I first met Shunan Teng at the Time Warner Center in NYC when a public relations firm for the Chinese city of Suzhou ( a major city located in southeastern Jiangsu Province of East China, about 62 miles northwest of Shanghai) set up a pop up tea house shop and invited writers as well as consumers to watch Bi Luo Chun tea being brewed by Shunan and sample some of those teas. Sharp and toasty with a fuzzy mouth feel. Bi Luo Chun (Green Snail Spring) is a green tea that uses only the most tender leaves. We watched as the Shang Tou brewing method was demonstrated by Shunan and her team. It is an open vessel brewing method where the tea is dropped into the water instead of pouring the water over tea. We consumed the tea directly from the cup it is brewed in while a little water was preserved with the tea before refilling for the next brew.
Shunan Teng's tea house Tea Drunk opened in the east village- 123 East 7th Street in 2013 when she left the world of finance. Since I know almost nothing about tea I let Shunan and her site assist me in writing this article. The shop has a huge selection of a la carte teas and conducts casual as well as guided tea tastings (the later by reservation only). They have exclusive rights to some of the rarest teas in the world.
In Chinese culture, the term “drunk” doesn’t have a negative connotation. Instead it is a romantic expression used to describe one’s indulgence in true passion. For example a poet would describe himself being drunk by starlight, the gaze of a lover, or the intense beauty of the sun setting over a mountain range. Tea Drunk is a celebration of the epic romance between man and nature. Tea Drunk offers tea in a completely different pedigree than other vendors. They are bringing the world's most prized teas to the west. Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water and there are almost as many ways of preparing the beverage as there are cultures on the globe. Where did this beverage originate, and how did it become so popular? Shunan Teng details tea’s long history.
Although many different flowers and herbs can be dried, steeped in hot water and called “tea,” actual tea leaves come from the plant camellia sinensis. In the same way that you can buy a product called plum “wine”, it is widely understood that true wine is made from grapes. Similarly, what we call chamomile “tea” is actually an herbal tisane, not actual tea. Popular scented varieties of tea, such as jasmine green tea or Earl Grey, are to authentic tea what sangria is to wine. Just as you would not use a fine wine to make sangria, you would not take fine tea and blend it with other flavors.
Countless varietals of grapes that give us a variety of wines; similarly, there are many varietals of the tea plant. However, tea is generally categorized based on how it is processed. There are six main categories of tea: Green, Yellow, White, Wu Long (sometime also spelled Oolong), Red (known in the West as Black) and actual Black. Every bud and leaf is handpicked and handcrafted meticulously with time-perfected artisan-ship. Each batch cannot be recreated just as nature cannot be duplicated. Tea is a Product of Location. Since no two places are the same, authentic tea must be grown in the region historically known for producing the variety of tea. Indigenous or heirloom varietals are required to produce the authentic tea. The age of the tea tree itself determines the characteristics of the tea.
Authentic tea is complex. A tea sourced from a historic region does not mean the specific batch is processed traditionally or picked within the desired window or from the desired varietal. Similarly, a tea processed using traditional methods but lacking the correct varietal and terroir does not qualify as authentic tea.
In China, green tea is usually drunk directly out of the glass cup that it is brewed in. Some find the floating tea leaves that inevitably find their way into the mouth bothersome, and resort to using teapots. The key to brewing green tea is to avoid covering the vessel. To further ensure that heat does not get trapped during brewing, a thin-walled vessel is preferred. Since green teas are the freshest teas, watching the leaves unfold into its natural shape is a part of the green tea drinking experience. Therefore, glass fairness pitchers and thinly walled white porcelain pitchers are the preferred vessels for green tea brewing.
Two open vessels are used: one vessel is for brewing, while the other is to receive the brewed liquid after it passes through a filter. The best way to appreciate the aroma of green tea is to lightly shake the dry leaves in the empty brewing vessel after the glass has been heated by hot water. To cool down the temperature of the water, it can be transferred back and forth between the two vessels. One of the trickiest parts of brewing green tea is to find the ideal water temperature – given that the tea is never covered. The temperature used for brewing green tea is closely related to its picking grade and making style – the earlier the picking is and the more the tea has been rubbed, the lower the water temperature. One common practice is to brew bad tea at a lower temperature to dilute its flaws. While a late-picked tea should be brewed at a higher temperature to bring out its true flavor profile, using lowered temperature can result in flatter but less astringent tea.
Water should be poured into the tea around the edges of the vessel with the goal being to completely moisten the tea leaves with minimal disturbance. Green tea usually takes 2-3 minutes to brew. Always leave some water, keeping the leaves submerged before refilling for the next brew, to prevent the tea from further oxidizing. Green tea usually produces three to four brews, with the second brew being the strongest.
A Gai Wan is a Chinese lidded bowl used for the infusion of tea leaves and the consumption of tea. It was invented during the Ming dynasty and consists of a bowl (people/human) a lid (heaven)and a saucer (earth). 1- Fill Water: Make sure to not pour water directly towards the center of the tea – go around the edge if possible or at one point is fine too. The water should go in as high as possible without splashing. Fill up to the point where the water will meet the lid to minimize air gap. 2- Cover: Make sure to take the time to properly cover the gai wan lid before make an opening for pouring. 3- Open: Adopt a brushing motion, like pushing the water away, to open a space between the lid and the bowl for pouring. Be mindful of the size of the tea leaves – bitsy tea needs smaller opening. If you leave too big an opening, steam might come out from behind and hurt your palm; the lid could also flip. Usually, 2mm to half an inch is a good size for the opening. 4- Center: Make sure the opening is at the center in relation to the line between thumb and middle finger that are holding the gai wan. This should be the point where the liquid comes out. Do not pour sideways. If you intend to pour towards your body, then just reposition the fingers holding the gai wan to make sure that the liquid still come out at the center (widest point) of the opening. 5- Pour: Try to flex the wrist when pouring while avoid sending the whole arm and shoulder with the pouring. The hand should be perpendicular to the forearm. Make sure the tea liquid does not come out too harsh nor high at the fairness pitcher. Ideally, the water will not make a sound. Make sure all the liquid is drained completely.
I suggest you visit Tea Drunk for your own learning experience- www.tea-drunk.com