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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. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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