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How to brewing Chinese Tea

There are four main methods of steeping Chinese tea, two conventional and two traditional. Since at ChineseTeaArt.com, we are only referring to Chinese loose leaf teas, the principles behind all these methods need a bit of further explaining for those crossing the bridge from tea bags to fine loose teas. Remember, tea is still always a matter of letting leaves sit in water and then enjoying, so don't be put off by all the methods written below for making a cup of tea – It's still a cup of tea!

The first principle of tea steeping to remember is that the few leaves/pieces/bits/rolls of tea that you start with can be used to produce dozens of rounds of tea. How many rounds is dependent on the type of Chinese tea and often the quality as well. Each time you brew one round of tea, it is called an 'infusion'. Once the liquid is removed or 'decanted' it can again be used with more hot water and 'reinfused'; creating another infusion. All of these main tea methods exist as ways for infusing tea, decanting, and then pouring into cups. The idea is to preserve the leaves while you drink the tea to allow them to resist further infusions and continue to properly let out flavor. For example, if you are planning on drinking tea alone and make a whole pot for yourself, without decanting the pot of tea, the leaves will let out their entire flavor into the first infusion while you drink your first cup! That isn't to say that decanting is 100% necessary, just as long as you have enough tea drinkers to empty a pot.

The Conventional Method

All teas can be steeped with conventional methods, by which we mean a teapot and some cups.

1. For White or Green teas, begin by pouring hot water into the pot and rocking the pot to warm the surface, then discard the liquid

2. Place the right amount of tea into the pot and add enough hot water for all the cups

3. If you are making Puerh, Black or Oolong teas, rock the pot to warm the surfaces, discard the liquid and re-add hot water to the pot (this helps clean the oxidized tea)

4. Cover and infuse for the required period

5. Serve the tea, taking care not to leave any water left in the pot

6. Alternatively, pour all the tea liquid into a separate pot, leaving the leaves and then serve.

7. Pour hot water into the pot and go back to Step 4 to continue enjoying the tea over and over again!

A second conventional method is for those with only a standard mug or large cup.

1. For White or Green teas, begin by pouring hot water into the cup to warm the surface, then discard the liquid

2. Place the right amount of tea into the cup and top up with hot water

3. If you are making Puerh, Black or Oolong teas, immediately discard the liquid and re-add hot water to the pot (this helps clean the oxidized tea)

4. Cover and infuse for the required period

5. Drink the tea

6. Alternatively (helps preserve the tea), pour all the tea liquid into a separate cup, leaving the leaves in the first and then drink.

7. Pour hot water into the cup and go back to Step 4 to continue enjoying the tea over and over again!

The GongFu (kung-fu) method

Gongfu methods are all based on the idea of getting the full flavor and subtleties from each variety of tea while serving it in small portions. Also, when brewing Chinese tea, usually more tea leaves are used than in other methods, allowing the tea to last the longest it possibly can. Through each infusion, small changes in the flavor can be appreciated by accustomed tea-lovers. The Gongfu approach is meant for high quality teas and is the only method for tea ceremonies and competitions, however, it is also meant for enjoyment and experimentation, so don't be put off by what the name implies – keep reading and enjoy!

The tools necessary for Gongfu steeping are all the same aside from the brewing vessel, which can either be a small china pot, or a traditional Chinese lidded pot called a Gaiwan, or a genuine Yixing clay teapot (for Oolong, Puerh and Black teas). Yixing clay is the finest for dark tea brewing and actually improves the taste and aroma of each infusion. Its internal surface is porous and over time takes on additional complex flavors that get added to each new infusion of tea. Additionally, you will need some good quality glass china for appreciating the color of the tea and containing it after steeping, small tasting cups, taller cups for containing the aroma, a tea tray, a towel, and a ready way to dispose of hot water and flushed (discarded) tea as well as older tea leaves.

Steeping tea in the Gongfu method begins the same way as in conventional methods but using more leaves.

1. Begin by pouring hot water into the steeping vessel and rocking it to warm the surface, then discard the liquid

2. Place the right amount of tea into the vessel and add enough hot water for all the cups

3. If you are making Puerh, Black or Oolong teas, immediately discard the liquid and re-add hot water to the vessel (this helps clean the oxidized tea)

4. Cover and infuse for the required period (many Green teas and White teas that require lower temperatures should not be covered)

5. Decant the steeped tea into a separate teapot of appropriate size using a mess filter if necessary in order to avoid pouring out the tea leaves

6. Serve the tea into the taller aroma cups

7. Cap the taller aroma cups with the inverted tasting cups

8. With the ring finger and thumb on the aroma cup and the index and middle finger on the inverted tasting cup, lift and flip, quickly placing the inverted cups down on the table. This takes practice, but becomes easy and fun very quickly

9. Now pull the inverted aroma cup upwards, releasing the air pressure and allowing the tea to pour into the tasting cup

10. Take a moment to appreciate the aroma leftover in the tall aroma cups and then enjoy the tea!

11. Pour hot water into the steeping vessel and go back to Step 4 to continue enjoying the tea over and over again!

The second traditional tea steeping method is the tall glass method. It is very simple and intended for fine Green teas and White teas so that the beautiful unfurling leaves can be watched and appreciated as they impart their delicate flavors. All that is needed is a tall glass which can be used exactly as the conventional mug method. Once the leaves are steeped and have fallen to the bottom, either decant the tea or simply drink right from the glass.

 

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