Today I wanted to talk about the basic items needed to brew tea, usually referred to as teaware. There are four basic things that you will need to get started brewing loose leaf tea. Those are:
1: Kettle to heat water / thermos to hold hot water
2: Brewing vessel
This is my setup used for gongfu brewing. I heat the water in an electric kettle, then pour it into the thermos. The hot water is poured directly over the leaves in the gaiwan, which is the brewing vessel. I am using a fifth piece of teaware here which is called a fairness cup. It is usually used in tea ceremony when you are serving more than one person, but I am using it here because it helps cool the tea down to drinking temperature faster and I only pour 50 ml (2 oz.) in my cup at a time. Normally I will put the strainer directly over the teacup and drink it that way. But this particular tea is brewed with full boiling water so I used the fairness cup to cool it down faster. And yes, that is just a measuring cup with a spout. I’m not fancy and I don’t see a need to buy a separate cup just for use in the tea ceremony when something I already have will do the trick. Don’t get intimidated by the fancy teaware and ceremonial wares that you see online a lot.
Now, on to the tea! Today I had some Big Red Robe from Harney & Sons. I have had this one before but this is the first time writing about it. It’s an Oolong tea, which means it is partially oxidized. This one is a dark oolong so the oxidation level is high but less than 100%. It is also roasted after it is processed. The Chinese name for this one is Da Hong Pao and Harney doesn’t always publish the source of their teas but these are usually grown in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian province in China.
The leaves are dark and twisted with some variation in color, ranging from dark brown to dark green. I gave this one a quick rinse and did the first infusion for 2o seconds, and added another 5 seconds to each additional infusion. I used water that was 212 degrees, fully boiled.
The liquor is a clear golden color. I had a hard time coming up with a way to describe the flavor of this tea. It was really very good, but I couldn’t quite pin down the flavor, so I cheated. I looked at the website of another tea seller that gives very detailed flavor profiles (meileaf.com) and it said vanilla whisky, tobacco, and ripe apricots. After reading that, I could definitely pick up the whisky and tobacco notes. I couldn’t tell you what an apricot tastes like, so I’m not sure about that one. But I really enjoyed these flavors a lot.
I took it all the way to eight infusions and I would say it didn’t lose much at all. This tea is a great bargain for the price. It is currently sold out, but I think I paid about $12 for a 2 oz. tin. The tin says 10-12 cups, but it you brew it gongfu style, then that is 10-12 sessions and 8 infusions each session, so you can get a lot more out of it than that.
Tea can be intimidating because the options and variations are endless. But don’t let that discourage you. It only takes a small amount to get started exploring and drinking some very good loose leaf tea, and who knows, it might just change your life. Give it a shot, what could it hurt? Worst case, you spent a few dollars and realized you don’t like it, but you come away with more knowledge and culture than you had before. But I have a feeling if you try it in earnest, you will become a tea drinker.