Sometimes I look at other #teafriends’ gaiwan photos and think, “Erik, you’re underdosing.” Then I up the leaves a bit, and whoops, buzzing away.
This is a return to the @yunnan_sourcing Ai Lao Mountain Jade Needle. I’ve finally got the water temp where it should be for this fairly delicate tea, and am finding it pleasantly complex. If you like Chinese green teas, this is a good gateway White Tea. Less subtle than most white teas, but more delicate than some greens. Incredible length of flavor and a surprising capacity for multiple steeps.
Fine, I needed a more reliable culinary thermometer, anyway. Just in time for Thanksgiving. Better tasting green and white teas are just a bonus.
“But, Erik, I can’t afford an expensive digital thermometer to prevent me from giving my family salmonella poisoning on Thanksgiving and improve my tea game. Can you give me some other hints, at least about tea?” First, don’t pre-stuff your turkey, the interior cavity doesn’t get hot enough to kill bacteria. (Actually, my best advice is to not stuff the turkey at all, but to cook the stuffing separately.) Second, OK, at about 50 feet above sea level, in a 71 degree office, it took 5 minutes and 30 seconds for the 3 1/2 cups of water in my boiler to drop from rolling boil to 185F, an appropriate temperature for white or green tea. Also, at sea level, 195 is the water temperature which is considered a “simmer”. That is, steaming with few small bubbles. So, if you can judge a simmer, a little bit lower than that is the water temp you want for green/white tea. Your mileage may vary.
Jingmai Sun-Dried “Three Aroma” Bai Mu Dan White Tea, Spring 2018 via @yunnan_sourcing.
Another White tea which mixes leaf and buds. One that even more than yesterday’s illustrates the fragile nature of white tea. And why, when you see it in the bulk bin at rainbow grocery, it’s just a pile of broken leaves.
According to the Yunnan Sourcing site, this is called “Three Aroma” because the smell of the dry leaves, the wet leaves, and the tea in the cup are very distinct and different. The smell of the leaves is tobacco/dried fruit. The wet leaves are grassy/vegetal. And the tea itself a bit minty/floral.
It’s funny, because just yesterday I was thinking how white tea was so very much about aroma, and what you got in the cup was indicated by the smell of the leaves. Live and learn.
This is a more assertive tea than the bud-only white teas, with a pleasant and lightening buzz. Subtle sweetness and good length of flavor. The dried fruit flavors show again in the after taste. Really haunting, finding myself thinking about it long after I finished the last of the tea.
Though, I think I steeped it a bit too hot.
Fine, another tea accessory you need is an accurate thermometer, so you don’t overcook your white and green teas. Or get one of them fancy water boilers that allow you to pick the temperature your water is heated to.
First, temperature is super important with white teas. They really need to be brewed around 180F or you risk overexpressing cooked, vegetal flavors in the teas. The bud only teas are a little more forgiving, but the bud-leaf teas should be handled carefully. I am going back through a second time, paying more attention, and will update my notes on the blog.
The other thing that is hard to judge at first is amount. Since loose leaf white tea isn’t usually rolled or formed, by volume, you need to use more than compressed teas. Takes a bit to get the hang of how much to use, unless you are using a scale.
White teas are pretty subtle. This was my first time drinking fresh brewed white teas. Given the simplicity of the processing, I was very curious about this expression of tea flavors.
They probably will never be my favorite teas, but, brewed carefully, they are quite interesting and complex, while being understated and elegant at the same time. The opposite end of the spectrum from ripe Pu-Erh.
For the record, my favorites (in no particular order) were the Ai Lao Mountain Jade Needle, Silver Needles of Feng Qing, and Jingmai Three Aroma Bai Mu Dan.
Now I just have a bunch more white tea to drink. Anyone? Bueller? I hear it’s a nice day for a… white tea party. Come on!
Seriously, how can you NOT want to brew a tea from these fuzzy little buds?
Heh, I don’t think I’ve drunk a tea before which made the physical connection between the tea tree leaves/buds and the beverage so apparent.
The FlavorScent is described on the Yunnan Sourcing web site as evocative of Pine forest, but it reminds me more of scents I associate with spicy green chile. Good body, a slight sweet taste, and some floral/perfume notes that linger on the palate after you are done sipping. Tea liquid is nearly perfectly clear.
And, by morning, I mean pretty early, before sunrise, early.
Obviously, I am not going to be performing “gong fu” tea ceremonies at zero dark thirty, as the military folks say.
Over the years I have experimented with various brewing vessels and strainers, almost all of which have left me disappointed for one reason or another.
The one that I have recently settled on as the least sucky way to make a large single cup of tea comes from a company called “For Life”. They call it their, “FORLIFE Tea for One with Infuser 14 ounces”. (Well, technically, this is the mug from the “FORLIFE Curve Tall Tea Mug with Infuser and Lid 15 ounces”. I broke the original mug and this one fits.)
