Monday, June 15, 2015

The Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner faces of tea

Fenqi Hu Oolong, spring 2015
Plastic surgery, photoshop, Botox, makeup... The difference between before and after can be breathtaking. We've all seen such pictures of celebrities or normal people. The transformation can sometimes be as radical as with Bruce becoming Caitlyn!

A few days ago, a tea friend brought a new tea. I brewed it competition style with a gaiwan, which means I used few leaves and a long first brewing time. He wondered why I wouldn't use more leaves and a shorter time to make a better cup of tea. Where's my gongfu?

The first skill is to know when to use it! Those who've watched a Bruce Lee movie will remember that he's using his kongfu only when it's really needed. An absence of gongfu when brewing a tea for the first time is already a sign of gongfu! First, it's a sign of humility: you admit not knowing this tea enough from looking at and smelling the dry leaves. You need to brew it to know it better.

Your aim is to understand what's the true character, the real nature of the tea. And like with a person, it's when you apply some stress (boiling water) that you'll find out their defects, their weaknesses. Using the same method for all teas is also a fair and easier way to compare them.

That's why, on my boutique, I first show pictures of a competition brewing. 3 grams of dry leaves, the brew and the spent leaves after the 6 minutes brew. My goal here is not to make beautiful shots, but to show you the tea in all its simplicity and true nature. My description is also mostly limited to what the tea tastes brewed this way. What you get to see first is Bruce!
Fenqi Hu Oolong, spring 2015
Once you know the leaves well, you have the freedom and responsibility to brew them as you like. Your goal is to make a better cup than when using the competition method. If your result were to be worse, then you'd better simply use the competition method!

This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to switch from a gaiwan to a teapot. Like a simple smile can change a face, sometimes it's already a big enhancement to know how to pour the water well and get the leaves to dance happily in the gaiwan! Understanding the nature of the leaves also helps to know what is the character that gains from being emphasized.
For this Fenqi Hu Oolong, for instance, I took advantage of its light roast to seize on its light golden color. The chabu seems to reflect various shades of gold and the green plant and bowl convey a feeling of lightness and freshness combined with the warmer nature of the tea.

This is my own, unique interpretation of this tea. I feel we obtain the best results when I emphasize the true nature of the tea. But I would probably not know what this nature is if I hadn't made a first brew with the competition method!
Another goal of the no-gongfu competition brewing method is to find select the best leaves you wish to purchase in bigger quantity. Knowing how to choose your leaves wisely is already a skill! Let's repeat some obvious truths in this regard:
- an expensive tea isn't necessarily better,
- but quality has a cost and if a price is too good to be true, it's often the case.
- Single batch Oolongs vary greatly in terms of taste and quality (due to soil, climate and human process).
- Beware of nice stories and beautiful packaging. Focus on the scents and taste of the tea.
Alishan Jinxuan, spring 2015
The fun part of brewing tea with skill is to turn Cinderella into the princess she's meant to be! Every tea has a unique personality and taste. That's why there are infinite possibilities to dress and makeup the tea with a Chaxi and with brewing skills.
Alishan Oolong, spring 2015
If you're really gifted, you could even turn a Bruce into a Caitlyn!


Stephan said...

That's a good thought. It's easy to forget the need of appreciation once you have acquired a tea you paid for. Who would've guessed that there's a certain arrogance and disrepect to brewing a tea via gongfu! Comical, isn't it?
I'll make sure to keep that in mind.

Be well


EG said...

Some of your simple words of wisdom really hit home for me.

"Understand what is the true character, the real nature of the tea." A great goal!

Learn to "pour the water well and get the leaves to dance happily"

I would add another Stéphane quote..."brew the same tea again and again and see how small changes impact the taste."
My own brewing has improved when I've had a full 150 g bag of the same tea.

Then, "an expensive tea isn't necessarily better." I think you were talking about overpriced, falsely presented tea, but thought as well that more brewing practice can elevate a less expensive tea to something spectacular.

Anyway, you got me thinking about taking time, getting to know the various aspects of a tea, even finding ones own, unique interpretation. Thanks for a nice article!

TeaMasters said...

Dear Stephan,

Thanks for your comment. You're twisting my thoughts a little bit, though! But it's indeed a funny way to put it!

Dear EG,

You're making a good point that while we understand the desire to explore new teas and new flavors, you can also do that by sticking to the same tea and experimenting with it. You realize better how tea is so sensitive to slight changes in weather, mood, brewing! Besides, it's also more cost effective to purchase 150 grams!

I also like your use of the verb 'elevate'! Very fitting.

EG said...

I would look forward to hearing more at some future point about the influence of weather - or mood- on tea, no matter how subjective.

I've also noticed that being in a rush absolutely ruins the taste, no matter how great the tea!

Marilyn Miller said...

Nice post!