Sunday, December 30, 2007

Less Is More

Ever wonder why gongfu cups are so small? Every time my friend comes over to my house, he's always telling me: "Your cups keep getting smaller and smaller. Don't you have any regular cups in your house?" Or sometimes at tea he will say: "I don't want to drink a dropful, I want to drink a mouthful!"

Other people ask: "How can you drink from such a small cup? Don't you get thirsty?"

Yes, a gongfu tea cup, or tasting cup (pin ming bei), as they're known, are pretty small; with the average gongfu cup holding about 20 mL of fluid.

But they're intentionally made small for several reasons. Chances are, if you're drinking from a big cup, you're gulping down liquid. But with gongfu cups, you can't do that. You need to sip slowly and appreciate the taste of the tea. It's not about quenching thirst; it's about savoring the flavor of the tea. Also, drinking from such a small cup can help you see the color of the tea more clearly. If you pour a large quantity of tea into a cup, you get a darker, murky color. The gongfu cup keeps the color lighter. You can judge the quality of a tea by the color of the infusion. So using a gongfu cup can help with that. As well, if you poured your tea into a big cup, the aromas dissipate, and you can't smell anything. Using a gongfu cup, you can smell the fragrance of the tea more clearly. Basically, you waste the tea by pouring it into a big cup because: you gulp it down without thinking to savor the flavor of the tea; your tea is murky, so you don't notice the true nature of the tea; and you can't get your nose near enough to smell the tea fragrance.

So if you really want to waste your money; and waste your tea, then drink it from a big cup. But you won't do that now, because you know why gongfu teacups are used. Of course, if you're really thirsty, please use a big cup. An iced oolong is nice once in awhile. But when drinking good tea, it's kind of uncouth to use a big cup. It's much better to pour tea into several gongfu cups and share the tea with friends, so you can have shared enjoyment, and a shared experience of tea.

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Get Off the Freakin Coffee! (tea neurosis - but it's normal)

Yes, I pity my camellia deprived friends. They spend their whole lives (or mornings, at least) in a half-asleep stupor until they have their coffee. They seem unable to function without the stuff. They go around with their little coffee lives, stopping for coffee on the way to work, having coffee at work, and worst of all, offering us - Teaists a cup of the dreaded stuff. Of course we gracefully decline, saying that we burnt our tongue on toast, and drinking anything hot would be forever too painful. But in our minds we are thinking: "Who would want to drink coffee anyway? Drinking the stuff gives you coffee breath. And besides, my tea palette is too precious to be ruined by such an odoriferous substance."

We Teaists live a good, clean, healthy tea life. It's not at all like those coffee freaks who gulp down their black stuff while inhaling a cigarette. No, no, those are not for us. We want to be clean and odor-free so we can smell the pure fragrance of our tea without distraction. And we want to be able to appreciate the unadulterated taste of tea. Our tongues are super-sensitive gustation machines.

And we absolutely hate it when other people fondle our tea things. It should be illegal to hold tea things until you have taken a course and are proficient in Tea Thing Handling. Yeah, that would greatly reduce the unnecessary cracking of a gaiwan, the heart-wrenching shattering of a gaiwan lid, the senseless breaking of a teapot handle. Yes, the world would be a much happier place if only those un-thinking people listened in the first place to the words "Don't touch that!"

But life goes on and what is broken is broken - an experience well learned and memories of glorious tea brewing in a piece well used. What are you doing? Are you crazy? Put that broom away. It's sacrilege to throw out my broken but still cherished gaiwan like it was nothing. No, I will instead keep the jagged little pieces in a bowl, as a memorial. And when I am done mourning - say after 3 years, and after many fallen comrades are committed to the "broken bowl", I will bury them all together, in the earth - for future generations to discover, and marvel at tea drinking customs of the early 21st century.

If you're a coffee drinker, do you now see what you're missing? Can you finally feel the void in your life now? Do you finally realize how senseless it is to go on with your life in a camellia deprived state? How can you live like that? How can anyone live like that? To drink tea is to enjoy a full, rich life. To be a Teaist is normal, albeit a little neurotic, but perfectly normal. Get a grip on yourself. Get some tea. And if you have to, seek professional help. Don't let yourself go like that. There is hope for you, really. Others like you were once coffee addicts; but their lives were saved because of tea. The soul is not complete without Tea.

