CHINESE TEA CEREMONY - THE TRADITIONAL WAY
The tradition of tea drinking is usually associated with still mind, relaxation and passion. The action of preparation and brewing tea promises contemplation. Ancient masters refer to it as ‘meditation in motion'. The art of preparing and serving tea inspires philosophers and poets. It plays major role in Chinese culture and history. The most important characteristic of Chinese tea ceremony is the fact that it emphasises tea rather than ceremony itself. The core lies in appreciation of its aroma, taste and appearance.
Each website may offer different ways to prepare Chinese tea. However, please keep in mind that you are welcome to undergo your own experiments - it is you who needs to find out how to prepare your perfect cup of tea.
There are the three main ingredients you need to prepare tea:
It is not easy to find tea of exceptional quality. The majority of best quality tea is kept for private use of tea field owner or sold at a very high price to the higher society. It is even harder to discover a rare treasure of tea growing in the wild - almost beyond reach. People risk their lives picking wild tea growing on steep slopes of mountains in perfect conditions. They are not keen on sharing their most precious treasure, unless one gains their deep respect and sympathy.
How to recognize the best quality tea? It is not easy, especially at the beginning. There are four most important factors - colour, shape, smell and taste.
The best quality tea must have creases like the leathern boot of Tartar horsemen,
curl like the dewlap of a mighty bullock, unfold like a mist rising out of a ravine,
gleam like a lake touched by a zephyr,
and be wet and soft like a fine earth newly swept by rain.
If you wish to experience the real aroma and taste of tea do not use a tea bag! Leaves in a tea bag are very often mechanically cut and very dry. Nothing is comparable to loose leaf teas, fresh, moisture and aromatic.
The water used in the tea ceremony is as important as the tea itself. Your cup of tea is ninety-nine percent water therefore make sure to choose your water very carefully.
Chlorine and fluoride in tap water should be filtered out as they harm the flavour of tea. Try to avoid using tap water (even if it is filtered) unless you have no better alternative available. Distilled water makes ‘flat' tea and should not be used. High mineral content in water brings out the richness and sweetness of tea. Using mineral or spring water is the best option if you wish to enjoy prime quality beverage (unless you have access to the sparkling-clear mountain stream). Ideal tea water should have an alkaline pH around 7.9.
The right temperature of water is also a very important component of tea preparation. Using water that has reached the boiling point for a short period of time is the most preferred. It helps to keep water fresh, and ensures high oxygen level, which in turn enhances real aroma of tea. If water is too hot, or it is allowed to remain on the leaves for too long, the finest tea is lost and bitterness appears.
• Green, jasmine and white teas are ruined by pouring boiling water over them. After reaching boiling point, turn the kettle off and allow a few seconds for cooling down. The best water temperature for green tea would be 77-85 ºC.
• Green Oolongs prepared with under-boiled water are more fragrant, which enhances the tea drinking experience.
• Black, Red Oolong and Pu-erh tea can be treated with hottest water -90-95ºC (even hotter for Indian and Sri Lankan teas). High temperature water helps to release the aroma faster.
Never use re-heated water for tea. To keep your water at the right temperature, pour it to thermos straight after reaching boiling point.
Chinese tea brewing ceremonies involve usage of some beautiful equipment. Amongst it, we can find marvellous pots and cups, tea boards, gaiwans and other tea accessories. Chinese tea ceremony uses small cups to match the small, unglazed clay teapots; each cup is just large enough to hold about two small swallows of tea.
It is not necessary to obtain all the accessories in the early stage of tea discovery. However, there is some equipment we would recommend, as a base to start your experiments with tea. With time, one tends to be eager to collect more of the equipment in order to create a beautiful setting for future tea experiences.
Basic tools you need to brew Chinese tea:
1. Gaiwan - made of 3 elements: a cover, a cup and a saucer
2. Small tea cup
3. Cha Hai - a pitcher or strainer to empty the tea from the gaiwan
4. Small tea pot
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR BEST CUP OF TEA?
