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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. 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

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