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Chapan Care

Some chapan are made of wood, some of bamboo, some of stone, some of dense plastic, some of other materials. But whatever material they're made of, they all need daily care to keep them maintained in good shape.

If you're using a chapan daily, as most people do in Fujian, then you need to pay more attention to cleaning every day. The chapan is a necessary utensil; and it is ubiquitous in Fujian. You see one in hotel lobbies, you see them in offices of car dealerships, you see them in waiting rooms attached to school offices, you see them in homes, you see them in restaurants. In fact, you can find a chapan in just about every home, office, or anywhere else people have to wait for periods of time. These chapan are doing their duty every day, draining away liquids. And day after day, year after year, they get used. Some are so well used, the finish is worn off the top. Or, some are covered in rich, brown tea stains all over. Some have a hose that is thickly caked with tea sediment on the inside. They all show signs of age, but still just as useful as new.

Over years of service, your chapan will also show signs of wear. Here are some tips to help keep yours in good shape.

Use a Brush
When at home, you can use a small brush to sweep excess liquid and tea fines toward the drain hole.

Use Tea Towels
You can use tea towels to wipe your chapan down between sessions. This helps to cut down on tea stain buildup. Have extra tea towels on hand - because they get soaked quickly.

After finishing use of the chapan for the day, wipe it down thoroughly so there's no standing water on top. This will help preserve the finish.

Change the Hose
After use for a period of time, the hose will become heavily tea stained, and may become unsightly. If that's the case, then change it. You can buy an extra length of hose at any length you need at a hardware store.

Change the Waste Bucket
Your waste bucket will sit on the floor, collect waste tea liquid, and waste tea leaves. It gets used often, but most people neglect it. Then, it will become heavily tea stained, and ugly. It's best to empty it at the end of the day, and wash it with soap. Placing a little mat or rug under this bucket is also desirable, so your floor won't get tea stained.

It's Not a Cutting Board
If you really want to protect your chapan, then don't use it for other purposes other than brewing tea. Don't use it as a surface for cutting up fruit, for example.

Clearing Clogs
If your chapan gets plugged up with bits of leaf, then you should first remove any visible bits of leaf. Then, you can place your palm over the drain hole and lightly plunge with your palm. The problem should clear up right away. But if water is still not draining away, then maybe the hose either has a kink, or the hose is too long. The hose should not touch the bottom of the bucket. Try moving the hose around to see if that solves the problem.

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Gongfu Tea a.k.a. Fist of Tea Cup

Ever wonder what gongfu tea has to do with gong fu, or kung fu, as it's commonly known? Is a practitioner of gongfu tea awesomely deadly? More important, if I search for a master, prove I'm worthy, and study gongfu tea, can I become totally wicked? Yeah... Maybe so. Let's check it out:

The answer is YES!!! If you study gongfu tea, you can be awesomely deadly, BUT... maybe only if you carelessly spill hot water on your guests and they get a severe scalding. And, you're thinking: "Is that it?" No, no, not to disappoint. There's more.

Actually, if you studied gongfu tea, scalding people shouldn't happen. In fact, the only person you might scald is yourself. See, you have to handle a gaiwan, which is a handless cup. And you can easily scald your fingers on it each time you brew tea. So it takes a lot of practice not to scald your fingers. Or, you can just desensitize your hands by continuously thrusting them into a wok of hot sand. (See, I just knew watching all those old kung fu movies wasn't a waste of time!)

But what about the tongue? That can get scalded too. What do I do? Yes, tongues frequently do get scalded by people whose qi is very weak. That's why we practice the secret tongue qigong every day so that we can drink our cup of tea at any temperature - even at 98 deg. C. Oops! I said too much about that already. I won't tell you anymore about this tongue qigong stuff. It's an ancient Chinese secret, anyway. Shhhh!

Yeah, you can be totally awesome if you learn gongfu tea. You can show people your awesome skills by brewing the most excellent cup of tea that anyone has ever had. And if people like your tea, then by default, they will have to like you. That means, if you happen to do some gongfu tea-ing for some girls, then they will like you. Bonus, dude! Gongfu tea is a major chick magnet! Forget about hanging around all those pumped-up muscle guys, hoping they can hook you up, just go make some tea! Dude, it's in the tea!