Gaiwan in Mandarin means "covered cup". Gaiwan is a great tool when preparing tea. It help to ‘feel' the tea better. Gaiwan does not influence the taste of tea much and its construction allows to enjoy tea brewing step by step.
Using gaiwan makes it easier to evaluate whether the tea is ready. Simply by opening the lid of the gaiwan and smelling it (surprisingly the lid tends to smell more intensively than the tea itself) one can judge the quality of the brew.
Due to gaiwan being an open vessel, one has an excellent opportunity to observe the entire tea brewing process. We can follow how tea leaves release colour - darkening as the tea continues to brew. We can study the leaves (and evaluate tea's quality) as they unroll and open right in front of our eyes. The wide opening of gaiwan allows the aroma to strongly penetrate one's senses. In contrast, when using a pot rather than gaiwan, all these beautiful mysteries would remain enclosed within its dark interior.
Using gaiwan makes it easier to infuse tea leaves more than once and enjoy the unique flavour and aroma of each brewing. Good quality tea can be infused at least three times. There may be an amazing difference in taste and smell between subsequent infusions.
Preparing tea in gaiwan is not difficult. However, one needs to get used to it. Without enough experience, one can easily burn their fingers or spill the hot water.
Preparing tea using gaiwan:
Get your gaiwan, tea cups, cha-hai and boiling water (in a thermos) organized on a tray.
1. Pre-heat your gaiwan and the cups with hot water.
2. Put tea leaves in the gaiwan (using bamboo scoop and not your hand) and pour the first water on it. (the way you pour water over tea leaves varies from tea to tea. For the most tender tea, don`t pour water directly over the leaves, that will burn the leaves, instead, gently pour water circling around the inner layer of the gaiwan).
3. Using gaiwan lid, put water in a delicate circulate motion. Close the gaiwan with the lid and while holding the lid, pour the water from gaiwan into a little pitcher (Cha Hai). All the tea leaves should stay in the gaiwan ready for following infusions.
4. For the next brews (once the tea leaves have opened up) pour the water in a circle on the rim of the gaiwan, and not on the leaves directly. This way, all the leaves will receive water in the same temperature.
Yixing teapot is considered by many tea lovers to be the best tea-brewing vessel in the world of fine tea. Eagerly collected by tea connoisseurs, these classic or contemporary-style teapots have a fascinating history. Authentic Yixing teapots are being crafted by hand, using the artist's form and completed on a potter's wheel, in the city of Yixing - the "pottery capital of China". Its reputation for producing exquisite teapots dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Unglazed teapots allow the minerals in the treasured clay to enhance the flavour of the tea. With use, Yixing teapots absorb the character of the tea and develop a rich patina enhancing the aroma of the tea.
Preparing tea using small (Yixing) teapot :
1. After heating water to reach boiling point, rinse the teapot with it. This heats up the pot.
2. Using a bamboo tea scoop, fill the teapot approximately 1/4 full with tea leaves. Smell the tea in the pre-heated pot - the tea releases its beautiful aroma.
3. Put the teapot in a large bowl. Now pour boiling water into the pot. When full, put the lid on and pour some more water over it letting the overflow run into the bowl. For green tea and white tea, we do not recommend to wash the tea. Our Tea Master holds an opinion that wasting the water that first caressed the leaves is disrespectful to tea and nature.
4. Be sure not to let the tea steep too long; the first infusion should be steeped for only 30 seconds. Pour the tea into small cups by moving the teapot around in a continual motion over them. This way, they are filled together and each cup tastes exactly the same.
After steeping, the tea can be poured into a second teapot or tea pitcher to be served at leisure. More water can be added to the teapot, and up to five infusions typically can be made from the same tea leaves. Be sure to add 10 more seconds for the second brewing and 15 additional seconds thereafter.
Each brewing has its own distinct character. The very first one highlights the aroma. Second brewing serves the flavour. With the third brewing tea starts to taste sweeter and stronger.
Enjoying your tasting!