Friday, July 15, 2016

From bitter to sweet, 3 tea classes

Tea friend Mick came visiting Taiwan and asked me to organize some tea classes to deepen his knowledge and practice of tea. Aware of the importance of water, he was very interested in learning about kettles and their influence on water. So, on the first day, we brewed 3 different teas with these 4 kettles: a stainless steel, a black ceramic, an iron tetsubin and a silver kettle (above from left to right and below from right to left).

We started with a green tea made from Qingxin Dapang from this spring. This light and fine tea was the one where the quality of the water mattered the most and was most obvious. The silver felt pure and emphasized the scents and freshness. The stainless felt not as pure as silver and the ceramic has a light earthy taste, but these 2 were not too far apart from the silver. It's the tetsubin that produced the most different brew, very sweet, but lacking freshness and high notes. Not bad, but not so suited for green tea.
The second tea was a new plantation Wenshan Baozhong and here the tetsubin added depth and mellowness to the brew. The silver was second as it emphasized again the scents.
When we tasted the red Ruo Gui tea, the impact of the water was less obvious than with the other teas, because the flavors of the leaves were stronger. Nevertheless, the tetsubin's rounding effect was again appreciated with this tea.
We also tasted the waters without tea and here the metallic taste coming from the tetsubin wasn't very pleasant. It's only when this water is used to brew tea that it makes the tea more pleasant. The water from the silver has the most freshness, purity and sharpness. (What kettle is best for you also depends on what type of tea you're drinking most.)
On the second day, I took Mick and his wife to one of my favorite tea spot in the Wenshan mountains.
This lesson was dedicated to brewing his favorite type of tea: roasted Oolongs!
So, we started with a roasted Baozhong to connect with the surroundings.
This meant using a gaiwan in order to test the teas in an objective way (and using the silver kettle, since its water is also more 'objective' and pure than from a tetsubin).
The second tea was my spring 2016 Hung Shui Oolong from Shan Lin Xi, which felt very powerful and concentrated.
Mick is a quick learner and gets the opportunity to turn my advice into action.

2016 Dong Ding competition Oolong
For more finesse, the third Hung Shui Oolong is my Dong Ding competition Oolong from Tsui Feng from this spring. These finer aromas are due to the fact that the tea comes from a very high plantation (1700 m). It's also been well roasted, which is why it has won a good ranking in the competition.

The aftertaste lingers pleasantly and sweetly in the throat.

Since the roasting of these Oolongs is very recent, it's best to brew them very carefully and pour the water very slowly on the leaves for the first 2 or 3 brews.
2016 spring Dong Ding competition Oolong from Tsui Feng
The place and weather were so pleasant that we did a little extra comparison for this class: an Oriental Beauty Oolong from Wenshan (left) vs. my Oriental Beauty from Hsin Chu (right):
Wenshan vs. Hsin Chu
The most obvious difference is the lighter oxidation level for the OB from Wenshan. Its leaves are also slightly bigger. It had nice flavors, but the more oxidized OB from Hsin Chu just felt brighter, had a more powerful honey note and felt smoother.
For the third lesson, we're back testing the same tea with different wares. This time, we are testing which vessel does the best job brewing my shu Xiaguan melon puerh from 2001. We are starting with a porcelain gaiwan to get a neutral brew against which to compare the others.
The silver teapot makes all the characteristics stronger (and the brew hotter) than with the gaiwan.
The zhuni is similar to silver, but the taste is less rough. And with the Yixing zisha the wood scents came out very nicely and the taste was almost sweet. "Isn't shu puerh supposed to taste bitter?" asked Mick's wife in complete amazement about how a type of tea that she usually dislikes can taste so good! I explained that it's all about details. The water quality, the kettle, the brewing, the leaves the vessel... If you are able to make the most out of each of these details, then you're cup is much better than a cup brewed without knowledge and training.
That is often the difference between bitter and sweet tea! 


San said...

These classes were very interesting, thank you for this article and the pictures. Hope we can do this again soon !


Unknown said...

Of the different clays used in making pots, is there a preferred one? I read somewhere of the 'Four Famous' China pottery . Yi Xing, Qin Zhou Ni Xing, Jian Shui, Rong Chang. Is one preferred for sheng or shou puerhs?

TeaMasters said...

I'm most familiar with Yixing teapots and less so with the other clays you mentioned. I don't think it's possible to answer this question in such general terms. There are so many variations within the Yixing clay, with some pairing very well and others poorly. It may also depend on the quality of the puerh. And it's not because a teapot from clay X works better than clay Y with a particular puerh that you can generalize to all teapots from that clay.