Now that you know that, are ya thinkin of gettin more serious into the gongfu tea? (Your answer: "Oh yeah, man, for sure"). Well, Grasshopper, let's take a deeper look:

The word gong fu (功夫) just means skill. Kung fu is a martial art that is learned through practice, training, and discipline. Gongfu tea is also an art that is learned through practice and training and discipline (read: dedication). It takes time to learn. Some people say, you can study tea for a lifetime and never finish learning.

Gongfu tea is the skilled preparation and serving of tea: the boiling of water, preparation of utensils, selection of tea, steeping the leaves, pouring the tea, serving the tea. These all require skill. And there's so much more to it. And, in fact, just like kung fu, there are a lot of cool moves to maneuver in gongfu tea. Some of the moves or forms, or whatever, are kind of reminiscent of Tai Chi.

Where in Japan did gongfu tea originate? What??!! It's not from Japan, man, it's from China! How come you guys always get China, Japan, and Korea mixed up? Chinese, Japanese and Koreans don't look anything alike. What's wrong with you? We live in a global village, a global economy, and we're world citizens now man, get with it. Don't be getting all 20th century on me now.

Ok, enough of that.

Gongfu tea originated in southern China. More specifically, Guangdong, Fujian, and Zhejiang provinces. In Guangdong, they practice the Chaozhou Style of Gongfu tea. Where exactly? In Chaozhou. Yeah.. I know your geography ain't too good. You shouldn't have skipped classes too much to go party it up in your youth. And you should have been watching PBS documentaries instead of music videos, metal head.

And, finally getting that out of my system...

Then, in Fujian, the whole province does gongfu tea. But over there, there are maybe 2 major schools: Anxi Style and Wuyi Style. Up in Zhejiang, they got gongfu tea, but I'm not sure what school. Oh, and there's Taiwan Style - they got them sniffing cups, but those Taiwan people claim they're not Chinese, so I won't go there. It gets too weird.

I know what you're thinking: "Wouldn't it look cool if they made a kung fu movie that had all these different styles of gong fu tea in it too?" Yeah... It would. That would be one kick-ass movie.

There, now you know about gongfu tea. Maybe you can try it out, and later show me some of your deadly moves!!

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tea: It's Totally Normal!

Did you know? Tea is the world’s most widely consumed beverage after water. Billions of people are drinking tea every day all over the globe. Here’s the good news: if you drink tea, you’re with the in-crowd!!

Not only is tea hip, it’s good for your health too. Tea is rich in antioxidants, which can prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease. And tea has many many other health benefits too. So tea is good for you!

Who drinks tea?

Tea is not just for dainty little ladies drinking tea with their pinkies out. No, no, it's much more than that. Well, okay, maybe the flower-patterned tea cups with saucers are kind of dainty, and cute, but it's cool. So there.

Actually, many highly esteemed people drink tea:

Royalty drinks tea. In ancient China, many teas became so-called "tribute teas", and were sent to the imperial court. Even Chinese emperors, like Hui Zong Zhao Ji of the Song Dynasty were famous tea people. In fact, he personally wrote a book on tea.

Modern scholars versed in the classics drink tea. Ancient scholars also drank tea; many of whom actually authored some of the tea classics.

Poets drink tea. And tea is the subject of their poetry. Ancient poets also drank tea. And tea was also the subject of much of their poetry. Famous Chinese poets like Li Bai, Du Fu, Du Mu, Bai Ju Yi, Su Dong Po and Wang An Shi all wrote tea poems.

Philosophers drink tea. Ancient philosophers like Zhu Xi were serious about tea.

Artists drink tea. Tea is the subject or theme of their paintings, both in modern and ancient times.

Tea drinkers do great things for society. For example, they collect tea utensils, which are loaned or donated to museums and art galleries.

Not only that, the average joe drinks tea, peasants drink tea, moms drink tea, dads drink tea, kids drink tea. Everyone is drinking tea!! And why not? It's normal to drink tea. Tea is cool.

In fact, tea drinkers are revered as gods! Lu Yu, who wrote the first book on tea, "The Classic of Tea", was worshipped as the "God of Tea" in the Tang Dynasty. Back in the day, tea merchants had statues made in the likness of Lu Yu. And when business was bad, they would pour boiling water over him as punishment! Ouch!! That's gotta hurt!

I drink tea, and why not? Whenever I drink tea, I'm proud of myself; because I feel like I'm up there with the big guys. Imagine me, sharing tea with ancient Chinese scholars. Magnificent!

