Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tea Ware and Brewing Styles: Cultural Considerations

Cup size tremendously influences temperature of the tea. In the US, loose-leaf tea is often brewed in a basket or strainer and served in mugs. From a functional standpoint, mugs are less effective. As soon as the tea is ready, it is too hot to drink. Then, near the end of the mug, the tea is cool. This wide range in temperature combined with the volume of tea results in a very narrow window in which tea stays at the ideal temperature for consumption. This problem is particularly exaggerated with using large mugs. There’s simply too much tea to drink when it reaches its ideal temperature. At my teashop, I typically serve tea in small (7 oz.) mugs. I view this as a necessary—and temporary—compromise.
What is the mug alternative? Kung fu brew (also called gung fu cha). Small teapots (100 to 200 ml) or guy wans are used to brew several infusions. The tea is poured into small cups after each infusion. As a result, tea is consistently consumed at its ideal temperature and the drinker gains a better sense of the individual tea by tasting it over the course of multiple infusions. The amount of tea that is produced from each infusion varies, depending on the size of the teapot. In general, it is enough to fill two to four of the small cups. The tea is very hot when poured, but due to the small cup size, it quickly reaches a drinkable temperature. After about three to five sips, the tea is gone. With this smaller amount of tea, it more likely that the tea is consumed at the ideal temperature. When in need of another round, simply re-infuse the leaves and you have hot tea all over again.
I love to brew kung fu style for my customers, and ultimately, I hope to educate my customers on how brew kung fu style. Many Westerners have not been exposed to this style of brewing and, at times, find it intimidating. I plan to add more specialty tea service as it is feasible for the business.  

1 comment:

  1. I definitely notice that large mugs result in a very different tea drinking experience from small Chinese-style tea cups. When I serve tea at my house I usually use the small cups, but when I'm drinking it I often use a mug. It depends though.

    But for me, there's a completely different reason that I like drinking tea from a mug. Thanks for inspiring a post!