We have received some feedback asking why we don’t provide ‘Western style’ brewing parameters for our teas. For our green/white/yellow teas, actually the provided measurements pretty much can work for a mug or a gaiwan but the issue is more for oolong/black/dark teas.
We have repeatedly made the point that brewing matters, we advocate gongfu brewing not because of a stoic loyalty to traditions but because it truly extricates the full flavor of the tea. Not only that, gongfu brewing is best for multiple infusions- which is a rewarding odyssey especially for oolong and dark teas. The subtle changes from brew to brew, certain characteristics which were initially overshadowed emerging in later brews, these are part of the joy of enjoying tea that can’t be duplicated in any other beverage in the world.
This post, we use a visual demonstration. It must be said that infusion color is not indicative of flavor strength, some of the most flavorful I ever tasted was a pale, near clear infusion of a Tieguanyin. However, when we are comparing the exactly the same batch of tea, it becomes more representative.
In this case, we used some Wuyi Shuixian- one of the many leftover samples of teas that we eventually chose not to add to our lineup.
Here are the infusion parameters:
For ‘Western style’ brewing (thereafter known as Infusion A)
3g of tea leaves to ~ 300ml of water
First infusion at 3 minutes, additional 1 minute for each additional steep
For Gongfu brewing (thereafter known as Infusion B)
6g of tea leaves to ~100ml of water
First infusion at 30 seconds, additional 15 seconds for each additional steep
Both are brewed using ~95°C
For the first brew- the liquor of the Infusion A is marginally lighter than Infusion B. The aroma is weaker and the flavor is less intense.
By the second brew- essentially the brew of Infusion A tastes as insipid as it looks. Infusion B gets more intense, as you would expect from oolong tea where the 2nd and the 3rd steeps are usually the most prized.
The third brew- Infusion A looks and tastes like plain water while Infusion B keeps going on.
For the 4th-7th brew, it would be pointless to experiment on Infusion A since varying degrees of plainness is a meaningless venture.
For those who are keeping score, essentially you get 300ml of moderately flavorful tea from 3g using Western brewing and 700ml of more intensely flavored tea from 6g using Gongfu brewing. So that’s a financial argument for Gongfu brewing.
Pictures don’t quite do justice to the disparity in taste and aroma. Having a lid prevents the aroma from escaping and retains the heat better. Coupled with the higher quantity of tea leaves, gongfu brewing coaxes the full flavor of the tea.
For black tea, especially stronger or rather more tannic varieties of black tea, the disparity is not so marked. In fact, for poorer made black teas, Western brewing is recommended since it doesn’t taste as harsh and those don’t stand up well to multiple infusions anyway.
In any case, don’t let the name scare you off. Gongfu brewing is not ceremonial, it requires effort but not as much skill and mastery as you think (at least from the onset).
The results are worth it.