Thursday, September 27, 2012

Living within your means and enjoying tea

Qingbai mini cup, mini gaiwan and classic cup
Most governments in Europe and America are running big public deficits and see their debt approaching 80-100% of GDP. This is causing the Euro and the debt crisis, which is now prompting the ECB and the Fed to purchase (even more) government debt. Spending more money than what you earn is unsustainable. This is also true on a personal level. And since my blog is addressing were passionate tea people, I would like to give you a word of caution on tea spending and some solutions to enjoy great teas at a minimum cost.

Thanks to credit cards, it's easy to get carried away and spend more than you should or can afford. And since you need a credit card to debit your Paypal account to pay for your Internet orders, the temptation is there. Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that you have already saved enough to make your tea order, or that it's within your normal budget. The pleasure of enjoying tea shouldn't be clouded by the worry of reimbursement. Life and work is about giving and taking. We earn money by giving our time and effort to help others ; and with this money we can purchase what we need and desire. To have a mind at ease that is receptive to the delicate pleasures of tea, we need to lead a well balanced life, including our finances. 
In the Cha Jing, Lu Yu writes that bad tea can be harmful to the body. Therefore, I'm not going to recommend selecting low quality leaves to reduce your tea expenses. A better strategy is to lower your consumption with smaller tea ware.

I've noticed that my qingbai mini gaiwan is very popular with students!  Its volume is 85 ml to the top and 60 ml in normal use. Its tea can fit in just 1 singing cup!
A singing cup, classic cup, mini cup, 2 old mini cups and 1 old mini qinghua cup
The classic qingbai cup has a volume of 53 ml.
And I'm introducing a new qingbai mini cup with a volume of 33 ml to the top and 20 ml in normal use. (Like this 3 people could share 1 mini gaiwan!) Weight: 20 grams.

For comparison, I've added 2 old mini qingbai and 1 mini qinghua cup.You can see that ancient Chinese used this strategy of downsizing! They also understood the law of diminishing returns for food pleasures: the quality of the first cups matters more the quantity you drink.

2011 spring Alishan Oolong
The second strategy is that less can be more. If you brew top quality tea, you often need less leaves, because good leaves contain more energy and good tastes. And they age better.

On this picture, you can see all the leaves and dust that I had left in a foil from last year's top Ali Shan spring Oolong. This Oolong wasn't roasted, but dried well nevertheless. It has kept its freshness and still makes a great brew:

Don't throw away unfinished bags of good tea! And if you still have unroasted Oolongs or Baozhongs (or green tea), try to finish them before ordering more. 

One mini gaiwan can surely fill many cups:
I also brewed the rest of my 2011 spring Shan Lin Shi Oolong recently and found that the aging had had a stronger effect on the freshness of that tea. It felt more oxidized, less 'green'. The taste had a slight fruity sourness and more warmth. As temperatures have dropped here, I found this change of character quite soothing and relaxing. What's important is that the tea was still powerful and sweet. 
A last tip is to brew until the leaves have been fully exhausted! I'm still surprised, from time to time, by how good that very last brew can taste.

Neutral, small and thin qingbai porcelain makes tea a luxury we can all enjoy and afford!  

Note: The big qingbai ware you see in the last picture is a rather flat bowl by David Louveau (and I'm using it here for waste water).


Miss Tea Delight said...

Stephane, very true and wise words. I have gradually downsized my wardrobe to allocate more spending on tea. Choices..

Emmett said...

I really like this post. Especially about using all the leftover tea, I also really love to find a small portion of older tea and brew it up on a special day. And I always try to push as many infusions as possible, sometimes I find that even when I think the leaf is done it all of a sudden brews another very sweet cup.

TeaMasters said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences!

bogdan said...

Even if I am no longer in tea brewing art,I discover that a higher price tea(high quality) lead a good tea infusion with a reduction of costs in time.It is a paradox but when I started with tea I spent a lots of money with small quality tea and in the final the really costs are more higher than I bought only quality tea sortiment.

Marilyn Miller said...

Such wise words shared here in this post. I am in that position of drinking up tea that has been on the shelf for awhile before I purchase more. Oh the temptation is to ignore some teas to buy more. I am trying to be patient. One question, I often will resteep throughout the day, but do you sometimes hold steeped tea and resteep it again the next day?

TeaMasters said...

Thanks for your comment.
There is a saying in Taiwan that you should not re-steep tea the next day. However, in my experience, it's not a problem. I often start a tea in the evening and continue the next morning (or even afternoon). It's not much different (in terms of waiting time) than if you start brewing a tea in the morning and finish in the evening.

Marilyn Miller said...

Thanks, Stephane,
I do start in the morning and re-steep until night. I find the flavor isn't so good if it sits until the next day, but just wondered what you thought. Marilyn

TeaMasters said...

Fresh green or unroasted Oolongs are more fragile than roasted Oolongs or puerh and are not good candidates for brewings over longer periods of time.

Anonymous said...

Bonjour Stéphane,

Merci pour cet article. C'est vrai qu'en tant qu'étudiant, j'apprécie particulièrement ce petit gaiwan !

Par ailleurs, je souhaiterais te parler de darjeeling. Je sais que ce n'est pas ton domaine favori mais avec ton expérience ce n'est pas un problème.

J'en viens à mon propos : j'ai quelques fois du plaisir à boire certains darjeelings ou thés similaires (thé de Guranse au Népal par exemple) mais je constate qu'ils ont un défaut récurrent : l'amertume. A peine concentre-t-on l'infusion que celle-ci, trop amère, serre la gorge.

As-tu déjà bu des darjeelings qui ne présentent pas ce défaut ? Peut-on considérer qu'il s'agit de thés de moindre qualité par rapport à d'autres thés rouges, tels que ceux que tu présentes ?

TeaMasters said...

Un vendeur de la plus ancienne maison de thé de France m'a offert un Darjeeling (son préféré) et celui-ci n'a presque pas d'amertume et de serrement de gorge. Je suis donc de l'avis que c'est un défaut, si un tel a une amertume persistante (qui ne se transforme pas en moelleux).

Unknown said...

Great post. I just realized that it can actually be a fun challenge to do the things you enjoy while living within your means!