So what are you waiting for? Are you drinking your tea yet?

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Understanding Ceramics and Tea Utensils

All these teapots and tea utensils you have are all made from different materials. Some are earthenware, some porcelain, some stoneware, some are bone china, etc. Ever wonder what the difference is? Let’s take a look.

Earthenware is typically a low-fire type clay vessel. The clay might come in different colors, the clay texture may be fine or rough. And the vessels may either be glazed or unglazed. They have a rustic feel and roughness to them. But be careful – depending on what temperature it was fired at, earthenware may be quite fragile; especially the very low-fire earthenware like raku.

Zisha (or purple sand) is a high-fire type of earthenware using a special type of clay mined around Yixing, Jiangsu, China. The high firing makes it durable. And the open-pored characteristic of the clay is highly desirable in brewing tea, because it improves the flavor of the tea.

Stoneware is fired at higher temperatures than earthenware, making it a little more durable than earthenware. And these are usually glazed vessels. This is used to make cheap utensils for the home.

Porcelain is fired at higher temperatures than stoneware. And it is very hard and durable. Porcelain was first invented in ancient China and traded throughout the world, and so it’s often called “china”. Porcelain comes in a wide variety of glazes. It is one of the best materials for tea ware. One of the characteristics of porcelain is the fine, white clay known as kaolin from which it is made.

Bone china
Bone china is a type of porcelain to which bone ash is added. It was invented in Britain, as Europeans sought to develop porcelain technology in the mid 1700s. Bone china has an ivory color.

So what’s better for tea utensils? It depends. If you go with utensils made in China, especially traditional Chinese tea ware, then your choices are earthenware, zisha, and porcelain.

Earthenware utensils are somewhat cheaper than porcelain utensils - depending on various factors. And they have a rustic appearance, often in dark colors. However, they are slightly less durable than porcelain, and the dark colors may not be appropriate to view the color of tea.

Zisha tea utensils come in various designs; and many are hand-made, and have collectible value – especially if made by a famous artisan. However, they must first be seasoned properly, then, constantly used to obtain the desired effect – which is to brew a better pot of tea. Zisha tea utensils come in natural colors of brown (known as purple), red, and yellow. Other colors are obtained by mixing the clay with pigments.

Porcelain utensils are usually white, or some shade of white. They may come in various types of glazes, and decorated variously. Look for porcelain utensils that are hand-painted. These have collectible value. However, most porcelain we see now is not hand-painted. Instead having an applied stencil-type decoration that gets stuck on the piece. Porcelain utensils are commonly used for tea because they’re very durable. And white glazed porcelain is preferred for judging a tea’s color and quality.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Did You Know???

Did you know, drinking tea has a stimulative effect on the body. And if you drink enough tea, you can actually get "tea drunk".

Now there are other kinds of stimulants, some of which are dangerous, or illegal, but tea is totally safe!! Best of all, if your parents find out you're taking tea, you won't get in trouble! And if you're in possession of the stuff, even the cops won't bother you.

So what kind of stimulating effect exactly does tea have? Well, when I drink tea, I find it expands my mind, and it increases my awareness and perception of my surroundings. Then I feel I have the ability to do more during the day. If I drink it at night, I can stay up all night, and have all kinds of cool, enlightening thoughts.

Enlightenment! Who would have thought? Just by drinking tea you can attain enlightenment - if only for awhile. No need to go to some Buddhist monastery in Tibet and meditate, just drink some tea! But it's no wonder that tea spread from China to Korea and Japan through the Buddhist monks who went to China for Buddhist training.

Some people don't like this stimulative effect though, and it's commonly called "tea drunk", or "tea intoxication". But you can reverse the effect just by eating some candy, or a chocolate bar.

So, wanna feel good? Just drink some tea. It's totally ok. No one will bother you. And best of all, you won't have any trouble if someone finds your stash. But - you just might have to share your stash with someone else looking for a fix. So stock up.

So now you know! Tea is a safe stimulant that might even be good for you. Wow! This stuff should be on Manswers!

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Life After Coffee

Having caffeine problems? Coffee making you irritable? Coffee giving you headaches? Don't worry, you have options. If you are considering leaving coffee, there is a viable option: TEA.

Embrace the tea lifestyle for relaxation, comfort, better health, better living.

Everywhere around the globe, people are enjoying tea. People like the comforts that tea has to provide. People also enjoy the benefits of drinking tea, such as maintaining health, preventing disease, calming the mind, and many other benefits.

