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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.

142 replies »

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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. 😉

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

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