Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Geraldo on Gongfu Hong Cha: Sunsing Dian Hong, Brewing Parameters, Zisha, and Life

[[from an email to corax. posted by permission.]]

Clay has some effect on the flavor of tea. Zisha can enhance pu’er by smoothing the sharp edges and masking faults. And over time, a Yixing pot dedicated to oolong can assume a remarkable charisma. But for me, the main joy in zisha is in its elegant performance of duty and in the craft of its design. Although I was slow to utilize zisha for brewing hongcha, now I am glad I do. It adds to the pleasure of a tea I enjoy almost every day.

My taste in tea is eclectic. I enjoy all manner of oolongs, lucha, pu’er, and hongcha, but by volume, I drink as much Dian Hong as I do any other tea. Generally, I prepare my Dian Hong in a twelve-ounce zisha teapot. When I drink Dian Hong, I over-imbibe. As a rule, I employ a half gram of Dian Hong per one ounce of vessel capacity, and I brew using classical coraxian parameters: ninety seconds, ninety seconds, and two minutes. This works well at home, but at work I find I cannot often drink that volume of tea in the time I have available.

While body-surfing Hong Kong’s web-waves, I visited one of my favorite cha-beaches, Sunsing [online at http://tinyurl.com/ylpnuw]. This week I have not won the lottery, so I gave just a glance to the old and noble beeng chas there. For grins, I opened the black tea page and came across this recipe in the description paragraph of a Yunnan hongcha:

“Put the tea into the purple clay teapot with 1/4 full. Fill the pot with boiling water and close the lid. Pour the boiling water on the teapot surface to increase the temperature inside the teapot, and soak the leaves for 30 seconds, then pour out to drink. It can be brew for 6-7 times.”

Through a little work with a measuring cup, scale, and calculator, I determined that the recipe amounts to 1.45 grams of tea per one ounce of brewing capacity, assuming the Dian Hong is not broken, powdery, or packed. Several of my refined friends might consider my approach fussy or overly meticulous, but for this test I wanted to use a gaiwan, and I cannot determine by eye (due to the gaiwan’s shape) what actually constitutes a quarter of its capacity.

So I gave it a go in my three-ounce gaiwan. I decided to drink my current favorite Dian Hong: Yunnan Sourcing’s 2005 Premium Black Gold Yunnan Dian Hong, eBay #260012793265, “Aged just enough.” [online at http://tinyurl.com/yh792w] (As an aside, let me add that one would not wish the vendor to increase the length of his products’ names.)

My problem here at home with gong fu and writing is the distance that intervenes between my brewing area and my keyboard. In my office at work, I have a zisha tea sink and Zojirushi water heater on my desk. But here at home I have stairs to climb and cats to circumvent between my computer and the kitchen. So to make this procedure a tad bit easier, today I combined two infusions per sharing pitcher.

I followed the directions, using water at a low boil and maintaining thirty-second infusions. The color, flavor, and aroma of this excellent Dian Hong, brewed according to Sunsing’s parameters, were what I’d come to expect: The liquor had all of its thick sweetness, malt, maple, and pine that I love. The fifth and sixth infusions were only a tad bit weaker than the first.

The volume of liquor resulting from my usual parameters and Sunsing’s are the same, so any benefits obtained must accrue from other outcomes. At work, I often leave my desk for one or two hours at a stretch; Sunsing’s parameters would allow me to enjoy hot, freshly-brewed Dian Hong in quantities that match the time I have to enjoy the tea at leisure. Also—and this is a very particular personal benefit—I can now dedicate a five-ounce teapot that had heretofore not found its true calling. This is a vessel obtained from 5000Friend [http://stores.ebay.com/5000friend] that purportedly sprang to life in the Qing Dynasty; it arrived looking as though it had spent a rough decade buried in my garden. After a thorough cleaning, the teapot looks great. It’s somewhat porous, and I hope that curing the teapot in a strong infusion of hongcha will transform the teapot from its current brick-pink into a color somewhat richer and darker. I will take pictures of the teapot in the before and after stages and post them here if the transformation is noteworthy.

Learning about brewing parameters and growing to love tea were inextricable processes in my own experience. The huge masses of Americans consider tea as a powder in a teabag, and the more sugar and flavor adjuncts, the better the tea. Readers of CHA DAO, of course, know better--and benefit from that knowledge. More than anything, the exploration of tea is, really, the exploration of one’s own mind and the discovery (through varying parameters) of new and steadfast friends: some made of Yixing, others of mortal clay.


Steven Dodd said...

So far I'm just brewing my hong cha "English dao". After a bombardment of hong cha reviews using gaiwans and yixing, I really do need to experiment with my current stash using a gaiwan. I'll play around with the parameters and see what I can come up with.

Anonymous said...

I recently ordered some of the gold tips premium as well as some of the small bud gold tips from YSLLC, and got to do a comparison. The latter is highly recommended over the first - much better clarity, and less of what I somewhat jokingly call the "stinky sock" or "sour dairy" odor peculiar to this kind of tea.

Geraldo said...

Thanks, Steve, for the comments. I too sometimes prepare hong cha "English dao." After you've experimented with the gaiwan, let us know what works best.

And thanks, anonymous, for your comment. I concur that the Premium is better than the Small Bud Gold Tips. But I have not, as of this writing, encountered a stinky sock odor in Dian Hong. Then again, I love bleu cheese. ~geraldo

Steven Dodd said...

Using a gaiwan turned out well. I found that treating it similar to a high roast wuyi worked well. I'll need to check out more hong cha to try it on.

pgng_tll@yahoo.com said...

i agree with what u said.the pu erh cha must be brewed in a secial teapot with the right temperature and preferably mineral water.then the taste would be superb. i have tried a lot . maybe if u want , i can spare you a bit of my collection.its wonderful to learn that others are enjoying it the same way as what we do here in malaysia.