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Brewing Notes

Learning is an ongoing process for me, but sometimes it is necessary to unlearn. To clear the slate of old biases, to let go of cliched ideas, to sweep the cobwebs away. That’s when I fill the kettle with water, set it to boil. I linger in anticipation for the whistle. I bring out my favorite cup. I debate over Assam, Darjeeling, matcha, silver needle, and rooibos —  planning which one will be the most appropriate for my ruminations. 

Inspiration comes best from the citrus bergamot of earl grey. The arms of sweet chamomile provide comfort. Visions emanate from the dusky bloom of Lapsung Souchong. There is a tea for every need, every occasion: the robustness of morning cuppa to begin my day, the pep of Sencha to revive my sinking spirit, the calmness of herbs to soothe, the warmth of spiced chai on a winter’s eve.

Every tea has its particular requirements as well: the right water temperature, the correct steeping time, the appropriate condiment. It is in this space of engagement, in the art of making tea, that true abundance seeps in. As I wait, progressing from one movement to the next, my surroundings take on presence. While my hands occupy themselves with pouring, adding, lifting, my mind is an emptiness in which the threads of innumerable notions, conversations, and concepts fuse to form new patterns. 

The Chinese tea ceremony is a deliberate process instilled with thoughtfulness. Self-reflection blooms within the complete devotion to preparing tea. Harmony, balance, and tranquility possess each gesture, turning motion into grace. One is reminded of the yin-yang of nature’s rhythms. Performed with the proper attitude, the tea ceremony becomes a form of meditation. 

Though I make tea on a less ritualistic level, I encounter an equal degree of zen during the procedure. As I rinse the teapot and mug in warm water, I wash away my distractions. Sniffing the fragrance of the chosen leaves, I forget my limitations. While admiring the simple pleasing quality of the sample, I return to gratitude. As the infusion soaks, so do my contemplations. With every sip there is a reevaluation of what I understand, an appraisal of everything I know. In pursuing the technique of brewing tea, I master the art of unlearning. 


BT’s CHINESE TEA CEREMONY RECIPE

Serves 4                Total Time: 25 minutes


WHAT YOU NEED

1 Porcelain or clay pot 

1 tea pitcher

1 large bowl or serving tray

1 tea strainer

4 cups 

1 tea spoon

1 tea towel

3 cups (710 grams) water

4 tsp (25 grams) oolong tea*


WHAT TO DO

1. Rinse teapot and cups in warm water for 2-3 minutes. Alternately, you can soak them in a tub of warm water for the same amount of time. 

2. Boil water in a kettle to 190° F (88° C). Using tea spoon, drop in 4 scoops of oolong tea leaves into teapot. Place teapot upon serving tray or in large bowl. From shoulder height pour hot water into teapot until it overflows.  

3. Immediately pour “tea” from pot into the cups through the strainer. Use the towel to protect your hands. This brew is not meant to be drunk, but to season the containers. Dump out the liquid in both the cups and the pot, but do not discard the tea leaves.

4. Hold kettle just above teapot and pour 3 cups of the boiled water into teapot. Make sure the water completely covers all the tea leaves. Close the lid of the pot. Allow tea to steep for 5 minutes. Enjoy conversing with guests while waiting. 

5. Pour tea from pot into pitcher through strainer. Transfer tea from pitcher to cups. Serve guests first. 

6. Cradling the cup in both hands, inhale the aroma of your beverage. Take a first small sip, allowing tea to roll around your tongue and coat your mouth. Take a second, large sip. Let the beverage warm you. The third, final sip should reveal the aftertaste. 

7. After the first round is finished, oolong tea can be steeped five more times if desired. Once guests have drunk enough tea, scoop out the soaked leaves for them to admire.


* BT Tip: If you do not prefer the taste of oolong, you may choose to use Pu’er, which has a grassier, earthy flavor to it.

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138 replies »

  1. I was captivated by your description of the chinese tea making ceremony. I did not know most of the steps in the process, like throwing away the first “tea.” The three sips process of drinking a tea seems very interesting. I will try it with my favorite green tea with jasmine. Thank you for an interesting and educational post. It’s written with relaxation and tranqulity in mind.

  2. Green tea may help detox your body, but probably not in the way you might think. …Your body detoxifies and eliminates harmful substances quite efficiently, which is a vital task considering the amount of toxins in the environment. Green tea doesn’t actively detox toxins all on its own, but it’s packed with natural polyphenols that support the body’s normal detox system. Polyphenols work in two ways: they have a direct impact on your liver, the body’s major detox organ, and they’re antioxidants that fight free radicals. The molecules known as free radicals are so unstable they must be neutralized before they damage healthy cells.
    The tea ceremony is designed to take a few moments to close out the world and find a moment of peace and tranquility. Chado, meaning “the way of tea,” is a way to self-discipline, inner strength and peace.

