Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TieGuanYin : A Tale of Two Gaiwans

Fish Design Gaiwan from Chan Teas

I delved into the world of gaiwan tea brewing this week, and the science-art that is Gong Fu Cha.

I purchased the fish design from an upstart tea site because the price was reasonable and the guys running it seem to be genuinely interested in helping others appreciate tea. My humble gaiwan arrived not only intact, but accompanied by a Gong Fu towel and an amazing sample of a Tie Guan Yin. Just what this tea explorer needed!

Zhong Guo Ming Cha - Jingzhihaoli - Tie Guan Yin

What an eye and nose-opener! Steeping and decanting from a gaiwan isn't as tricky as it might appear. If you hold the lid and the saucer taughtly, like a sandwich, it isn't as likely to slip. If you're using good quality whole-leaf and rinsing first as recommended, you don't risk having fannings fall into your cup, either.

The leaves literally came alive, and the first steep was vegetal - something I hadn't associated with Tie Guan Yin before, largely because I wasn't steeping it properly, and because this is likely a light-to-medium oxidized type. The second steep brought more of a balance between the signature vegetal and floral. I want to see where I can purchase more of this grade of Tie Guan Yin. Fabulous!

Leaves after final steeping - whole and lightly oxidized

Steeping in progress

Last weekend I had occasion to join a friend at my local tea shop, where I found gaiwans on display. I picked out a beautiful blue peony design in a larger size and a landscape design in the normal 4 oz. size. The landscape gaiwan has yet to be christened (have to leave something for next week!).

Blue Peony gaiwan from Indigo Tea Company

I was brewing the same oolong I'd had a number of times, but the flavor just seemed to "pop" in the gaiwan. The vegetal notes came through on the first couple of steeps, just as with the Chan Teas sample. The leaves unfurled and magically, I was able to re-steep them nearly the whole day without losing flavor. This is the experience that many tea afficionados discuss and rave about, but it was the first time I had encountered it.

Fancy Grade Tie Guan Yin leaves post-steep

The blue beauty was put through its paces, and I felt like I had tasted the true potential of the "fancy" grade leaves I had purchased previously. There did seem to be a slight difference in the "wholeness" of the leaves compared to the Chan Teas sample, though both were exquisite.


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