Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang


Owes its flavors to oxidation levels between green & black tea.

Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby lebleu2 » Oct 20th, '11, 09:25

I'm a noob and have read through most of the oolong posts looking for information about how to brew the Spring hand-harvested, medium-high roasted, Hou De Shui Xiang tea I just purchased that looks like small balls. After reading through most of the threads it's become apparent that 'regular' Shui Xiang is brewed differently than rolled high mountain Taiwan tea. My first question is- what takes precedence in brewing? Shape (balled) or variety (Shui Xiang)?
Please forgive me for asking so many questions but I've really tried to do my homework and feel it's time to call in the the experts :-)
Here we go:
What percentage of the teapot gets filled with the dry little balls, which appear to be somewhat loosely rolled? I've read that with some balled teas it's enough to cover the bottom with 1 or 2 layers, but when I do that it fills only about 2/3 of the teapot after the wet leaves have expanded. Is this as it should be? I assume this is a "good" quality tea, and I read that the better the tea the less you use.
Do you crumble any of the little balls? With "regular" Shui Xiang tea some people crumble some of the leaves and then sandwich them between larger leaves.
Is rolling boil or string of pearls water used with every infusion? It appears that some people don't bring the water to a full boil with every infusion and others do.
How about the rinse time? For "regular Shui Xiang" most people use a flash rinse. For balled teas people seem to use a 10-30 second rinse.
As far as brewing times- some people use short times 5-5-10-20-1 minute; other people use a much longer 1st brew (30 seconds) and longer brewing times all together- 60-60-90-120. I've also noticed alternating timing 30"-1'-30"-1'-30"-1'-30"-1'

What I found, in my own experiments is:
1) when I use 2 layers of tea the wet leaves only fill 2/3 of the teapot. Perhaps I need more tea?
2) when I used quick brews- 20-10-15-30-1 minute-1-1 the tea was weaker than I would like it to be
3) when I added some crushed leaves the tea had more flavor
4) When I used longer times 30-30-30- 70-70-70-90-2 minutes the tea had more flavor and wasn't bitter. But the flavors didn't seem very complex or layered to me, nor did they change much between brews.

I realize that I have to keep trying but some advice born of experience would be very much appreciated. The tea was somewhat expensive and, like everyone else, I'm loathe to waste it in my fumbling around.

Many thanks to everyone for the time and effort you've all put into this blog, making it such a rich source of information and inspiration. I've learned so much and I know that as my experience grows, so too will my appreciation of the massive amount of knowledge contained in these pages. I recognize that I've only begun to tap its riches.

Thank you!
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby debunix » Oct 20th, '11, 10:49

I like my teas on the dilute side, and I used my usual 1 gram per ounce of water for the 2009 Winter Shui Xian from Hou De. I loved how the tea unfolded, infusion after infusion, with infusion times 30-90 seconds, water 195-205 degrees (starting shorter/cooler, and working towards longer/hotter).
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby lebleu2 » Oct 20th, '11, 19:11

debunix wrote:I like my teas on the dilute side, and I used my usual 1 gram per ounce of water for the 2009 Winter Shui Xian from Hou De. I loved how the tea unfolded, infusion after infusion, with infusion times 30-90 seconds, water 195-205 degrees (starting shorter/cooler, and working towards longer/hotter).


I tried your method, debunix, and although the first and last brews were weaker than I personally like, I was surprised how tasty most of them were. I guess the longer brew times made up for the smaller amount of leaf. Thanks for your reply- it inspired me to try something I wouldn't otherwise have attempted.

I sure wish there were some basic guidelines for different types of oolongs for newbies to follow. Whenever I try a new tea I have no idea where to begin, unless the vendor has included directions on the back of the box :-) That, at least, is a starting point!

Thanks again :-)
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby wyardley » Oct 20th, '11, 19:57

lebleu2 wrote:I sure wish there were some basic guidelines for different types of oolongs for newbies to follow.

The quality of the tea matters a lot, as does your personal preference / taste, and that's why basic guidelines like the one you describe aren't that useful. In other words, a low or medium grade tea will often taste better when brewed with less tea leaves and more time (up to a point). Good teas should generally taste good no matter how they're brewed, but by using more tea leaf and shorter infusions, you can often coax more out of them than is possible brewing with a smaller amount of leaf.