  3. I was brought up on tea but now, sad to say, I prefer coffee. However, Earl Grey and Chamomile… along with English Breakfast… are my favorites.

  4. You’ve shown me some valuable things I’ve been missing when I make and drink tea.

    Don’t scream: All the tea I drink come from pre-packaged tea bags. I’ve tried many kinds, and I like them all, but I realized while reading your post that I always drink tea in a hurry, or with distraction, while I’m doing something else. I never sit with a properly-made cup of tea and just enjoy and think. You’ve given me something to aim for… Thank you in advance. 🙂

  5. A lovely post, beautifully illustrated with your photographs….tea is amazing, all the variety! In the morning I like a really strong cup of Irish breakfast tea, a brand called Barry’s. Of course, I have a special little cup I use. I don’t drink tea again most days, but I have enjoyed lapsang soochong over a fire while camping – perfect! And excellent Japanese green tea served at a zen monastery, and consoling chamomile used to help me deal with crazy times. 🙂 Each has its own requirements, as you say, and each has its own gift for us.

    • Lapsang souchong while camping, what a brilliant idea! I’m snagging that one for my next outdoors trip. I’ve heard of Barry’s, but haven’t tried it. PG Tips was my family’s go-to when I was growing up.

      • PG Tips is available here and I’ve meant to try it, but you probably know how it is – you get hooked on a brand and that’s the one. There’s only one store that carries barry’s….so someday the issue may be forced. 🙂

  6. You’ve got me craving sushi, tea (my favorite is rose hips hibiscus) and a bit of relaxing meditation. Your tea cups and pots are just delightful. We don’t carry such beautiful things aboard the Good Ship Amandla as they tend to break on rough passages. Your images have made me miss a home that does not heel.

  7. Lovely post. I enjoyed learning about tea and the way it evokes contemplation for you. I cannot seem to make white tea or green tea without bitterness. I wonder what I’m doing wrong?

    • Hmm…well your tea could be turning out bitter for a number of reasons. Both white and green tea like water temperature around 77-82 degrees C (170-180 degrees F). Hotter water will make it more bitter. I generally use a teaspoon (5 grams) of leaves per cup of water and then let the tea steep for 2-3 minutes maximum. Sometimes the type of water used makes a difference too – natural spring water is usually recommended. I hope these tips help you!

  8. What a beautiful tribute. I am more of a coffee (espresso) drinker, but I am moving more towards tea lately. The ritual around it is so meditative, as you so beautifully illustrated. Different than just hitting a button and filling a cup, though I could not do my mornings without the taste and aroma of strong coffee filling my head. I love that different teas inspire different moods for you. This is a perfect example of how our relationship to what we put into our bodies should be.

  9. Love my tea and enjoyed your post. My tea tin and cupboard is always filled to the brim. Morning today savored my Irish Breakfast and this afternoon it’s Chai… Have a lovely weekend! xo

  10. Being an avid tea drinker I sympathised with this post completely. My cupboard at home is overflowing with different types of tea, chamomile when I am unwell, earl grey for the morning, onion because it was unique and rooboo, well just because.

    I’ve felt drawn to tea ceremonies precisely for this deliberate and intentioned approach, though I haven’t participated in one directly.

    A gorgeous post, as usual. I’m looking forward to your next post. ❤️

    • Thank you so very much Kylie. I always appreciate your lovely feedback on my posts. ❤️ I can’t imagine another type of drink that has so many ways to satisfy our various moods. I’ve never tried onion before. I’m adding it to my list, thanks to you!

  11. Interesting. I read your posts and realize I need to be having more moments like you describe. Slow down my racing thoughts. Also, I’m fascinated with the idea of different teas for different purposes. I don’t think in those terms. I suppose I think more about what I’m eating or the time of day. Curious that the bergamot of Earl Grey inspires.

    • For me the Earl Grey’s bergamot definitely fuels inspiration. I know someone else likes to kick off their day with the same type of tea. It wasn’t until I got into Chinese green and white teas as well as herbals that I started to think about how the various types affected me or that I preferred different ones at different moments. The tea world is a vast and fascinating one once you enter. Wishing you a most enjoyable next cup!

  12. Such a beautiful, thoughtful post. Your pictures and words take me to a happy place. I remember falling in love with the different flavours of tea in Shanghai. Each tea was packaged in a cute tin box — wrapped in a pop of colour. Our stay changed my perception of tea. I haven’t attended a tea ceremony, but by your description, I can imagine it to be uplifting and calming. I prefer fruit teas and find them perfect for calming me when I’m anxious. I like Assam tea in winter when the temperatures are freezing. I wonder in a world of coffee drinkers, is there a place for tea? 🙂

    • There’s absolutely a place for tea, my friend! Not living in a tea-loving country I sometimes forget how many people love it and drink it, but my travels in China reminded me of that. I too loved the tea packages; they are all so beautifully decorated, even the paper box ones.

