Simplicity

I was chatting with BBB today about teaware and things, and one of the points we agreed on was that both of us are moving towards simpler brewing. These days for me it’s a kettle, a pot, a cup, and that’s it. I don’t pour water over the pot. I don’t pour tea over the pot (usually). I don’t do anything fancy. Water in, water out.

If you watch those videos on youtube teaching you how to do gongfu brewing, they are usually full of pomp and circumstance — paraphrenalia galore, plus a lot of extra steps and movements that are, for all intents and purposes, completely unnecessary. In fact, very often they detract from the actual product that you care about — how the tea comes out and tastes. Oftentimes I’ve seen people getting too preoccupied with a certain step or two that other, important aspects of tea brewing gets ignored. They might take too long to pour, wait too long so the water is cold, brew too long because they have to clean something or move something, the list is endless. This is what we call literally “inverting the base and end” in Chinese (本末倒置), meaning that the emphasis is entirely on the wrong thing.

Brewing tea is really only about three variables, once you’re done with figuring out the inputs (tea + water). It’s temperature, time, and volume. How hot, how long, and how much water/tea. The rest is just motion. For me, temperature is almost not a concern, as I almost always use water that’s just off boil, no matter what it is. As long as you adjust the other two, anything, including greens, can come out just fine.


Comments

Simplicity — 12 Comments

  1. i had been doing this exact thing for the last six months. i have gone a step further. all my clay pots have been idling in the cupboard. it’s been gaiwans all the way the last 6 months. tea leaves in the gaiwan, water, steep, pouring out the brew into a pitcher, drink. sometimes i have drunk straight from the pitcher itself. i have never pour water over the the pot. i also just use a tea bowl to collect minor water spillage. cups are washed with water from the first flash rinse of the tea leaves. i am just getting lazy, i guess. so much more convenient to take the spent tea leaves out of a gaiwan rather out of a small tea pot.

  2. I see what you mean and i actually also prefer the simple above the complicated especially if you drink tea all day, but I guess that Gongfu tea brewing also has the function of getting into the right state of mind and to silence the thinking with a little activity. That aspect might be even more attractive for many westerners than the actual tea itself.

  3. Theo: Wow, that’s one step further than me :). I do think pots make tea differently than gaiwans, and I prefer using pots these days. So, pot it will be.

    Weixiangsheng: I agree about the “getting into the right state of mind” business. I do, however, think that even if you do it very simply you can achieve the same thing. Of course, there are those who are in pursuit not of the tea itself, but the ceremonial aspect of it.

    starreyedgyrl: Insofar as I drink any, yes, but that’s because I drink really low grade white teas that are usually quite oxidized. The more delicate ones probably require a slightly lighter touch.

    tea: not always, but it’s usually a small difference — sometimes it’s 90% full instead of to the brim, that kind of thing

  4. I do similar, except I use a fair cup every time.

    There’s a few advantages with using a fair cup that I really like.
    1) I have a favorite teacup that I use to drink everything, and it’s too small to hold all the tea, except for my smallest pots.
    2) I can just sit the pot on the fair cup, which is both easy, and the fastest way to drain the pot.
    3) It cools the tea just a tad. My teacup is a thin walled porcelain, so it doesn’t absorb much heat, and the double transfer cools it enough that I don’t burn
    4) Since I gentle pour water into the teapot, I dont think that step adds much air, which is removed by the boiling process. By using the faircup, there’s 2 turbulence steps that are after the leaf, which I think adds some air back in. I think we can taste air. Like, if you boil water, it tastes kinda flat, but if you shake up the water after it’s been boiled it tastes more normal again. Maybe that’s just placebo?

  5. As I became more experienced w/ tea, the faircup, bamboo tray, and aroma cup lost their place in my routine. Now, I merely use an antique plate, yixing, and cup.

  6. I basically agree with everything you’re saying in this post. But I have a small point regarding some of those fancy gongfu routines that can seem so pointless and in fact, in unskilled hands, are counterproductive. It’s just this: the rigid choreography can result in the three variables (temp, time, volume) coming out the same every time. So what seems like a mystical – or pseudo-mystical – way of brewing tea, seen from another angle, becomes a kind of engineering, almost.

    Whether uniformity and predictability are virtues in making tea is a whole other issue, of course!

  7. I generally agree, but I wonder about the temperature and how you generally drink. I’ve found that some teas actually come out a lot better when I keep the pot really hot (pouring water over the outside, particularly for high fire wulong), and was wondering if you’ve not found the same? I suppose if/when I have a gongfu session going continually so that the pot doesn’t have much chance to cool down then it really doesn’t matter, but most of the time my friends don’t want to/can’t drink tea fast enough to keep everything hot. I will also use a pitcher with friends because the brewing vessel holds more than the cups and/or everyone is drinking at different rates (unfortunately I don’t have any friends locally that are tea heads).

    Most of the time, though, my everyday brewing is just my Zoji, gaiwan, and cup I do have a small tray underneath the Zoji, but it’s mainly just to catch spills. 🙂

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