Brewing Chinese Green Tea (绿茶道 - lǚ chá dào)
The Chinese way of tea is a long-standing tradition. The most famous ceremony is gongfu cha, which has been noded quite exhaustively. It is a common misconception that the process of gongfu cha refers to any tea. On the contrary, gongfu cha is a process evolved specifically for oolong teas. The process of brewing other teas may resemble gongfu cha in many ways, however, it can deviate in many other ways.
The process of making a cup of green tea is (as are many points of Chinese culture) sometimes a bone of contention. However, you'll find that the steps outlined below should make a good cup of tea and you won't be laughed at by any but the most snobbish of tea snobs. Green tea is by far the most commonly consumed of the Chinese teas, primarily because it is the cheapest. Most restaurants in China serve green tea before your order is taken and many of the finer ones will try to keep your cup filled throughout the meal (if you're not drinking beer or something else).
It bears mentioning, however, that much of the Green tea sold in China is — well — not very good. Akin to the coffee at Denny's or the chocolate wrapped in the Hershey's label, the common is not the fine. Good green tea must be sought and it usually must be paid for.
These instructions are a translation of a fine Chinese tea house's study manual for its employees. This chapter outlines the preparation of Dragon Well Tea (Longjing Tea), one of the most highly-regarded of the Chinese green teas. Because of its fame, it's most likely available at a tea shop near you. However, if you find yourself in Shanghai or Changzhou you might want to drop by the Yihu (溢壶茶) tea house and let their kindly staff prepare tea for you.
- 1 tea plate (chá pán - 茶盘)
- 3-5 colorless and completely transparent glasses (bōli bēi - 玻璃杯)
- tea leaves (chá yè - 茶叶)
- a jar for the tea leaves (chá yè guàn - 茶叶罐)
- an inspection plate (shǎng chá dié - 赏茶碟 also often called chá hé - 茶荷)
- a tea towel (chá jīn - 茶巾)
- a basin (chá yú - 水盂)
- a tea scoop (chá chí zǔ - 茶匙组)
- boiling water (fèi shǔi - 沸水)
Note that neither a yixing teapot nor a tea sea (茶海 - chá hǎi) are required for this process. These are not necessary because green tea is brewed in the glass, not in the pot and because the glasses are warmed from the inside.
- Using the tea scoop, put a full scoop of the tea onto the the inspection plate and allow your guests to inspect and smell the tea leaves before they are brewed.
- Fill each glass with boiling water to about 1/3 its capacity. This process both heats and rinses the glasses. Lifting the glass from the table, roll it around at an angle so that as much as the glass' surface comes into contact with the hot water as much as possible, thus heating the glass. Dispose of the rinse water into the basin.
- Fill the glass 1/4 of the way with water heated to around 90C. Let the leaves soak in the water. This allows the leaf buds to absorb the water, which will swell them and cause them to unfold and release their flavors and fragrance. It is at this point that the richest aromas are released. In general, the proportion of tea leaves to water should be 1:50 although this ratio is not absolute and can be varied according to taste.
- Now pour more water into the glass. One long-standing motto of green tea art is "seven parts tea, three parts sentiment" (qī fēn chá, sān fēn qíng - 七分茶，三分情). In accordance with this tradition, we fill the glass approximately 7/10 full.
- While pouring the hot water from the pitcher, dip the spout three times from high to low to take advantage of the force of the falling water which will both flush the flavor from the leaves and circulate the water throughout the glass. This is more than simply a ceremonial gesture — it is important to do in order that the flavor of the tea is not concentrated in one part of the glass. This dipping is referred to as "Phoenix dips its head thrice" (fèng huáng sān diǎn tóu - 凤凰三点头)
- At last, the tea is ready to be fully appreciated: First, the tea's fragrance should be taken in as it wafts from the surface of the water in the glass. Then, observe the hue of the tea. The water in the glass will likely have clouds of varied greens, while the whole of the tea should be a light jade color. Note how some of the leaf buds sit at the bottom of the glass like a cluster of tall, tender flowers as others gently tumble over one another like windblown leaves. This liveliness is part of the pleasure of the tea. Take in the fresh, clear flavor of the tea and note how the flavors change on one's palate over time. The flavor leads with a the fresh, clear flavor. This is usually followed by a unique sweetness, then the flavor finishes with a subtle richness.
It also might behoove you to subtly and politely inform your guests about the concept of "moist tea" (润茶 - rùn chá). It is customary to leave enough water in the glass so that the leaves don't begin to dry out. Although it's sometimes difficult not to drink every last drop, the tea will last through more infusions and have a more consistent flavor when this principle is followed.
When steeping other fine types of green tea, you can follow the instructions above with the following exceptions:
For Bi Luo Chun tea, the water should be between 80C and 90C and the water should be placed in the glass followed by the leaves.
For Huang Shan Mao Feng, the water should be between 90C and 95C and the steeping time should be a bit longer.
- 溢壶茶. 《初级授课稿》. Private internal publication.