More and more, people are steeping themselves in the tea experience. From the appearance, feel, and fragrance of whole-leaf tea, to the distinctive shapes, contures, and decoration of each piece of treasured teaware; all of these deepen our perception and enhance our moment in tea.

To fully enjoy tea requires the proper equipment. From choice of brewing vessel to serving vessel to tasting cup – each piece has its definite function and purpose. Combined, they all blend together to create a harmonious tea environment. Without proper tea utensils, tea becomes a very bland and uninteresting affair.

To drink tea is to enjoy life. Who doesn’t want to enjoy life?

Come out of the cold. Have a cup of tea!

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Wuyi Shan trip

In June, 2007, we took a trip to Wuyi Shan to see the famed Dahong Pao bushes, and take in the beautiful scenery at this Unesco World Heritage site. Cool place to visit. It's super clean there, no pollution, and easy access to get there. Here are photos of the whole trip posted on Flickr:

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Tasting Tea

To drink tea is to take in the moment, absorbing everything – the sights, sounds, scents, flavors.

Tea utensils are not only visually appealing, they’re also tactile, and have varied shapes, and textures. So they are also something to be appreciated through touch.

So when you taste tea, you taste it not only with your mouth, but also with your eyes, ears, nose, and hands. Who doesn’t like to hold a cup of steaming tea on a cold day to warm the hands?

When you drink tea, do you also soak up your surroundings? The sights around you might also be very enjoyable, especially if you take the time to go out and enjoy them. I’m surrounded by nature, so it’s no problem for me to enjoy tea to the fullest extent. But nature is everywhere – so you needn’t go to far to enjoy your tea with nature. Remember, tea - the leaf is an element of nature, so it should be appreciated for its natural beauty.
Tea is serious, but at the same time, it’s easygoing. You have to be careful when boiling water, and brewing tea – to get the water to the correct temperature, to steep the tea for the proper amount of time, and to extract a delicious infusion of the leaf that is both fragrant and sweet. That’s called skill and experience. But at the same time, tea should be an enjoyable event. It is a little time-consuming to properly make tea, but the time should be taken to relax and properly brew up some tea, especially when company comes over. Enjoy tea for what it is, and make your life more enriching and fulfilling. With each cup of tea that touches my lips, I’m richer for the experience. It warms me in winter, cools me in summer. Who can live without tea?

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Chayi Tea Art

You may have heard of Tea Ceremony, or Chadao (茶道), as it is called in Chinese. Chadao can be any type of tea ceremony. But if it is one that is highly artistic, then it’s called Tea Art, or Chayi (茶艺) in China. These tea ceremonies are conducted by people trained and proficient in Tea Art, known as chayi shi (茶艺师). With a very calm, relaxed, pleasant tone of voice and in a very refined or sometimes rustic surroundings, they go about brewing tea, while explaining how the tea is made, what each utensil is used for, and how to sip and appreciate the tea.

After a session of Chayi, one comes out very refreshed and relaxed.
These photos were taken at Yunding (云顶) in Longyan, Fujian, China.

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History of Tea

Tea has a very long history, of at least 3 000 years, since the Han Dynasty. The origins of tea were first recorded in ancient texts from the western regions of China – from present day Sichuan province. There, ancient wild tea trees were harvested for the leaves and later tea trees began to become cultivated. Trade in tea leaves then developed. At first tea was used for its medicinal properties. Then, it developed into a thick soup or stew. Then, it developed into a beverage.

Along with this long history of tea, there has been constant development in tea customs and tea culture throughout the various regions of China.

During the Tang Dynasty, we had boiled tea. During the Song, we had whipped tea. During the Ming we had steeped tea. And during the Qing, we had gongfu tea.

In modern times, we can still follow the tea traditions of the Ming and Qing. Today, we still steep loose leaf teas in teapots. And today we can still enjoy gongfu style tea.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Tea Ware And Tea Utensils

To brew tea properly requires the right tea utensils. To enjoy tea fully requires aesthetically pleasing tea utensils.

You can find a wide range of teaware and tea utensils to provide the best enjoyment and satisfaction in drinking tea; from porcelain, earthenware, or glass teawares; bamboo or wood tea trays; tea furniture to accent the living space; to just simple but necessary tea accessories.