  13. I am partial to Lapsang Souchong but, like you, I also have different teas for different states of mind. I learnt all about tea when I lived in England: how to prepare it correctly, what to serve it with, the different brewing times, which calls for tea or lemon. I find tea extremely comforting. Clearly, the Chinese and Japanese agree.

  14. Ah, pour tea through strainer – that’s the step I’ve been missing. So much to learn, and unlearn. I’m off now to make some tea with leaves a friend brought back from Sri Lanka. Unfettered leaves!

    • It took me many years before I began to appreciate green and oolong teas, and even longer before I got into herbal infusions. But, I always think it’s never too late to start exploring the world of teas if you’re interested! 😉 I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about other types of tea.

  15. Great post! Love the message about letting go of old biases by remaining present in the now whilst doing something you enjoy, like making a up of tea. Sometimes it’s the little things that bring the most peace and joy.

  16. I love your post and tea! I’m sure you read The Book of Tea! My favorites are black teas. Assam is wonderful, but it has a lot of caffeine, so I have to limit myself. I should be more adventurous and try other kinds–as you have!

    • I have read “The Book of Tea” and I’m eager to visit Japan at some point to explore their own ceremonies around tea-making Herbal teas, which are made out of fruit and/or flower blends in general have very low or minimal caffeine in them, so they may be something you’d wish to venture into. Sometimes, I also turn to white tea blended with fruit flavors to lessen the caffeine amount.

  17. A beautiful post – and I am not a tea person… I like it more now when I am older, but only with a sandwich or scones. To me it is a good thing you don’t have to have it hot – like coffee.

  18. This is a great reminder for me. This morning has been hectic and I grabbed a cup of tea in between jobs. The next time I will take my time and savor. Thank you for sharing this.

  19. I’ll raise my hand and shamelessly proclaim that I don’t like tea (I’m more of a coffee drinker). But, whilst there is a culture around tea, and the charming ceremony you described is one of those, coffee is a drink. Good coffee, bad coffee, burnt coffee, not burnt. It’s the stuff we drink to get a kick. Tea, on the other hand… Thanks for the post and for the photos, they are splendid!
    Fabrizio

    • Thank you Fabrizio! Coffee doesn’t have the ceremony behind it, but there seems to be an expanding enthusiastic crowd around coffee culture too — choosing particular beans, different methods of brewing — and the number of hip coffee places keeps growing.

  20. Thoughtful and relaxing post, Atreyee. I love tea (although I am a steadfast coffee drinker) and your words remind me that done well, much will happen around a nicely brewed cup of tea. 😉

  21. When we were in China we went to a small tea shop and fell in love with pu’er as well as all of its benefits. They told us though that the tea they ship to the US is quite different and not nearly as delicious nor as beneficial as what you get there. I love a good cuppa but rarely indulge during the summer months. Beautifully written and photographed post

    • I’m delighted that you enjoyed the post! I’m not surprised to hear that they don’t export the same quality Pu’er. The one I had in Beijing tasted so different from ones I’ve bought in the States and UK.

  22. As I’m not a fan of coffee, tea has always been my go to drink. I must admit, I’m not big on the herbals, I prefer it black, and fairly strong. Your ceremony reminds me I may have some unlearning to do; even if I’m drinking a cup of Irish Breakfast tea it may be worthwhile to apply a little zen with the hot water.

  23. Love this post! In my childhood, I tried but failed to like tea — inspired to give it a go by my father who would brew a cup every now and then. Years later I discovered tea as hospitality, a warm welcome, an opportunity to sit, drink and get to know one another. Now I love tea! But I had to relearn the ritual of making tea in a new context before embracing it and understanding what a fascinating, vast world of production and choices it is!

    • How wonderful that when you rediscovered your love for tea many years later it was because you saw it as a vehicle for connecting with others! I do believe part of the joy is in the making of tea as much as drinking it. As you so rightly pointed out, the industry is a vast world of plantations, traders, and brewers whose evolving history is a fascinating one.

  24. It’s not a tea time of year for me here in hot and humid Houston, but I fully agree with your thoughts on tea-making and un-thinking. We all have tasks that busy our hands but free our minds, I think, and although I have a bunch of them that are very different from beverage preparation, they all accomplish a similar goal!

      • Sweet (iced) tea is big in the south, but I don’t like sugar in my tea. I do drink unsweetened iced tea, but it’s not the same ritual or relaxing beverage as a nice cup of hot tea in the cooler seasons!

