Thursday, April 6, 2017

Chaozhou Style Brewing

The topic of real Chaozhou style brewing has been debated ruthlessly over tea tables across this great nation. What is true Chaozhou style? Do you crunch the leaves? How full should the pot be? To flash steep or not to flash steep?

I don't claim to have the answers, but I had my own most interesting purportedly Chaozhou style session to date. I'd like to share it with you wonderful people!

Background: Chaozhou is supposedly the birth place of gongfu style tea. It is not a fancy or affected way of drinking tea, it is merely a method that oolong drinkers with clay pots began using to make strong tea. Maybe you could think of it as gongfu esspresso. The basic principle is that the pot is small, the cups are small and the pot is absolutely stuffed with leaf.

The session the other day which prompted me to write about Chaozhou brewing was this: a generous and wonderful tea buddy came into the shop. We wanted to drink Tie Guanyin, as we often do, and he prodded me, "Hey, let's really do this like Chaozhou people." So I looked at him and began to fill the pot with little Anxi Tie Guanyin nuggets. I got maybe a third of the way towards the top and looked into his eyes for confirmation that it was plenty. "More!" A few more nuggets I dropped in, and he still showed no sign that we were getting close. In the end, the pot was more than halfway full of dry oolong nuggets. So I began to brew.

First, I rinsed the tea and heated our cups. I used a sharing pitcher because that's how I brew. He had no qualms. The smell of roasted, aged, fermented oolong leaves puffed into a little cloud over our tea table. It was strong, invigorating to the nostrils. And the smell was like wood, dried fruit, maybe a little boozy. I then proceeded to quickly brew a first infusion, as I thought the pot was so full it needed a speedy pour.

"No, wait!" He then told me to brew it longer. Around three minutes. I thought he was pulling my leg, but he told me that he knows this tea and it can handle long brewing. He told me his parents drank tea like this when he was growing up, and that they would just set and forget the pot while the talked to each other, leaving it maybe fifteen minutes. If the tea was good, they said, it was no problem. So I set the water in the pot and left it.

When I poured it out it was thick, almost black. Not opaque the way espresso is, but very close in darkness. There was a thick 'cloud' swirling on the surface of the liquor. "Oh... Yeah...." He was obviously pretty excited. I poured each of us a cup and tasted it. Wow! It was soooo strong, but not the clawing bitterness I expected. It was bitter the way a well pulled shot of espresso is bitter. It certainly doesn't go down without a fight, but it left us with the most wonderful and strong aftertaste which lasted all night. And I felt just amped up after drinking that stuff. My belly was humming and buzzing with warm oolong vibrations.

We had a wonderful session with that tea. He told me this was what he thinks of as Chaozhou style brewing. I don't know how to qualify what exactly that style entails, but I do know that the tea could handle brewing like that. It was so wonderful! I actually drink that tea quite often and quite enjoy it when I do, but never had I enjoyed it like that. That's the beauty of a true, well-done, 'shou' style oolong. Mmmmmmhmmmm....