Earthenware and Porcelain Teawares
Earthenware and porcelain teaware comes in a variety of different glazes to enhance the tea experience. Each piece should be finely crafted of very high quality porcelain or earthenware; from the famous kilns of China. When you inspect each piece, there should be no defects in the glaze. And each part should match well to each other. That is, lids for teapots should fit snugly; and handles and spouts should be symmetrical to the body of the teapot.

Porcelain Tea Utensils
To give you a head’s up, here’s a list of some common gong fu tea utensils, and some handy information about gong fu tea utensils.

Also called gaibei. It’s a covered cup used for brewing tea. Some gaiwan consist of 2 parts, cup and lid. Other gaiwan have 3 parts – cup, lid, and a holding saucer. Because of their practicality, and ease of use, gaiwan are used almost exclusively to brew teas in Fujian. They also let you taste the true character of a tea. Great for evaluating teas. (Brewing capacity: approx. mL)

Gongdao bei
Also called cha hai, or cha zhong. This is a serving pitcher used to store tea after steeping in the gaiwan. (capacity: approx. mL)

Smelling cups
These are typically used with Taiwan-style gong fu tea. After the tea has been poured out of these tall, cylindrical cups into the tasting cups, the smelling cups are used to sniff the lingering fragrance of the tea.

Tasting cups
These are small, squat cups that hold only a mouthful of tea. They are intentionally small, so that you can sip the tea, little by little, and enjoy the flavor of the tea in a more intimate manner.

Porcelain Teapot
When brewing teas with relatively small leaves, it’s practical to use a porcelain teapot instead of a gaiwan. Using these small teapots also adds to the charm of drinking tea. (Brewing capacity: approx. mL)

Tea sink
This is a round, straight-sided bowl. Filled with water, it’s used to store the small tea cups after use. It prevents tea stains from building up on the cups, since they are immediately rinsed after use. It’s also convenient for carrying the other tea utensils to be washed in the sink.

This is a special type of teaware, characteristic of the Chaozhou-style of brewing gong fu tea. It consists of a porcelain bowl with a fitted lid with drainage holes. Tea is prepared on the lid, and the spill-over water or tea drains away into the bowl below. After enjoying tea, the spent leaves can be dumped into the bowl, and kept out of sight.

Teapot tray
This is a bowl-like tray with a raised platform in the middle, specially used with Zisha teapots. It’s a handy tool which helps keep your valuable Zisha teapots in perfect condition. Each time you brew tea, the excess tea flows over the outside of the teapot, helping it to retain tea essence and flavor; at the same time, it creates a patina on the teapot, enhancing the beauty and luster of the pot. Then, using a brush, you can brush the outside of the pot, to ensure it is evenly coated in tea essence. The teapot tray allows the excess tea to flow away from the pot, while you attend to your treasured teapot.

Earthenware/Zisha Tea Ware

Zisha teapot
Zisha teapots come from Yixing, Jiangsu province, China. The finest ones are hand-crafted using fine zisha clays in purple (dark brown), red, and yellow. Zisha clay is dense yet porous. This advantage allows tea essence to seep into the pores of the teapot. Over an extended period of time of successive repeated brews, the flavor of each new brew improves. So after repeated use of a zisha teapot, the flavor of your tea will only get better and better.

Chapan (tea tray) come in two styles. There are drainer sink types and spigot types.

Drainer sink types have a slotted tray into which fits a plastic drain plate underneath. You empty the drain plate underneath throughout the day as it fills with water and spent tea leaves. The drainer sink type has many slots or openings in the top, allowing excess liquids to directly pour down into the drain plate underneath.

Spigot tea trays are gently sloped; so that all liquids drain toward the drain hole. A very convenient feature! Then, there is a brass spigot coming out of the tray, allowing for attachment of a polyvinyl hose, which then drains into a bucket. This type of tea tray is more practical for heavy, repeated tea brewing sessions. Some large chapan can be very impressive.

Chapan come in a variety of sturdy, elegant, lustrous hardwoods to enhance the tea experience. Most are made from a single piece of wood. There are also bamboo chapan, which are lighter in weight, but as sturdy as the wood chapan.

Chapan make an elegant statement that at the same time is very inviting. What better way to chat with friends or have an informal meeting than over a cup of tea? In China, many business negotiations are concluded over a cup of tea.