  25. As more and more people fall into the appeal of coffee and all the fancy cafes that serve it, I’m still very much a tea person, although my knowledge of it is far from yours. The reason why it still is my favorite drink is because every time I make my own tea, there’s a sense of calmness in the process of making it until it is ready to drink.

    • I so agree. Most tea drinkers don’t see the beverage as an on-the-go sort of refreshment. Perhaps it’s to our advantage there aren’t an equal amount of tea cafes, as it allows us the ability to savor both the preparation and its result.

  26. While I was in South East Asia, it was always striking me how difficult it was to find some good tea. You had to find some Chinese herborist and after 15 minutes of negotiations it was still costing an arm and a leg to buy some good tea. In Vietnam is was almost not to get. Those people are hooked up on coffee.

    • The Vietnamese are definitely into their coffee, and though I haven’t been to Vietnam I know from my travels in Cambodia and Thailand that the coffee culture is strong in the region. For tea lovers, China, Japan, and India are really the places to dive into. So much tea varieties in these countries, so little time to explore them all!

      • India was definitively different, but they were not really into the quality game, although I’ve been drinking liters of their “chai” in public places and on the trains.

  27. Perhaps this is the way for me to learn to appreciate tea. It’s a drink I just don’t ‘get’ at all. I’m obviously the one that’s out of step, since millions love it. I’ve never been known to finish a cup of tea.

    • Well, you wouldn’t be the only one to not enjoy tea. I feel like lots more people are into coffee these days. But, if you did wish to start, there’s such a large variety of flavors for you to investigate. I think once you find a flavor you can get behind, perhaps you’ll like tea a bit more! Let me know if you have any questions about types or preparations, I’d be happy to answer them.

      • I like aged raw Pu’er, today I drank a 2007 raw one with a French, he liked it when it infused longer which was more tasty (he used to drink coffee), I prefered shorter infused time which made the tea has softer taste. Sure that Pu’er has some earth taste, not everybody likes it.

  28. Thank you for bringing me some zen with this beautiful post. I just love those tea cups in your final photo. I recently read the novel The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (introduced me to Pu’er and the whole tea culture and ritual). So fascinating; I’d like to learn more.

    • I haven’t heard of “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane,” but I shall hunt it out to read next. Thank you for the recommendation. There is a really in-depth, beautiful non-fiction book on the subject of tea’s history and ceremony in China. It is called “Classic of Tea: Origins and Rituals” and was written in the eighth-century by Lu Yu. The author is a bit of a tyrant when it comes to rules about tea making, but I found his passion to be poetic.

      • Thanks in turn for the recommendation. Vancouver has a large Chinatown and my google search turned up several places that have courses and tastings. Sounds like a good new fall activity for me. Thanks for getting me motivated.

  29. I love your contemplative tea post! I definitely have become a bigger tea drinker since living abroad. Outside of America – it’s a different place! My BF got me on milk teas and I can see and taste the attraction. But if there is any tea that I drink regularly its peppermint. I like that it soothes my tummy, and tastes good.

  30. “Learning is an ongoing process for me, but sometimes it is necessary to unlearn. To clear the slate of old biases, to let go of cliched ideas, to sweep the cobwebs away.”
    We totally agree with this statement. It was a well written text. There is so much to learn in the world, so we should try to be unbiased and learn from as many cultures as possible.

  31. Ooo yes! I love tea. I recently read “The tea girl of hummingbird lane.” It’s a wonderful book if you haven’t read it. A lot of Pu’er in the book 🙂

  32. This is so beautifully written and the photographs are gorgeous too. I am a great lover of tea having grown up in South Africa, which was colonized by the British. For years I had numerous cups of British black tea with milk and two spoons of sugar!!! These days I have long abandoned the milk and the sugar and even the classic tea and opt rather for varieties of herbal concoctions. I love the whole concept of tea ceremonies, the tea leaves, teapots and tea cups. Thanks for a terrific post.

    Peta

    • Thank you Peta for your sweet words and for sharing your favorite types. I too grew up on British tea for years, but have since moved on to Chinese green varieties as well as herbal infusions which are my favorite go to when I’m feeling stressed.

  33. Assam tea is my favourite, brewed strong,left to infuse for several minutes, and then drunk with milk or soy milk. I have a pot of this most mornings, and it is a small moment of quiet, and ritual, and luxury, at the beginning of the day, which I treasure.

  34. Lovely post.

    I’m a green tea addict and discovered a wonderful Japanese company when I was in Bali. I ended up ordering directly from Japan when I returned home as I could not buy it here.

    The ritual of making tea is a great way to slow things down, definitely a time for reflection. 🙂

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