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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. 


Serves 4                Total Time: 25 minutes


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*


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. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

    • 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.

  11. 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. 😉

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

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