Beginner questions


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Beginner questions

Postby Chajin » Sep 4th, '11, 22:42

Hi, I'm not sure if this is in the right place, but here goes. I've been studying Japanese tea ceremony for about 8 years, but really have nearly no tea experience outside that world. Because I spend a lot of time with Japanese people I often drink Japanese green teas and enjoy them, but don't know what most of them are except for genmaicha, which is one of my favourites.

I've recently decided to learn more about non-matcha teas, and after a lot of reading (much of it here) I picked up a gaiwan from a local Chinese tea shop, plus samples of a Longjing and a Taiwan Dong Ding. I also have one of those sets with a small clay teapot, matching cups and saucers, and a matching bowl with a lid with holes in it (the name of which I don't know--I'll call it a tray) which I got super cheap in Japan, plus a lidless bowl with a spout that is the only remaining part of a tea set I got in Korea and which I assume is a fairness cup.

So the last couple of days I've been experimenting with my two teas. The tea shop gave me a brochure which recommends 75-80C/1-1.5Tbsp for the Longjing and ~95C/.5-1Tbsp for the Dong Ding. I've been boiling the water in an electric kettle and pouring it into a glass measuring cup, then warming the gaiwan and teacup, placing the leaves in the gaiwan, adding water and immediately discarding it, and then brewing the first pour. The brochure recommends about 6 seconds. Since I'm drinking by myself, I've been pouring the tea from the gaiwan into the fairness cup, filling a small cup to drink from, and discarding whatever's left in the fairness cup so I can taste several pours without drinking way too much tea.

I've realized, however, that the water that comes out of my kettle when it boils doesn't seem to be 100 degrees C. Even just-boiled and measured as I'm filling the glass measuring cup, it only registers about 85, and I checked it on two different thermometers. Is it possible that 100 degree water is cooling by that much that rapidly just from being poured from the kettle into a jug? And given that it's then sitting on the table while I'm warming the gaiwan, is it cooling even further before I even make the tea? Presumably that wouldn't be a big problem with the Longjing, but the Oolong should be made with water that's considerably hotter, right?

I'm wondering partly because, even though both are probably fairly mild teas to begin with, they both struck me as quite remarkably mild. Also, the brewing times seem quite short. With the Dong Ding I brewed for up to 17 seconds at the longest, while with the Longjing the maximum was about 12. Does anyone have suggestions for improving what I'm doing? I also think I'd like to try something with a bit of a stronger taste; any suggestions for a beginner?

I'm kind of confused about brewing methods generally. I've read a lot about gongfu cha and I'm wondering whether the way I've been brewing has anything to do with that. I've also read a lot about "grandpa style," and when I go to Chinese restaurants it's sort of a similar thing, only with a large pot--in either case the leaves are steeping for significantly longer than the few seconds my tea shop is recommending. I've got more questions but perhaps I'd better stop here...
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Re: Beginner questions

Postby FlyedPiper » Sep 6th, '11, 14:02

I'm surprised no one has chimed in here...

Here's how I learned to brew oolongs-

Ignore the brewing instructions.

Always use boiling water (or more precisely "off boil" water- water that is not bubbling anymore but still boiling hot).

Heat the brewing vessel and cups with the water.

For rolled teas like tie guan yin or taiwanese oolongs fill the vessel about 25% full of leaf. For other teas like yancha or dancong that don't expand as much fill the vessel 50% full.

Wash the leaves (a quick rinse with less oxidized teas and a slightly longer one for more) and discard.

After that brew for 3-5 seconds for each brew until the flavor starts to fade, then adjust time accordingly. Later brews may steep for as long as 5 minutes or more. Good oolong will last up to 8 or 10 brews.

This is my version of "Gongfu" style brewing, and I'm sure others will disagree with me. I'm still learning and adapting. Brewing oolongs and puerhs in this style is truly an art, and one gets better with practice. You will definitely not get weak brews with this method.

Hope this helps. Of course there are a lot of details I left out, but you'll pick those up as you go along and talk with others on the forum here. This is just a quick down and dirty version to get you started.

If you like the matcha you should get yourself a kyusu and try out some good senchas too! They're my favorite teas all around.

If you have more questions you can PM me :).
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Re: Beginner questions

Postby wyardley » Sep 6th, '11, 14:29

Ignoring the "brewing instructions" is almost always good advice. I think FlyedPiper's advice is more or less sound.

