The Japanese tea ceremony emphasizes form and uniqueness of experience. One contemporary Zen master performed the tea ceremony with instant coffee thus insisting that the true vessel of the experience is in the mastery of process and not the brew in the pot. While focus is on the form in preparing, serving and drinking the tea in the Japanese tradition; the Chinese ceremony focuses more on the tea itself. In the Chinese tradition, guests focus on the taste, smell and experience of the drink and the companionship that naturally comes with it.
It is not steeped with religion but has a distinct flavor of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism all rolled into one seaweed green bolide. In the Chinese method guests savor each step; enjoy each sip and appreciate the experience. Think of it as the “happy hour” of tea ceremonies.
So to begin…
- A clay teapot never gets washed. It may be rinsed and set to dry but the use over time will give the teapot a specific essence that will come out in the tea. If the teapot is new, rinse it out with hot water and then place tea into the pot. Use wooden scoops to handle the tea leaves as metal is just lame.
- The amount of tea leaves added depends on how many people are present and how strong you prefer your tea. I fill my pot less than 1/4 full with tea leaves as I like my tea weak. Heat the water to the proper temperature. Water for green tea should never be brought to boiling. It should only be heated enough so that tiny bubbles are rising from the bottom of the kettle (Baisao called these bubbles “fish eyes”). Bring water for Oolong or black tea to a rapid boil. Heat water in the traditional method – in a kettle on a stove top. The water from the kettle can then be poured into a clay teapot. I used to use a cast-iron pot but eventually you will get metallic flavor coming out in the tea…or rust…or lead…and then you die.
- Pour water from the large teapot into a small teapot (or in my case, into a french press), until the water covers the leaves. Almost immediately after pour out the water among the small tea cups. Not everything that hits tea leaves is for drinking. This first infusion just warms the cups and gets the tea leaves ready (tea leaves are notoriously masochistic, you should see what they do with hot wax and a choker).
- So then pour another round of water from the big teapot into the small teapot. Empty the teacups from the first pouring back over (not into) the teapot. Yeah, I know this seems like wasting but WTF, its cultural.
- Now you can pour the tea from the small teapot into the tea cups for actual imbibing. The first serving of tea should only “brew” for 10-30 seconds. By the time you finished pouring the initial infusion over the teapot, it is time to pour out the tea from the tea pot into the cups. See all that weird cultural pouring of water actually served as a timer…now don’t you feel like an ass. Good.
- With each infusion, add 30 seconds to the brewing time. A good tea will produce a minimum of 3 infusions (except the Oolong which, dependant on quality can go all night long…[insert joke about Kyle’s mother here]
- Place the tea cup in a wooden holder and offer some to your guest. If you are the guest, receive the tea cup and holder with both hands. If you are the receiver of tea, it is completely fine to bow, lower the cup to your waist and pour peppermint schnapps into the cup. Try not to let your host see…its easier if you just keep this up for 5-6 infusions.
- Bullshit about the tea.
I hope this was informative. Here is a video recapping todays lesson except they do it differently.