Choosing the Tea
Tea brewing is a process to make tea by curing freshly boiled water over tea leaves inside a teapot. To brew a cup of tea with a pleasing aroma and flavor a tea master needs to learn the established methods for brewing tea. Particular attention should be paid to the quality of the tea and of the water, the teaware, and the ambience of the tea drinking environment. Most importantly, the tea master needs to take time and effort to understand the nature of different types of tea, and grasp the art and skill of brewing so as to realize the essence of each tea.
There are basically five elements that a tea master should learn and understand for tea brewing: tea, water, teaware, environment, and skill A tea master should choose good-quality tea for his guests. How to define 'good-quality'? On one hand, the tea itself is made from good-quality raw material is delicately processed, On the other hand, the tea master to know the requirements and of his guests Therefore, the tea master needs to know the nature of different types of tea very well and also needs to communicate with the guests to learn their requirements and preferences before choosing the tea.
Pu'er tea can be divided into raw Pu'er and ripe Pu'er tea. Then the quality of Pu'er tea varies according to the grade of the raw tea leaves, the plucking season, the ageing time etc. When choosing a particular Pu'er tea for guests, the tea master should take the season, the time of day and the tastes and preference of the guests into consideration. Factors, such as we prefer drinking raw Puer tea in summer and ripe Puer tea in winter; or we prefer drinking raw Puer tea during the day and ripe Pu'er tea at night; it is more suitable to brew ripe Pu'er tea for elderly guests and to brew light-flavored tea for women, while heavy-flavored tea is favored by tea lovers, should all be considered when choosing the tea.
Also, the chosen tea should be clean and without any potent odors, and the leaves should be well-twisted and complete. For compressed Pu'er tea, after breaking a portion of it into several pieces, it is better to choose the pieces of a moderate size and those with complete leaf strips.
Choosing the Water
The Chinese say water is the mother of tea; only good-quality water can give full play to the color, aroma and flavor of the tea. Since ancient times the Chinese people have been particular about the water used to brew tea. People even chose different water for brewing different types of tea, such as the preferred 'Hupao Spring Water for Dragon Well tea', or 'water from the center of the Yangtze River for the tea from the summit of Mount Meng'.
Lu Yu was the first to mark the importance of water quality and tea. In Chapter about boiling in his book, The Classic of Tea, he proposed mountain water is the best, river water comes second,and well water is the least favored.
The high-mountain spring is the best for brewing tea as it contains abundant mineral substances which are good for the human body. Lu Yu also states that the quality of a slow flow is better than a rapid flow, as the fast flowing water may carry too many mineral substances and do harm to the human body. Still lake water from a mountain valley is not suitable for brewing tea because it may contain deadwood and withered leaves as well as contaminants and toxins. If we use river water for brewing tea, it should be dawn from clean rivers away from human habitats. Usually, well water is not preferable, but if mountain or river water is not available, we may draw clean water from wells that are frequently used by people.
The ancient Chinese concluded five standards for choosing water, they are: 'dean', 'fresh', 'light ', 'sweet, and 'cool'.
'Clean' focuses on clarity, the chosen water should be bright, transparent and without dirt or contaminants.
'Fresh' is the opposite of stale, the chosen water should be running rather than still water.
'Light' is the opposite of heavy, light weight water is of high quality and is better than heavy water in terms of bringing out the color, the aroma and the flavor of the tea.
'Sweet' is the opposite of bitter; the chosen water should be sweet on the palate without a bitter or salty taste.
'Cool' means the chosen water should cool and refreshing to the mouth .
In modern times we are also particular about the quality and taste of the water we choose to brew tea. Soft water is preferable to hard water, this is similar to the ancient Chinese people's standard of choosing light water rather than heavy water, as soft water is relatively light and hard water is relatively heavy. Snow water and rain are the best soft water, spring water and river water is also soft when boiled and the impurities in it gather at the bottom.Running spring water is considered preferable for brewing tea as this is originally clean underground water. When spring water is above ground the oxygen in the air dissolves in the water and the spring water carries the mineral substances in the rock and soil,so spring water is clean with an abundance of oxygen and mineral substances, and is able to bring out the true color, aroma and flavor of the tea.
Choosing the Teaware
Teaware is indispensable when brewing tea. Teaware performs the practical functions; holding the water, cultivating the tea,and presenting the color, aroma and flavor of the tea. But teaware can also be works of art in their own right and can be appreciated while enhancing the artistic ambience of the entire tea drinking environment.
Choosing teaware depends on the type of tea, the occasion and the number of guests. A tea master should know to choose not only the right tea but also the corresponding teaware. Teaware should be clean and intact, the material and the color should complement the tea and the environment. Each utensil in a tea set should match with the rest, and the entire tea set should assist to offset a harmonious and peaceful occasion.
Tea Drinking Environment
The process of brewing and appreciating tea provides us with a period to experience the art of tea and share our thoughts while relaxing and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. After choosing good-quality tea, good-quality water and the correct tea ware, the tea master still needs to find a serene and tasteful environment for his guests. In order to fully reflect the nature of the tea, an appropriate environment is necessary. There are three elements regarding the arrangement and decoration of the tearoom which must be considered: 'cleanliness','quietness' ,and 'elegance'.
Tea is pure and clean in nature, and the tearoom should complement the tea's nature; it should be very clean and tidy. The primary tone of the tearoom should be light mid plain, and decoration should be modest.
The tea room should not be situated where there is noise and activity. It should serve to assist in calming the minds of the guests, only when they are at peace and relaxed in such an environment, can they appreciate the flavor of the tea and experience the serene and tranquil tea drinking occasion.
Since tea itself is a type of plant, the tearoom can be decorated with some plants or Bonsai trees. Recommended plants are pine, bamboo, plum, orchid, chrysanthemum, and lotus. To elevate the old-world atmosphere of the tearoom the tea master can also add traditional musical instrumental, books, vases, incense burners or iron teapots to the simple minimalist decoration.
Tea Brewing Skills
A tea masters tea brewing skills directly determine the color, aroma and flavor of the tea. The tea master should learn and practice his tea brewing skills; he should understand different tea brewing methods for different types of tea. There are four points that the tea master needs to grasp and always keep in mind when brewing tea.
1.Choosing particular tea for particular guests.
2.Choosing particular teaware for particular tea.
3.Choosing good-quality water and controlling the temperature of the water.
4.Regulating the amount of the ratio of tea to water, the steeping time, and the number of times the tea can be brewed.