Friday, March 03, 2006

Tea Culture

Grandson and Father-in-Law at wedding dinner

I had the good fortune of learning Chinese tea culture from a number of tea enthusiats in Taiwan. My most notable teachers were Yi-Song Wu (my father-in-law) and Ding-Shuang Won.

Yi-Song Wu's Woolong tea, my only refreshment aside from soymilk while at their home, is soley responsible for inciting my new-found passion for tea and tea culture. Eventually he taught me the methods of making this tea. Since then I have drunk essentially nothing but tea. (For my musings on the spiritual, environmental, and other benefits of tea drinking see Tea Culture - Part IV, Benefits of Tea).

Examing tea pot collection quality

First, one must select a good teapot. The quality of a teapot is evident to the trained ear by the sound made gently hitting the teapot cover against the rim of the teapot (as shown in the picture). The sound reflects the thickness the pot, which must be neither too thin or too thick. Also, it is important that the clay is of a type with ample porousness, which allows the pot to absorb the flavor of its contents. So that teapots can fully soak in the flavor of tea, they cleaned only by scraping the insides and rinsing with boiling water. Ideally each teapot will only be used to make one type of tea so that over time the teapot will develop a single distinctive flavor. It is said one merely nears to pour hot water, without any leaves, into a well-aged pot to produce tea! (More on teapots on Tea Culture - Part III)

Tea pot collection and four seasons and woolong tea

One begins to make tea by filling the teapot with boiling water. This is merely to warm the teapot and can be poured out after a few seconds. One then places roughly 1.5 tablespoons (one tea-leaf scooper full) and fills the teapot with boilnig water. This too is discarded after a few seconds (this round is 'for the pot'). After, the leaves can typically produce six rounds of tea. Each round consists of filling the pot with boiling water and waiting for roughly 50 seconds the first and a few seconds longer each subsequent round before serving. High quality tea may produce over six rounds of tea, but generally the tea will become too weak after this point.

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