause a spill,

- fill the cups in this order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

- hold the teapot so that you can open the lid of the teapot with one finger (see how I pour at the last cup). This will help to pour the teapot dry.

- practice often.

Note: Today, I brewed the Shan Lin Shi Dong Pian of late November 2008. It tastes pure, deep, mellow and long. A fantastic tea for a very nice Cha Xi practice. 

13 comments:

Antoine said...

Et moi qui pensais qu'on servait toujours de droite à gauche!

I thought we were supposed to pour from right to left...

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephane, Interesting to see the way you pour. I note Antoine's question of pouring from right to left, I would do it this way too, to give the motion of come in or welcome? I also note you use your thumb to hold the top of the teapot, i have seen the first finger used, is it a masculine thing? as the person i saw using the first finger was a lady?
Regards
Elton

ginkgo said...

eh bien merci pour cette vidéo qui répond de manière on ne peut plus précise à ma question de l'autre jour !!! :) :)
il ne "reste plus qu'à s'exercer..."

Stephane said...

Antoine and Elton,
I pour both ways: from left to right and from right to left. So, your question is more why I start to pour from the left instead from the right. Since I hold the teapot with my right hand, I can better see the situation of all half full cups when I reach the fifth cup. My arm would somewhat block the view if I had started from the other side.
The way I hold the teapot is how I feel most comfortable with this one in particular. It is rather big and heavy when it's full. With a smaller teapot, I might use a different finger.

drumhum said...

Dare I question your technique?

1) A thumb where you place it runs the risk of accidentally partially (or completely) covering the hole resulting in disturbed tea flow. I think its better to use the tip of a finger on the edge of the lid and simply grit one's teeth if the lid is hot ;-)

2) As we all know the brew in the pot will be stronger at the bottom of the pot - this why we pour a little in the first cup to be topped up later with tea from the bottom of the pot. By halting the pour of tea between cups you are essentially mixing up the tea in the pot making the tea more blended inside. The art is surely to not stop pouring between cups, allowing a small amount of spillage and "blend" the brew in the cup - not the pot. A tea/drip tray is essential of course. Further to this if there are any tea leaf "bits", a single, uninterrupted pour will cause less agitation to the tea in the pot which decreases the chances of the bits-of-leaf falling into the cup. The bits are more likely to stay in and rest at the bottom off the pot.

Stephane said...

Drumhum,
Thanks for your questioning!

1) I have never accidentally covered the hole with this technique of using the finger to open the lid by pushing the knob. To apply this pressure, the finger necessarily needs to be placed on the side of the knob, not on top. You mention the drawback of your technique: the lid is hot, while the knob is not. (And it's not just the lid that's hot, but also the steam that will come out of the teapot when you open the lid).

2) I think the case for not stopping the pour is great with teas that are best brewed quickly and can't stand long infusion times. For such a tea, I would place the cups next to each other and place them on their cha tuo after the pouring. But here, I'm using an Oolong that can be brewed long, so that the result won't change much for a second or two more.
The question about the 'bits' is interesting. I think that some people would object of having any in the first place (and are using a filter between the teapot and the pitcher to get rid of them). But these 'bits' are simply parts of tea leaves. Like salad, you can eat those (and that's what we do with matcha). Or you can wait for gravity to collect them at the bottom of the cup and not drink the last drops.
I'm not sure my pouring technique brings out much more bits than a 'straight flush'. All depends on the speed of the pour, I think.

Anonymous said...

Stephane,
I noticed how you were holding your teapot and feel it might be linked to how you pour. Have you ever tried holding your teapot in what my tea teacher calls the "Phoenix Hand" position, so as to line up your index finger with the node of the lid, holding the handle with your middle finger and thumb. Not only does it look elegant but it also allows for a better flow of water and, additionally, a better chance that all the water exits the teapot. If you have heard about it, or would like to see a picture of this in action, I would like to know what your take on it is. An interesting article you have written and many questions to come from it.
-Scott

Antoine said...

Je pensais que servir de droite à gauche était à la base une convention traditionelle. Mais, côté pratique, ta technique est plus logique.

Aussi, j'ai réussi à préparer hier une tasse de thé qui fut de l'ordre du "très très bon". Ce fut un Bai Mu Dan, qui malgré une finesse moyenne, offrit une liqueur d'une profondeur et d'une richesse surprenante. Cela me fit même penser à la première gorgée qu'on prend d'un cognac ou d'un vieux porto!

En plus, je pu la partager avec un ami connaisseur qui essaya au cours de cette même dégustation me me convertir à quelques thés verts de ce printemps... alors que je lui conseillais fortement l'usage d'un Gaiwan pour ces derniers. ;)

Cette tasse de thé blanc doit beaucoup à tout ce que j'ai pu découvrir et apprendre à propos gongfu cha sur ton blog. Merci.

Nerval said...

Stéphane,
thank you for showing this video - this is always instructive.
My brewing & pouring technique is not even marginally close to yours. However I have a doubt that is similar to Drumhum's above.
The entire pouring operation on your video is around 40 seconds. During this time, of course, tea continues to infuse. This time is quite long - you didn't say how long the 'real' infusion took, but I assume it was around 40s-1min?
So the tea from beginning of the pour (cup #1) and end of the pour (cup #1 again) is very different in character. And although I understand your effort to even this out by pouring twice into all cups, I think we will agree that:
40s infused tea + 1m20s infused tea
is not identical as the same amount of 60s infused tea.
Correct me if I am wrong but the first version will be a little thinner in body with more pronounced astringency while the second version will be rounder, with a fuller mouthfeel and a more harmonious bitterness.

This is why I prefer to use a chahai. Although for the aesthetically beautiful arrangement of your tea session this might be a dusturbance, I think the quality of the tea will be more homogeneous and simply better.

The situation changes when fewer cups are to be poured and pouring time is faster (without breaks): the difference in flavour is minor and the 'blended' tea will be much closer to the 'continuous infusion'

Your thoughts?

Salutations, Nerval

Stephane said...

Scott,
So many interesting questions indeed! So, I asked Teaparker about clarifications about the holding of the teapot. I will shortly post his answers in a new article (with pictures).

Stephane said...

Nerval,
My brewing time is a minute at least (I don't know exactly how long, since I never look at my watch during my Cha Xi).
And, as I mentioned before, when one performs a Cha Xi, you tend to select a very good tea. Such teas can withstand long brewing times.

Second, the point of this technique is not its slow speed. It's to achieve the same volume and concentration in each cup without spilling. With more practice, we can also cut down the time it takes to perform the pouring.

And, if a tea is good, it will be good brewed light or strong. With such tea, you don't have to make each cup the same concentration: you could also ask each of your drinking friends how he likes his tea (light, medium of strong) and pour the tea accordingly in his cup!

The life and times of Terrance Frank Lazaroff, CD said...

I wonder. I was trained to pour tea into a small glass pitcher and then into the small tea bowls.

Stephane said...

The main problem with pouring twice is that the tea looses more temperature and some scents are lost.