Sunday, December 2, 2012

Preparing Japanese gyokuro using Chinese teaware

A reader once asked if she could brew Chinese white tea using a glazed porcelain Japanese hohin. The question of interchangeably using your teaware with different tea types is a rather interesting one because with glazed porcelain, we can safely experiment with various kinds of teas and do away with those concerns of residual smells and tastes from the previous brewing session.

The purpose of preparing tea in different vessels is to find out what differences in aromas, tastes and flavours one can observe based on their overall size and shape. In the case of a gyokuro where its price per gram is considerably higher than regular sencha, I would choose brew this tea in smaller amounts in a hohin. The lid of the hohin which I am using is completely flat compared to a regular gaiwan. This is one aspect I do not mind so much when brewing fresh gyokuro because I derive most enjoyment from the umami taste in the tea concentrate.

In the spirit of experimenting, I decided to make use of the remaining leaves in a gaiwan. With a larger vessel to work with, I added slightly more leaves after preheating my gaiwan and meanwhile warm my tea cups thoroughly.

Here the difference in preparing Chinese teas and Japanese gyokuro is quite obvious. Unlike Chinese teas, if I do not cool the water down adequately, the umami taste will be overpowered by the tannins and taste like sencha. To avoid this, I poured water from the heated cups back into the gaiwan. By this time, water temperature in the teacups would have dropped to about 70 degree Celsius, an ideal temperature to prepare gyokuro.

The resulting brew was unlike Chinese green teas. In comparison, the colour was a more intense green with reduced transparency characteristic of Japanese green teas. Tea tasted like a well blended mix of umami broth and sencha. When using a hohin, highly distinct umami notes tend to be released in the first infusion, then come the flavours of green tea in the second infusion that continue to develop in the third infusion with quickly diminishing umami qualities.

Findings like these make experimenting very interesting. The chaxi felt very traditionally Chinese. Yet, the contents of my tea cup reminded me of a foreign element in today's setting which broke the usual routine of preparing tea in a gaiwan. I was made aware that brewing techniques need to be adapted to bring out the tastiest teas. There can never be a set of rules laid out for one to follow rigidly without any improvisation on the tea master's part based on the tea that he is handling.

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