Monday February 27, 2006

So what is Kung Fu tea?

There are two answers to this. The first is the actual kind of tea that is usually called Kung Fu tea, and the second is the style of making tea that generally gets referred to as Kung Fu style.

1) The Tea. Kung Fu tea, from what I know, is specifically tea that they drink in Chaozhou area that is near the border between the Guangdong province and Fujian province. It is a heavy fire oolong, often not of the highest grade of leaf, but brews a fairly bitter and strong liquor. More or less like what I had yesterday (I ought to take more pictures)

2) The style. Kung Fu style tea making is what I normally do, and is usually the way people who care about tea use to brew their own drinks. I believe this is adopted from the Chaozhou area, thus its synonymous name as the tea itself. It does also mean “skill tea” in this sense of the word.

The key steps to this kind of tea making is the following:

i) you use a small vessel, just big enough to serve the number of people who are drinking. So no big pots for one person — if it’s one person drinking, your vessel should serve at most 3-4 small cups of tea. The cups are about the size of your usual sake cups. So, a pot like this should be under 100ml in volume.

ii) you use a relatively high amount of tea leaves for the vessel. Instead of the British way of “one spoonful for each person and one for the pot”, you put in the proper amount of tea leaves in proportion to the volume of the vessel. The actual amount of tea leaves needed depends on the type of tea. Generally speaking, for green tea that is about 1/10 of the vessel, for a light oolong or tieguanyin, about 1/4 to 1/5, and for a heavier oolong/tieguanyin, anything up to 2/3 or so. For Puerh, I’d say 1/4, although tastes varies. Whatever floats your boat, really. This is the other reason why you want a small vessel for smaller parties, because if you have an overly big pot you end up either drinking LOTS of caffeine, or you are wasting the tea because you can’t drink all the infusions (or you can get very sick trying).

iii) you wash your leaves. This is done by pouring hot water over the leaves like you would normally brew it, but quickly pour it out again, leaving no liquid behind. When I say quickly, I mean under 5 seconds. This is especially important for oolong and puerh. For oolong, it opens up the leaves — if it’s tightly rolled into a ball, the first brew is going to be very light because the tea is still dry and needs time to open up and brew properly. For Puerh, it’s mostly because the stuff is dirty — if it’s old Puerh, it can have 20 years worth of dust on top of it. You don’t want to drink that. That, incidentally, is also why people sometimes say Puerh tastes like mud.

iv) you then pour water into it and brew for real. The amount of time you need for the tea varies by type. A green tea might take a minute or so for the first brew, a Puerh 10 seconds. It really depends, and is again subject to taste. When time’s up, you pour it out again into the serving vessel and serve (or if you’re drinking by yourself, you can just dump it into a large cup and drink away). The important thing here, as with the washing, is that NO WATER SHOULD BE LEFT BEHIND. This is mainly to avoid “stewing” the tea. Now, with a British tea, which is mostly crappy red tea, it is fairly ok to stew the stuff and it will still taste all right. With a lot of this stuff, however, especially the oolong and the green teas, overbrewing will produce a nasty, bitter, sour liquor that can be totally different from the divine, heavenly, fragrant taste. Ok, I digress.

v) you brew the tea leaves repeatedly. So, the tea leaves are not done after the first brew. Instead, once you’re done with the first brew (which shouldn’t take more than a few sips if you used a properly small pot) you pour hot water in again (reheated if it cooled a bit) and brew the tea again. As the number of brewing increase, the time you need for the infusion also increases. This is done mostly by experience, and again, by taste. Some people like it strong, some people like it light. It’s up to you, really. Once ready, you pour it out again, serve, and drink. Repeat. Properly done, you should notice that the taste of the tea actually varies a bit over the different brewings. This is more pronounced in teas like oolongs and Puerh, which are heavier in flavour and endure more infusions. Green teas last maybe 3-4 times, oolongs about 7, and Puerh…. depends on the type of Puerh. But you should notice change.

vi) this is somewhat optional, but when you are done drinking one infusion, smell the fragrance left in the dry cup you’re holding in your hand. Stick the cup up to your nose and inhale — you should smell something very fragrant, something that doesn’t seem possible coming out of tea, especially non-flower tea, but often it is a fairly floral and pleasant smell. Taiwanese make this a formal step in their tea-making process, but I tend to skip their step and leave it till after drinking, since to me (and I think most tea drinkers from Hong Kong) taste is more important than smell. Regardless, it should be done, and the smell should pleasantly surprise you.

Those are about it for the steps. The real point of this all, of course, is to make good tasting tea. This is not a ceremony like the Japanese one — the Japanese ceremony is very formalistic, and having sat through one, I feel like the actual tea itself is only a minor consideration. The Chinese tea-making method is more about the taste. Minor details can be overlooked, adjusted, and substituted as one sees fit. This is simply a way to make better tasting tea, and to be able to differentiate the different kinds of teas that are out there.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.