Friday, November 21, 2014

Sampling and Tasting

Continuing the topic of sampling and tasting, but this time around is not about finding and buying tea, instead this is about the preparation and appreciation of new tea. Appreciation is an individual thing and we should keep it that way, but it is undeniable that some things affect tea tasting sessions and sometimes my final view on the tea. 

Water, the most important element of course. Results will depend on what kind of water you use, whether you buy bottled water, filter your own or use tap water. Water lacking oxygen will make tea taste dull and even unpleasant; water lacking minerals will make for a weak and flat tea. If you buy bottled water make sure you check the bottling and expiration dates. If you filter water home you might want to check if your water is considered ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ water since this will affect your tea, this could also affect the type of filter you should use. If you live in a soft water area you should consider filters that add/allow retention of minerals in the water and if you are an area where water is hard you might want to buy a filter that helps reduce the amount of minerals, heavy metals and other pollutants that water can have today. You can also check your local water reports if you have a more in depth interest. Sometimes realizing what you have in your tap could freak you at bit. National EPA Criteria Recommendations.  EPA Standards and results by Region.

In the picture you can see two different colored filters by PÜR, the blue 'RF-9999' and 'Original RF'. I live in D.C. were we have 'hard' water, I need to filter water and tend to descale my kettle every two-three months when using the original filter. I then decided to try the RF-9999 with allow the water to keep more its minerals and also introduces some at the end of the filtering. If you live in a zone were you have 'soft' water, I'd recommend it. In my case, it made the water taste saturated of minerals and had me descaling my kettle every month.

With water out of the way, the next most important thing is your brewing vessel. I’ve bought more than I should have over time, but at this point I’m glad I did. I found my favorites and learned that they may all have their place, whether is due to convenience or they make a ‘better’ tea. Since I favor Chinese teas, I’ve favored Chinese tea ware in general and so my interest tends to lean toward them, although you can use any vessel you prefer for your tea, regardless of the origin. 

The Western cup with infuser has been helpful in a pinch or when preparing teas that will most likely discard after one or two steeps, but I feel like they are more a convenience to make bigger amounts of tea at a time than getting the most out of your tea. I love unglazed clay vessels for long Puerh sessions and enjoy those teas that I’ve already met and grown fond of (Sheng, Shou and Wuyi Oolongs). Glassware (for preparation/steeping), I find to be useless, mainly a fad that I succumbed to when I wanted to look at the tea the whole time; glass radiates the heat so your water temperature drops faster and grabbing the vessel is usually painful. I however, like using glass cups every once in a while to appreciate the color and clarity of the liquor/broth. Double walled glass vessels are very convenient travel buddies, but be mindful that you can't feel the heat so you may be over-steeping your tea and since it retains so much heat, it basically cooks the leaves even after you served it. My favorite material for tasting has to be Porcelain; it offers all the things I need to appreciate new tea.

I love a glass pitcher,  look at beautiful color of the broth.

Porcelain vessels, more precisely the Gaiwan, offers in general the perfect size to try tea without being wasteful, the control (with practice) to determine how well you want to filter a tea when serving, not to mention that the lid allows you to retain heat or can be removed for more sensitive tea and even to move leaves around to avoid over steeping ones at the bottom. The plain white color allows me to look at the dried and wet leaves and also allow me to determine how strong I want the steep to be. The lid is what makes the Gaiwan, it captures the scent of the broth and leaves; I use it all the time to help my leaves rotate during a steep and sample the scents the leaves and broth give.

Porcelain lined Yixing Gaiwan. The Clay holds the heat pretty well and the lining allows me to sample the tea with out foreign notes from previous sessions.

Although I obviously favored the Chinese Porcelain Gaiwan, you can get similar results from other glazed options. My biggest advice is to do your tastings on vessels that will not change the taste, avoid extra variables in the equation. I know it sound cool to drink all your Puerh in a beautiful Yixing, Jian Shui or other unglazed clays, but the reality is that you are using a vessel meant to round the taste and even impart some of the traits of the teas that were there in previous sessions, that defeats whole the purpose of doing tastings of a particular tea.
Sometimes we don't appreciate thing until they are gone. Thanks for the many steeps my dear. *sniff*


  1. I will often times brew in a gaiwan for the "initial" brew when gauging a tea. I will then move it to a clay pot once I have sampled the initial brew. I agree with you when judging a tea you want the cleanest most unadulterated brew from a neutral vessel.

  2. Me too. I love getting to know a tea before deciding which pot I will use for it (if any), since I like to keep similar teas in the same pots. And sometimes, a tea will blow me away and I can't wait to try it on my favorite pot!