I tend to brew tea very strong, and then back off (or pour more quickly) if it doesn't taste good that way.

lebleu2 wrote:Whenever I try a new tea I have no idea where to begin, unless the vendor has included directions on the back of the box

I think the one thing that most of us here would agree with is that vendor directions are almost always useless.
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby lebleu2 » Oct 20th, '11, 22:12

[quote="wyardley"]
"The quality of the tea matters a lot, as does your personal preference / taste, and that's why basic guidelines like the one you describe aren't that useful. In other words, a low or medium grade tea will often taste better when brewed with less tea leaves and more time (up to a point). Good teas should generally taste good no matter how they're brewed, but by using more tea leaf and shorter infusions, you can often coax more out of them than is possible brewing with a smaller amount of leaf."

How to coax is something I guess I'll have to learn. I don't mind experimenting but it feels like every time I try a new tea I have to "reinvent the wheel". I do understand that personal preferences makes it impossible to give absolute "directions" buy it's still difficult to accept that there aren't any "starting" guidelines. If I had a more analytical kind of head I'd figure out how to vary the amount of tea, length of brews and timings between brews in a consistent way that would help me figure out what I like.

"I tend to brew tea very strong, and then back off (or pour more quickly) if it doesn't taste good that way".

What does it mean to "back off"? Can I assume that pouring more quickly makes the tea less strong because it's exposed to heat for less time? I'm sure these things seem obvious to you but it sounds like a foreign language to me.
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby debunix » Oct 20th, '11, 23:09

Things that make the tea liquor stronger: increased time for more stuff to be dissolved/diffused out of the tea leaf; more heat may dissolve more stuff faster.

So to 'back off', brew the tea 'weaker', you can decrease brewing time, or decrease brewing temperature, or use more water, or do several of these things at once. You can even simply dilute the brewed tea with a bit more hot water.

There is no magic guide to which one is best. But when you're brewing multiple infusions, you have a lot of chances to try again when you don't get it right. I tend to start with diluting the infused tea, if there is room in the cup, to see if that salvages an unpleasant infusion. I'm more likely to decrease brewing time if I like the overall flavor profile of the tea but it seems too intense, and drop temperature if there is something bitter than I'm trying to avoid pulling out of the tea.
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby David R. » Oct 21st, '11, 06:04

lebleu2 wrote:I don't mind experimenting but it feels like every time I try a new tea I have to "reinvent the wheel".


Welcome to the world of tea ! :) It looks challenging, especially at first but it will provide a fair share of satisfaction and enjoyment.

As for oolong brewing, beginning with a gaiwan really helps, as you can rely on signs such as the color or the smell of the brew to know when to pour. And the wrong teapot can lead to disappointing result.
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby lebleu2 » Oct 21st, '11, 09:59

debunix wrote:Things that make the tea liquor stronger: increased time for more stuff to be dissolved/diffused out of the tea leaf; more heat may dissolve more stuff faster.......
I'm more likely to decrease brewing time if I like the overall flavor profile of the tea but it seems too intense, and drop temperature if there is something bitter than I'm trying to avoid pulling out of the tea.


Extremely helpful! This is exactly the kind of information I was looking for :-) Thank you very much. I'm about to brew the Shui Xiang again and will put it to good use.

David R- I have a much, much easier time with a gaiwan, exactly for the reasons you mentioned. I'm determined to "get it right" with a teapot, though. I'm working on it!
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby tea.and.peace » Oct 21st, '11, 11:38

You may also find this below link helpful to read for your tea journey.

http://the-leaf.org/Issue1/?p=11
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby lebleu2 » Oct 21st, '11, 11:38

I tried again using the "lower temperature, less bitter; shorter brewing time, less intensity" parameters. Then, for the sake of comparison, I brewed it in a similar-sized gaiwan. The tea had more flavor, and was more vegetal. It reminded me more of the brews I had made with less tea and lower temperatures even though I used more leaf to brew in the gaiwan. It was a very interesting (and instructive) experiment.
I'm going to try to replicate my gaiwan brewing in the teapot and see what happens. Maybe I can use the gaiwan to be a guide :-)