One thing I'd add is that the quality of the tea affects how much heat and leaf quantity it can take. Try brewing a tea with a pretty heavy hand the first time, and you can always adjust parameters downward the next time once you know the tea well.

Also, even though technically boiling is always boiling (i.e., 212 F / 100 C), there are a lot of variables that affect how hot the water actually is when it hits the tea. I alluded to this in another recent thread.

For rolled teas like tie guan yin or taiwanese oolongs fill the vessel about 25% full of leaf. For other teas like yancha or dancong that don't expand as much fill the vessel 50% full.

Good advice. But do keep in mind that most mainland tieguanyin and some competition grade Taiwanese teas are 1-leaf, whereas a lot of hand-picked Taiwanese rolled oolongs are two leaves and a stem. The latter will expand much more.

Also, keep longer-leaf wiry teas which are unbroken will need to be packed in more; smaller leaf and / or broken wiry teas may benefit from a little more moderation in quantity.

While I'm not a big advocate for using a scale for every day drinking, it can be helpful when brewing a sample or an unfamiliar tea.

Longjing can be a pretty mild flavored tea. But it can be brewed with more tea leaf, just adjusting it to your taste. If it's exceptionally good quality (unlikely), you can try a bit more heat and see how you like the results. I don't brew green teas often, but I would probably use a gaiwan and maybe 1/4 full of leaf by volume. Some people say that you should leave a "root" when brewing Chinese greens, i.e., don't drain the tea completely when pouring the tea off. You can also try leaving the brewed tea in the gaiwan and drinking straight from the gaiwan, which is a very appropriate way to drink longjing.
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Re: Beginner questions

Postby rhondabee » Sep 6th, '11, 23:12

I brew Taiwanese oolong nearly every day. I use a 120 ml gaiwan. When at home I do warm the gaiwan and cups/fair cup with hot water. I add enough oolong (the rolled kind such as Dong Ding) to cover the bottom of the gaiwan. I add near boiling water to the gaiwan about 1/2 full and then after a few seconds empty the water out for the rinse. (I do not pour water into the fair cup first, you can add the boiling or near boiling water directly into the gaiwan. No need to cool off the water for oolong.) Then I fill it up again and let it brew for about 30-40 seconds. The second brew I steep for 15-20 seconds, and third time again 30-40 seconds and a little more time for each subsequent brew. I think everyone brews a little differently, depending on their own personal taste. Experiment until you find your favorite way.
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Re: Beginner questions

Postby Chajin » Sep 7th, '11, 00:55

Thanks, everyone. I guess I'll have to play around with the teas and experiment with amounts and steeping times. Water temperature may be the biggest challenge at this point
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Re: Beginner questions

Postby Rayuela » Sep 7th, '11, 14:23

As you will already have noticed, steeping times shift radically from person to person. When I brew Taiwanese oolong, it's 5/6g in a gaiwan, no rinse, then:
1st: 1m 10
2nd: 50
3rd: 1m 20
4th: 2m

and so on up to a maximum of six.

Other people do these 5 second steeps and get 13 steeps, but that's just scented water as far as I am concerned. If you are finding it too mild, push the boat out and see what happens.
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Re: Beginner questions

Postby Casualconnoisse... » Sep 7th, '11, 18:23

What's your elevation? Water boils when it's at equilibrium with local atmospheric pressure, so it'll be 100C only if you're at or close to sea level. If you're at elevation your water will boil at a lower temperature (hence using pressure cookers for rice in the mountains- water won't boil hot enough otherwise), and that could explain at least part of your cool water. Try measuring it just off the boil (in the kettle, mind) to see if it's boiling cool. (I'm ~1000 feet above sea level, so my water boils at ~210F most days)

I agree with everyone else here when it comes to brewing oolongs- just ignore the instructions. I like to use boiling water. Past that I do whatever I like (and I am known to experiment) :)
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Re: Beginner questions

Postby Chajin » Sep 7th, '11, 20:21

Dude.... I have to worry about elevation too? This tea stuff is complicated.

Actually, I'm at sea level. I think the problem was pouring the just-boiled water from the kettle into a cold jug. It never occurred to me that it would cool that much that rapidly. I'll definitely try experimenting with different brewing times though.
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Re: Beginner questions

Postby FlyedPiper » Sep 8th, '11, 13:14

As you can see opinions vary :)

Wyardly above can tell you how to brew traditional oolong and puerh like a pro. As intricate as you want to get.

For all things green tea ask Chip!
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