How-to-guide for preparing your tea with skill
When we talk about appreciating tea, we are often saying, "How do we get the most out of these leaves?" At the same time, when you ask any long time tea drinker to recount their favorite memories of tea, you're going to here all about the places they were, the people they were with, the various adventures that are not limited to the leaves. Similarly, you might ask someone what they love about tea and they may say the variety, the taste, the feeling, or they might say the ritual, the teapots, the teahouses, or another cultural element. So I thought I'd write this little beginners guide both to making tea with multiple steeps, gong fu cha style, and also to encourage people to expand into the full sensory experience and the possibility of having a really raucous time with friends.
here's my notes for how I suggest that someone new to the game might approach preparing and appreciating tea
Where will you prepare your tea today? Have fun playing with the space and bringing out different elements. The spacial and visual fields are yours to enjoy during tea.
Or on the other hand you might put a tea kit together in your bag with a thermos of hot water and just wait for the right environment to open up.
The water is key. Emperors in Japan would sometimes only make tea using the water from a specific spring. Using water that tastes good, and better yet has some mineral content, is recommended. The water also needs to be hot, at or near boiling. You can keep it warm in a kettle or thermos.
Well crafted tea-ware is an enriching part of the tea experience. In general, when people are new to this way of tea, they are surprised by the small size of the teapots. Small teapots lend themselves to appreciation through smaller tastes of more steeps, and in fact give you space to try many teas in one sitting.
Basic step by step instruction for brewing tea
In general there is no perfect recipe to follow in making good tea. The best advice is to be present and connect to your senses. The factors at play in determining how each steep will work are the temperature of the water, the amount of tea used, the length of the steeping time, and how much the tea has already been steeped.
1. Rinse the vessel and cup(s) with hot water, to warm them.
2. Cover the bottom of the tea vessel in leaves.
3. Add water and cover with the lid.
4. Wait for the leaves to be full of water and open. This is shorter for leaves that are already open, and longer for teas that are tightly closed.
5. Pour the tea into cups and enjoy. You can also pour tea into a pitcher as an intermediary step, which makes sure that all cups get the same concentration of tea.
6. When it's time for another steep, add water and cover with lid.
7. Wait for water to take on the taste of tea to your liking, looking at the color of the water, the leaves continuing to open, or just waiting until it feels like the right time.
8. Pour into cups and enjoy.
9. Repeat steps 6 through 8, adding time to the later steeps.
In this video I show some the basic principles of this method, while brewing some He Huan Shan in a gaiwan. I show the first 3 steeps. Before the video starts, I rinse the vessel, cup and pitcher with hot water. After it finishes I do 3 more steeps.
Engaging all of the senses
When you are drinking tea, the drinking part is such a small piece. You want to smell the tea. Smell it dry, smell it wet, smell the lid of the teapot after steeping to catch the fragrance. Feel the teapot, the warmth. Taste the tea. Pre-taste, taste, mouth-feel, aftertaste. Relax in the environment created. Feel the way the tea effects different parts of your body, the way sensation travels, peaks, flows, builds, dissipates. Look out into the environment.
Engaging with company
Tea has enduring as a cultural phenomena in large part due to it's social aspect. Drinking tea and talking about philosophy, current events, or asking after family is all fair game. Joking and laughing, peeing, and poetry are all part of the world of tea. Friendships can arise spontaneously or be enduring through tea. I hope you explore this thoroughly.