You have all been very helpful. Many, many thanks!
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby lebleu2 » Oct 21st, '11, 12:19

I don't really expect any of you would be interested, but since you've all been so kind to take the time to share information I thought I'd post my last try with this tea.
I decided to follow my own gaiwan guidelines and try to learn from what worked with my gaiwan. I used the same amount of tea (6.6 grams of rolled Shui Xiang) in my 70 ml purple sand Yixing teapot (which has a tall shape).
Brewing times 5,7,15,17, 30, 1 minute. The 3rd brew had the most flavor of any of the 6 rounds I've tried. It was slightly peppery, woodsy,and I could feel a warming sensation down my chest. 10 minutes later I still feel a buzzing in my mouth and a slight degree of salivation.
All-in-all I think I'm just not crazy about this tea. Perhaps I'm expecting too much complexity. Later tonight I will check out this blog for oolong recommendations.

Once again, many, many thanks. I feel as though I've learned a lot and am most grateful to all for taking the time to reply. For those of you who've been on this form for a long time, and have answered 100s of questions from newbies, I'm sure it takes a lot of patience to keep answering the same questions over and over. Thank you for hanging in there. I will do my best to use your advice with sensitivity, creativity and diligence.
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby wyardley » Oct 21st, '11, 13:03

lebleu2 wrote: After reading through most of the threads it's become apparent that 'regular' Shui Xiang is brewed differently than rolled high mountain Taiwan tea. My first question is- what takes precedence in brewing? Shape (balled) or variety (Shui Xiang)?

For me, neither. The shape will, of course, affect the volume of tea used, but for an oolong, I would think about the tea's processing parameters (level of oxidation and level of roast) before either varietal or shape.

Do you crumble any of the little balls? With "regular" Shui Xiang tea some people crumble some of the leaves and then sandwich them between larger leaves.

This would more often be done with heavy roasted teas, especially roasted tieguanyin, maybe less often with some Wuyi yancha. You could try it, but I don't think it's a good idea in this case. One thing it will probably do is even out the strength of the first infusion a bit, however, it may make the tea a bit more bitter or metallic.

Have you tried brewing the tea in porcelain yet, or just in your zisha pot?
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby lebleu2 » Oct 21st, '11, 21:38

wyardley wrote:
lebleu2 wrote: After reading through most of the threads it's become apparent that 'regular' Shui Xiang is brewed differently than rolled high mountain Taiwan tea. My first question is- what takes precedence in brewing? Shape (balled) or variety (Shui Xiang)?

For me, neither. The shape will, of course, affect the volume of tea used, but for an oolong, I would think about the tea's processing parameters (level of oxidation and level of roast) before either varietal or shape........
Have you tried brewing the tea in porcelain yet, or just in your zisha pot?


Wyardley- can you kindley tell me how level of oxidation and roast affect brewing, or point me to a place I can read about it?

Earlier today I tried brewing in my porcelain gaiwan. The tea tasted more vegetal than in the zisha pot. It was very helpful to brew it in a gaiwan with the same approximate volume as my teapot. That helped me to figure out basically how much leaf to use and how long to brew each infusion the next time I tried in my teapot. It certainly wasn't perfect but it was a significant improvement.
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby lebleu2 » Oct 21st, '11, 21:40

tea.and.peace wrote:You may also find this below link helpful to read for your tea journey.

http://the-leaf.org/Issue1/?p=11


Thanks, tea.and.peace. That was an enjoyable and inspiring read.
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Re: Brewing balled Taiwanese Shui Xiang

Postby David R. » Oct 22nd, '11, 05:32

A couple of other things :

- extraction is usually stronger with a teapot than a gaiwan because of the higher temp, so using the exact same parameters may not be adequate. I'd lower time a bit with a teapot ;

- as far as I am concerned, I prefer lower ratio/longer times with taiwanese oolong, as I find that they will need space to unfurl properly so that they can bring out their best.
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