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.

7 Ways To Enhance Your Tea Experience

tea-talk-8Charles Dickens once said, “If you could give me a cup of tea to clear my muddle of a head, I should better understand your affairs”. Wise words from a tea lover, indeed. Tea improves your mood and enhances creativity, the sublime effect created by a combination of elements associated with the tea experience, including aspects of tea preparation, an indulgence in the taste and aroma during consumption and simply acting as a refreshing break from other activities. Tea is known to bring peace and relaxation to one’s mind, thus helping achieve the elusive ‘zen’. The many wonderful proprieties and peculiarities of tea can lead you to experience the zen you are looking for and sip in a whole new tea affair.

A complete tea experience comes with several nuts and bolts that must all come together to create a synthesis as heady as a luxuriant blend. To deepen your understanding of tea, we would like to introduce you to 7 different ways of enhancing your everyday tea experience:

1. Nothing else matters – When you drink your daily cup of tea, focus only on the tea and forget the constant worries, meetings, projects, and deadlines to be met. Push daily life to the back of your mind, to be retrieved once the session is done. The state of mind when you pause and transcend beyond trivialities and annoyances, away from the everyday mundanity and hustle, is the true way to enjoy tea.

2. A tranquil and elegant space – A clutter-free, pleasant and elegant drinking space fosters positive sentiments, heightening the pleasure of drinking tea. Go for a tastefully decorated room to liven up an empty space, creating a solemn and respectful atmosphere for tea preparation and drinking. Light incense sticks or a candle, it’s all up to you to decorate your personal tea space.

3. Appreciating tea – Experiencing tea is not just about drinking but rather about carefully tasting it. Examine and judge your tea’s flavor, color, aroma and texture. Allow the tea to unfold it’s inner workings and dormant flavors to you. When you are clear about the ‘Way of tea’, you will be able to judge tea quality and value.

4. The art of teaware – Tea masters and scholars have on several occasions emphasised, and we concur, that refined and exquisite teaware enhances the enjoyment of drinking tea. Whether you love your traditional tea bowl or your stylish glass teapot, proper and elegant teaware can make a significant difference in your overall tea experience.

5. Intimate understanding – Tea drinking is an accurate representation of the oneness of man, nature and spirit. Get intimate with your tea, connect with it and dive into the process mindfully. You can thus hone your skill, understand the natural forces behind the process and increase your appreciation for tea to the molecular level.

6. In-sync with nature – Nature is integral to the enjoyment of tea. The placement of stones, an arrangement of potted plants and use of natural materials such as a wooden table, bamboo stools, earthenware – all add to accentuating your tea experience as a creation of nature.

7. Good company – Like wine, tea takes you on its own, unique journey. Drinking tea in the company of advanced tea drinkers who appreciate the aesthetics of tea, have a keen understanding of the finer things in life and value tea, can lead to an enriching tea experience and enhance the beauty of the whole exercise.

Enrich your everyday tea drinking experience with these simple ways and watch your tea take on new flavors, forms, colors and meanings.