It’s a 3 part kettle/mug combo…
…with a fitted stainless steel strainer.
Obviously, I’ve been using this for a while. (Mrs Flannestad gives me a hard time about not putting the teapot and strainer into the dish washer, too. But it goes against my philosophy.)
Anyway, measure your tea into the top, pour in water, steep for a couple minutes, pour out tea into a cup that has been pre-heated as part of the brewing process.
If you have appropriately flavorful tea, you can even re-steep. Not quite gong fu, but almost.
When you’re done, pull the basket out and tap the exhausted and mostly dry tea into the compost.
If you want to brew tea in “gong fu” style, you really only need a few things.
First you need something to boil water. I tried using the water from our office hot water dispenser, but it’s just not consistently hot enough for black tea.
Then you need something to keep your heated water hot over the course of your sessions. A thermos that holds 3 or 4 cups will do.
Then, of course, a gaiwan. These can be gotten online or at specialty tea stores. The people at Yunnan Sourcing are super nice and have a good selection. (They also have a second location based in the US, Bend, OR, to be exact: YunnanSourcing.us with faster turnaround and cheaper shipping.) I’d suggest a glazed porcelain or glass gaiwan, medium-sized sized (around 150ml). Don’t spend too much to get started. Save your money for tea. 😃
Finally, you need a teacup or mug. Not all coffee mugs present tea in a flattering way. Experiment with what you have at home.
If you want to share tea with others, a small pitcher to pour your brewed tea out of is nice. I use an old bodum tea pot.
If you’re picky about pieces of tea leaf in your tea, a tea strainer or small fine sieve.
A small electronic scale that will measure grams can come in handy to get the hang of dosage amounts for various teas.
If you want to get into brick teas like Pu-Erh, you’ll need something to break them up, a tea pick or tea knife is traditional. Sort of a cross between an ice pick and an oyster knife. (The pointy blade of a scissors works OK, just be careful not to stab yourself.)
It doesn’t hurt to have a watch with a second hand to time your steeps, but you can always use your smart phone.
Finally, if you don’t have one of them fancy water boilers that allows you to set a temperature, you should think about a getting an instant read thermometer so you don’t overcook your more delicate teas (especially, white and green).
I keep mentioning a “gaiwan” so I figure I should show you what one is and go over the basics of “gong fu” style tea brewing.
A “gaiwan” is a set of three dishes.
…and lid that is used to brew whole leaf tea.
You add tea leaves to the cup, cover leaves with heated water, steep briefly, starting with about 10 seconds per steep…
…and strain using the lid.
Repeat, gradually extending the length of time in the steep, until your tea is no longer flavorful.
It’s very simple.
But, as with many simple things, it takes a little practice.
Some differences from English-style tea brewing.
First, you need to use whole leaf tea. The size of the whole leaves enables you to hold them in the cup and strain without a filter. Broken leaf tea will make a big mess and also doesn’t really work for multiple steepings.
Second, you use a larger amount of tea. Sort of. You fill the gaiwan to about a third with tea, which is a tablespoon, give or take. With English style tea, you use a teaspoon per cup. However, with the multiple steeps, the overall amount of tea liquid you make ends up similar or greater with gong fu brewing. I usually start by heating 3 cups of water for a single batch. That’s about the same ratio of tea to water as a teaspoon per cup. So, actually, the overall amount of tea for the volume of water ends up pretty similar. It’s just the process that’s different.
Be careful that you hold the gaiwan with the very edges of the cup lip and the tip of the lid knob. Do not grab the sides or you will burn your fingers or drop it and make a mess. It takes a little practice, maybe try it a few times with cold or warm water.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about the benefits to brewing tea Gong Fu style.
A straight infusion of the Jade Needles in a teapot last week proved to be a bit intense. Showing too much of the vegetal character of the tea. So, I decided I would give today’s tea a better chance to shine by brewing with a gaiwan.
Brewed in this manner, the White Tea of Feng Qing proves to be a subtle and ghostly tea. Floral and spice aromas are almost more implied than present. The vegetal character which dominated the Jade Needles is only detectable as an after taste, more present in the smell of the leaves than the tea itself.
An interesting bit of trivia, while Americans and the British tend to classify teas by the color of the leaves, in China, teas tend to be named after the color of the brewed tea liquid. That’s why we call oxidized teas “black” and the Chinese tend to call them “red”. With white teas, we call them white because of the white hairs on the leaves and the Chinese because the brewed tea liquid is nearly indistinguishable in color from plain water. In fact, while it is not uncommon for plain hot water to be served as a beverage in China, (almost all water is boiled before drinking,) sometimes this plain hot water is called “white tea”.