Sunday, 20 March 2011

sniffing tea leaves...over and over again

If you were accustomed to brewing simple black tea in a pot, what would you think if you started reading about Gong Fu brewing of Oolong tea?

You plug Oolong into a search engine, and find videos of people pouring tea out of little Gaiwan pots and inviting the others at the table to sniff the leaves. It's almost as if you've wandered in off the street into a freaky tea leaf smelling cult.

I've met tea drinkers who want nothing to do with all of this. On more than one occasion, I've explained my fascination with Oolong to someone who already likes drinking tea, but they stare back at me with incredulity. Multiple steepings of the same lea leaves? Really? Can you not afford fresh tea?

No, I assure you-the tea changes as you brew it repeated times. The taste develops. It really does.

But let's say you're still on the fence about this one. You don't know about buying a lot of tea gear for something you're not even sure you're going to like. Some of those sites about Oolong you found talked about the Gaiwan, while others mentioned a Yixing teapot. What is all of this stuff? Is it really necessary?

The complicated answer is that yes, the tea tastes different brewed in a specialist's clay pot. But actually the simple answer is no. I often write this blog with the tea newcomer in mind, and I'd like to describe how I started brewing Oolong before I bought any new paraphernalia.

The first thing to remember is more tea/less water for short steeping times.

For this discussion, I'm going to use Hampstead Tea's Oolong from the Makaibari Tea Garden. I've intended to review this tea for a while, so here's my chance. How much tea exactly? I'm making a small container of tea, so I'd suggest one or two handfuls of tea leaves. Like here.

The initial infusion rarely offer much in terms of flavour. It's custom in some tea ceremonies to even throw the first steeping out. But even if it's just to see if there is much taste, I always sample the first go round at least. For our purposes, I'm using a measuring jug. Remember, we're approaching this with common household materials. Here's what the leaves look like in the glass:

Now this will probably be completely counterintuitive considering you normally brew tea for much longer, but only 20 or 30 seconds for each steeping. Really. Oolong is rarely bitter (it's one thing people really like about it), but if you let so much tea in so little water brew for much longer, it can get strong. That's what happened in the first infusion above because I was taking the photo, but by the second it came out perfectly. A very dark brown cup colour, and a deliciously light, even smoky, taste.

You won't simply dump the leaves into your cup/mug along with your delicious tea. This slotted ladel was almost certainly not intended for this purpose, but all that really matters is that you find something to strain the liquid and separate the leaves. Say what you like, this works for me in a pinch. The third time round is a bit less smoky and there's even a bit of a lemon taste.

So what do you think? If you've heard/read about multiple tea infusions, have you given it a try? Might this description help you jump in and do a bit of your own experimenting?

If you've been doing this forever, how did you come to it? Did you acquire the proper utensils before you ever attempted this? What was your experience early on? Did I leave anything important out that you think is really necessary? Please let me/us know. I'll be over here sniffing my tea leaves.

1 comment:

  1. I am first and foremost a coffee drinker. Confession over. And then I came to Lapsang Souchong ( weak) And then, Via Lahikmajoe on twitter I heard of Oolong - and recently he told me about teasteepings . And now I tried it . I drink very weak Oolong - so far . And the steeping allowed me to get the tea even weaker and that was great and the flavour was different each time . I'm no good at descrbing tea flavours . All I can say is this is not like drinking Tea as I know it ( and hate it!). This is a new experience . Try it . Thanks to you.. Oh and happy #flasks