Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lion's Peak Preview

Finally, our Lion's Peak Dragonwell (longjin) has arrived and we wanted to share a few basic tips for brewing such a delicate green tea:
We like to use gaiwans with thin porcelain walls to brew our Dragonwell. The thinness of the walls is important because it's the first step in ensuring that heat won't linger and over brew the leaves. Some people really like to use a glass gaiwan and seeing the leaves suspended in the water is very pretty but I've yet to find one that wasn't too clunky for my tastes. I like using a small glass teapot instead because there are better quality ones out there with nice delicate details and thin walls.
Always preheat your brewing vessel with near boiling water. While this is a common practice for brewing all types of teas it's especially crucial for green teas. Longjin requires low temperature brewing but if the temperature gets too cool, then you run the risk of losing out on some wonderful flavor notes. One of the ways to ensure the tea doesn't cool too quickly is to maintain the indirect heat. Also, heat up your serving pitcher and cups.

Winnie used our medium sized gaiwan (90cc) and 5 grams of tea or a heaping tablespoon full.
We like to prep the young buds by gradually building up heat levels.
Once the dry tea buds are put into our prepared gaiwan, the heat will gently warm the buds and the aroma will come to life. This is a great time to appreciate Dragonwell's sweet and savory fragrance.

Now it's time to add the water.
Winnie likes to give the buds an initial shock with the rinse. She'll bring the water temperature up to 180F and give the leaves whats known as a "flash rinse" for the first. The hot water is poured in quickly, using the rushing stream technique. Once the leaves are covered, the water is just as quickly poured out into another vessel.
Save the rinse and drink it last. The aroma of the tea will have taken on even more depth and some beautiful notes of sweet rice and toasted nuts. My mouth is usually watering at this point.

With all the talk about low temperature brewing, why use scalding water at all? This is done to "wake up" the buds and prepare them for brewing. I also mentioned that heat is necessary to taste certain components. While we wouldn't brew at 180F for a longer amount of time. The quick dowsing at a higher temp. opens up the outer edges of the buds without unleashing any inner bitterness. I've experimented on friends and tried to omit this step and just brew at low temperatures but we found a dimension of the tea's flavor was missing.
Now that the tea is ready, Winnie brings the water temperature down to about 155F. She doesn't use a thermometer to gauge heat levels, but you can use one until you get a feel for it the Winnie does. The first steep can last as long as 20 seconds. Since we're using cooler water we don't have to worry about "cooking" the tender buds. If the water were even cooler, you can add another 10 seconds to the steep time. Once you decant the first steep and serve it, your assessment of the taste will inform the amount of time you need for the next steep. If the tea tasted too light for you, you will want to brew the next steep longer. However, once you've introduced bitterness from over steeping, there's little you can do to save it.

Beautiful Dragonwell buds are covered in downy hairs that's almost too difficult to see on the buds themselves. But they're easier to notice when you stare at the surface of the infusion. While the body of the tea should have a crystal clarity, the surface will be pocked with the little hairs, It's easiest to notice when light reflects off the surface and you can see the minute interruptions on the top of the brew. Some people use the "flash rinse" to scald off these tiny hairs to make the infusion even clearer. Sometimes the hairs can irritate sensitive throats and while there's no way to avoid them completely, you can avoid drinking the rinse which will have the most concentration. We're not bothered by the hairs and the rinse tastes too sweet and velvety for us to pass up.

When it comes to tea, especially green teas, temperature and timing are your tools to use in a number of ways. Use very low temperature and you can steep the leaves for longer. Sometimes, I like to cold brew green tea so I can take a bottle of it on the road with me. I simply add a tablespoon of Dragonwell to a 24oz water bottle with room temperature water and leave in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I have a sweet, delicious tea without a trace of bitterness that I can take to the gym or office. I love the convenience of it but I would never do this to a premium grade LongJin because heat is necessary for developing certain flavors and textures and experiencing a well rounded cup.
The combination of a high temperature rinse followed by longer low temperature brewing really gives us the best of both worlds. There are number of fun ways to prepare green tea and I'll be sharing more of them in the days to come.


Brandon said...

"There are number of fun ways to prepare green tea and I'll be sharing more of them in the days to come."

Exciting! I promise to actually read this time.

yumcha said...

In that case...
I promise to actually write about it :)