PEOPLE TEA – My Way of Tea by John Bickel

people-tea-1-1I’ll discuss a bit about how I brew tea, after an introduction. My name is John Bickel, and I’m American, but I live in Thailand now, for the last nine years. Exposure to different tea traditions led me to an unusual level of interest in tea. I write a blog about the subject (Tea in the Ancient World), and help run a Facebook tea group (International Tea Talk). There’s a lot one might say about tea, about types, how to brew, health benefits or concerns, ceremonial aspects, storage, and about gear, but I’ll focus on brewing.

There are two main categories of brewing approaches, although there are others. Masala chai, spiced teas, are typically simmered over a long period of time, but this isn’t one of those two main methods, not commonly practiced in places like China, Japan, and Taiwan, or in Western countries. Gongfu cha (literally “tea technique”) and Western brewing are the main approaches. Both relate to varying proportion of tea to water and adjusting infusion time related to that. I use both, depending on the tea, and what I feel like drinking, and how much free time I have. This blog post goes into how to cut the process as short as possible, how to brew loose tea with a fast breakfast.

Gongfu cha is the approach favored by tea enthusiasts. A relatively high proportion of tea to water (eg. five grams of tea for 100 ml of water) is steeped for a short time, using a gaiwan (a cup with a lid) or small clay pot. This approach can brew the same leaves ten or more times, for as little as a few seconds or as long as a minute, depending on the tea and personal preferences. Some types of tea turn out much better made this way, for example Dan Cong oolongs or sheng pu’er (compressed tea, more or less designed to benefit from aging). One benefit is that astringency can be limited by the short infusion times. Using many infusions also allows for experiencing the transition of tea characteristics; the aspects will change across infusions. The main trade-off is the time required.

The brewing process used most is generally referred to as “Western style.” This uses one teaspoon of tea per each cup of water (roughly) in a larger teapot for a few minutes time (3-5). The leaves might be brewed a second or third time depending on different factors. With the proportion of the tea to water as the main difference tea could be brewed Western style in a large gaiwan, or by a process much closer to Gongfu style in an English-style porcelain teapot, or by either in a French Press. One main advantage is ease and convenience. One or many cups of tea can be prepared in five minutes or less, the brewing time, using minimal gear. Any variation needs to control the main brewing inputs to get the most out of teas: temperature, proportion, and infusion time.

I’ll mention a few other factors here. The basics aren’t so hard to master, but a review of some other good sources would spell those out in short order.

Temperature: Hot water is fine for black tea, although some people advocate not using full boiling point temperature. Green tea works better brewed slightly cooler, in the range of 75 C and 170 F (although recommendations do vary), with oolong in the middle.

Gear: Beyond using a gaiwan / clay pot and English-style porcelain pot for the two approaches many other alternatives would still be fine. Specialized brewing equipment—similar to a coffee maker—with timers and water heating function is at one extreme, an infuser basket that goes in a mug is at the other.

Tea quality: There is a divide between CTC (commercial processed tea) and orthodox tea (more hand-made) that is hard to summarize. In the most general terms ground up tea is not as good as whole-leaf processed tea, but quality varies for different reasons. Regional tea sources are another main factor; tea varies according to both how it is made and where it is grown.

Good luck with your own exploration of nicer loose teas.

Journey Of A Lifetime In Search Of Tea

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A journey of a lifetime for me, would be going to china’s most exotic tea room at Mt. Huashan and having a cup of tea sitting in tranquility – almost among the clouds.

As delightful as the Chinese tea is, it is definitely not something you would closely associate with exhilaration, adrenaline and the fear of death. Mt. Huashan in China, however, manages to bring all of these emotions together by featuring a death-defying and vertigo-inducing cliff-side mountain climb. Famous as the world’s most dangerous hiking trail, Hua Shan plank path, leads to a tea house, that used to be a Taoist temple. Situated at 2,160 m (7,087 ft) on the mountain’s southern peak, the climb challenges people all over the world to get to the Huashan Teahouse to savor the world’s scariest cup of tea.

The trip up the mountain is long, grueling and could quite honestly get you killed! Many tourists trek thousands of miles up the mountain along the wooden boards that were nailed together about 700 years ago.

Looking at the mind-blowing yet daunting images, I wonder, would I go that far for a cup of tea? At first I think it’s close to impossible, but then it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The views would be breathtaking (and possibly life-taking 🙂 ) and I’m sure the sense of accomplishment would be second to none.

Rare Chinese Teapots

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Rare Chinese Teapots, beautifully pictured by Thomas Burke. We love the way, the background and the teapots compliment each other, in every shot. I wish to collect these pots and have them in my collection some day.

Chinese New Year – Celebrations & TEA Traditions

chinese new Year

“Gung Hay Fat Choy.” Translation: “Best wishes and Congratulations. Have a prosperous and good year.”

The Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year or the Chinese Spring Festival commences from today. It brings forth the year of the majestic goat, promising prosperity and hope. It is the beautiful time of the year, when traditional customs are followed and lots of Tea related ceremonies are practised. Homes are purified and decorated with charms to invite fortune, gifts are exchanged, Tea ceremonies are carried out and evenings are welcomed with fireworks and lots of delicacies. It is a common practise to pay respect at the temples or shrines, which also sometimes hold festivals and dance performances.

Tea has been a great inspiration and my motivation for learning and appreciating the Chinese heritage, where it is respected as an elixir for spiritual consciousness. In China, the diversity of practises and rituals in context to Tea, performed during the new year festivities, varies from regions based on their own heritage and custom. A popular practise is of brewing the traditional Pu-erh (one of my favorite tea), Ti Kuan Yin Oolong or Black Tea, which is served to the eldest member of the family and on to the youngest. Choosing a fine variety of Tea is essential to the ritual. Prayers and blessings are passed down from the elders of the family to the youngest, with every cup of tea served. The Tray of Togetherness, also called the box of prosperity is served with Tea. This is a wonderful treat of assorted sweets and is customarily shared with family and friends present at the ceremony, to bring the sweetness in one`s life.

If one travels to Southern China, the ritual is conducted by offering three cups of tea. Each cup of tea holds a meaning in this ceremony. The first cup is a ‘Sweet Tea’, for sweetness in life during the year, brewed with crust glutinous rice and sugar.  The second cup is a ‘Smoked Bean Tea’, which brings harmony. It is a blend of tea leaves, smoked green beans, shredded carrot, orange peels, perilla seeds and sesame seeds. The last cup of Green Tea is offered after a meal and this concludes the Tea ceremony. The ceremonies are not simply customary traditions but also provide a sense of togetherness and veneration, of the rich heritage of the Chinese.

The Lantern festival draws the fifteen days of this grand Lunar new year festivities to an end, with sea of vibrant colorful lanterns, with messages or prayers of love, fortune and happiness for the heavens above. It is truly said, when a cup of tea is revered, brewed and shared with people, with lots of love, a huge ounce of hope and with a dollop of promises, it brings a sense of happiness and prosperity. I conclude my blog with wishing you all a very Happy Lunar New Year and may every cup of Tea bring you bliss and fortune.