Tea Utensils
There are other types of tea utensils that are handy and even necessary:

Tea strainer
Tea strainers are made from a variety of materials – from earthenware and porcelain, aluminum, stainless steel, to gourd. Whatever type you choose, it should have a very fine mesh to prevent all the tea fines from giving you a murky cup of tea.

Tea strainer holder
Also called a strainer rest, this is a helpful and elegant tool, which helps you to keep your tea strainer handy for the next pour of tea.

Tea tongs
Tongs are necessary to grasp the little gongfu cups full of hot water (or hot tea). When rinsing cups, you fill each cup to overflowing. Using tongs, therefore, will save your fingers from scalding.Tongs can be made of either wood or stainless steel. The wooden tongs are showy, but the stainless steel tongs are much easier to use, and have a good, solid grip.

Tea spoon
Tea spoons are useful to take measured amounts of tea from the tea caddy or tea canister. They are made from a variety of materials.

Tea tools
Tea tools come in a set of four tools: tea spoon, tea tongs, tea scoop and tea needle. The tea scoop is used along with the chahe, to put a measured amount of tea into the teapot. And the tea needle is useful to clear any stoppages or blockage of tea leaf bits in the spouts of teapots, etc.

These are leaf receptacles or holders for dry tea leaves. They are great for examining the tea leaf. They have a funnel-like end to allow easy scooping into the teapot or gaiwan.

Tea pot brushes
These brushes are used for brushing the exteriors of zisha teapots to help develop a patina of tea essence on the teapot. They are also useful for brushing away bits of tea leaf and tea drips on the chapan.

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The Fujian Gongfu Brew Method

Fujian is known as one of the birthplaces of gong fu tea (功夫茶). In Fujian, just about every home and office has a tea set for brewing gong fu tea. Gong fu tea is part of the daily lifestyle of Fujian people.

The gong fu method was developed to bring out the true essence of the tea leaf; thus allowing the drinker to sip small mouthfuls of exquisite tea liquid. Ancient poets referred to this tea liquid as “sweet dew”.

Required Utensils
To enjoy tea in the finest fashion, you need to have the following basic tea utensils on hand:
• Chapan (tea tray)
• Tasting cups
• Gaiwan (or teapot)
• Gong dao bei (serving pitcher)
• Strainer
• Strainer rest
• Tea sink
• Tea tongs
• Tea towel
• Water kettle

Brew Method
To brew tea in the Fujian gong fu style requires a few basic steps:

  1. Prepare utensils
  2. Rinse teaware
  3. Measure tea leaf
  4. Pour water
  5. Remove bubbles and fines
  6. Rinse tea
  7. Steep tea
  8. Warm cups
  9. Second pour
  10. Distribute tea
  11. Serve tea
  12. Taste tea
  13. Clean utensils

Prepare utensils
All the utensils are first arranged on the chapan. You should take care to ensure each piece is fairly clean (i.e., free of spent tea leaves, etc.) If not, you need to wash the cups and, brewing vessel, and serving vessel first.

Rinse teaware
This is a pre-rinse in hot water, intended to scald the vessels and warm them up.

Measure tea leaf
Using a tea spoon, you must measure out the proper quantity of tea leaf. The tea leaves are then placed in the gaiwan or teapot.

Pour water
Pour hot water of correct temperature into the gaiwan or teapot to the appropriate level.

Remove bubbles and fines
When the hot water is poured over the tea leaves, bubbles and froth will form on the top. This is removed using the gaiwan lid or teapot lid. This is done to remove the undesirable tea fines and dust that may float to the top of the tea.

Rinse tea
Because tea is a hand-made commodity, it’s best to do a short rinse of the leaves for 2-3 seconds in hot water. This rinse also enables the leaves to re-hydrate and awaken a bit.

Steep tea
Hot water is again poured to the appropriate level and the tea allowed to steep for anywhere from 3 to 10 seconds.

Warm cups
Using the tea rinse, or optionally plain hot water, the tasting cups are warmed prior to use. Tea tongs are useful here, so as not to scald the fingers.

Second pour
The steeped tea is poured into the cha hai, often through a filter. The cha hai stores the brewed tea, and is used to prevent hot water sitting on the tea leaves too long, resulting in a stewed tea that is both bitter and astringent.

When the cha hai is empty, repeated steepings of tea are possible. And depending on the type of tea, you may get anywhere from six to 20 steepings from the same tea leaves.

Distribute tea
The steeped tea is poured from the cha hai into each individual tasting cup equally. Care is taken not to pour each cup too full.

Serve tea
The tea may be served to guests. It’s best first to wipe the bottom of each cup on the tea towel first, then place each cup on a small saucer for the guests to enjoy.

Taste tea
The tea is tasted first by observing the color and clarity of the tea, then appreciating the aroma of the tea, then sipping the tea and appreciating the taste.

Clean utensils
To prevent tea stains forming on tea ware, it’s best to immediately rinse each piece in water. After a tea drinking session, you place the tea cups into the tea sink, where they can be soaked in water. For a more thorough washing, the gaiwan, chahai, and tasting cups can be brought together in the tea sink to the kitchen sink, and washed well. Also, the chapan should be wiped thoroughly with a tea towel to prevent tea stain build-ups.

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Tea Utensils - The Basic Stuff

For gong-fu tea, you need a few basic, but essential tea utensils to facilitate a perfect brew and enjoyment of the tea you prepare. Here is a list of just the absolute basic tea utensils:

Gaiwan: these are all-purpose brewing vessels and it is handy to have several on hand for brewing a number of teas in one tea tasting session. They normally consist of 3 parts: a lid, a cup, and a saucer. But for pouring tea, you would use the lid and cup only. (Substitution: porcelain teapot or cebei or zisha teapot.)

Porcelain teapot: these are small teapots, normally globular in shape, with a handle, lid, and curved spout. They add interest to the tea brewing experience.

Cebei: is a small porcelain teapot that is convenient to use. They generally have more of a cylindrical shape, and triangular shaped spouts. They may be used instead of a gaiwan or porcelain teapot. A gaiwan may sometimes scald the fingers when used repeatedly. So it’s handy to have a cebei when things get too hot.

Zisha teapot: is a special type of teapot that after an initial seasoning and repeated brewing of the same tea, gives an improved flavor to tea. They are unique in the hand-made nature and design. Many are collectible.

Chahai: (also called gong dao bei) is a serving pitcher used to pour into each individual small tasting cup. (Substitution: a spare, unused porcelain teapot, cebei, or zisha teapot)

Tasting cups: (also called gongfu cups). These are fairly small cups used to savor the taste and aroma of the tea.

Chapan: is a tea tray of wood or bamboo. They typically have a brass spigot for a hose attachment. The hose drains away excess liquids into a bucket below.

Tea Strainer: these are very fine mesh strainers that will stain out the leaf bits, making the tea you drink more enjoyable. They are commonly made of aluminum, stainless steel, porcelain, or gourd.

Strainer rest: generally made of porcelain, it’s a small and convenient thing to have for placing your strainer. (Substitution: gaiwan saucer, or some other type of very small plate.)

Tea sink: is a bowl just large enough for holding several tasting cups. They are made of glass, porcelain, or earthenware. They are filled with water, and used to keep tasting cups clean between use.

Tea tongs: are made of bamboo, wood, or stainless steel. The wood tongs are pretty; but the stainless steel tongs are the most practical. They are used when rinsing cups in hot water, and for grabbing cups out of the tea sink.

Tea towel: any small towel will do. It’s used for wiping the undersides of cups, and wiping away any spills; as well as general clean up. You will want several of these.

Water kettle: these are usually electric, and preferably cordless. Look for one with an all-stainless steel body and lid. Plastic kettles tend to give the water an off-taste, which is undesirable in brewing expensive teas. Higher wattage means faster boiling time, so purchase accordingly.

Waste tea bucket: this is usually a small plastic bucket, placed on the floor, and used to catch the flow from the chapan; as well as any waste, spent tea leaves.

If you had to do this list as a top ten, then only the following are really necessary:
1. gaiwan
2. chahai
3. tasting cups
4. chapan
5. tea strainer
6. strainer rest
7. tea sink
8. tea tongs
9. tea towel
10. water kettle

Anything else can be acquired later. However, keeping color, design, and pattern in mind, it’s best to acquire and collect different versions of the same basic tea utensils to add interest and variety in gongfu tea brewing sessions.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Chinese Crackleware

Crackleware Porcelain. Hand-painted underglaze. Pictured: porcelain gong-fu teapot, gongdao bei, 6 tasting cups.

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Chinese Crackleware

Crackleware porcelain, hand-painted underglaze design. Pictured: Gaiwan, Gongdao bei, and 6 tasting cups.

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