Tea Together Tuesday: How Do You Brew?

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your favorite method of brewing tea. Well, I can never waste an opportunity to wax rhapsodic about grandpa- or farmer-style brewing — also known as probably the most common way to brew tea in China. I’ve definitely talked about grandpa-style brewing in the past, both here and on my YouTube channel, but it is worth repeating.

Why is grandpa style my favorite way to brew tea? Quite simply because it’s, well, quite simple. It is the least effort to put into a cup of tea and often gives you the broadest look at the flavor profile of a tea. I’ve found notes in teas that surprised me when I brew them grandpa style.

But wait, what is grandpa-style brewing? Well, you take the tea leaves and put them in a large-ish vessel. And then you add water. And then… you drink. Yes, you will probably drink some leaves. It’s okay, they won’t hurt you. And you don’t worry about timing or even really water temperature or leaf ratio. It’s generally better to use fewer leaves because then they’re more likely to get saturated and sink as you go. But, really, if your tea becomes too unpleasantly strong, you just add more water. There are some people who think this can only be done with certain teas, but I have done it successfully with all kinds of teas.

Some of my favorite teas for grandpa-style brewing are unroasted oolongs, like this Baozhong oolong from The Steeped Leaf. I find that brewing them this way allows the full expression of creamy and fruity notes to come out, plus the leaves are bigger and less likely to get slurped up once they’ve fully unfurled. In fact, this is the method of loose-leaf tea drinking that I tend to recommend to people who are trying high-quality loose leaf teas because you probably have everything but the tea at home already.

Personally, I usually use a big mug to drink grandpa-style, but I like the aesthetics of using this vintage pressed-glass glass so you can see the leaves. And most of us have a drinking glass at home. I’ve done this with regular Ikea drinking glasses, or a novelty pint glass from a local radio station. I also use my insulated flask to bring a grandpa-style brew with me on my commute. All you need is a vessel big enough to let the leaves unfurl and still take up less than half of the volume (so you still have some liquid to drink after the leaves have absorbed it).

In professional tea tasting, grandpa-style is very similar to bowl brewing, where the leaves and water are placed in a tea bowl and sipped, often with a tasting spoon. Shiuwen of Floating Leaves Tea has said that she likes bowl-style tasting because she can get a sense of how the tea changes as it sits. I like it because I can easily make a cup of tea and just need to reheat the kettle if I need more tea and my glass has gone cold. This was actually the only way I drank tea the first few weeks after I had Elliot because we didn’t have a lot of extra time or energy for more complicated brewing.

As I mentioned before, it is also one of the more common ways to drink tea in China, either in a glass like I’ve shown, or in an insulated flask like I mentioned before. In fact, my Chinese and Korean colleagues used to tease me for actually worrying about straining out the leaves from my tea. They would chuck some tea in a mug, fill it with hot water, and put a lid on it to keep warm. Bob’s your uncle.

So while I might have an ever-increasing collection of fancy tea ware, my favorite brewing method will likely remain the humble grandpa-style cup.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

An Ode to the Simplicity of Grandpa-Style Tea

I had a British colleague at my old job who was known as “dirty mug guy” because he rarely washed his tea mug and the stains had built up to name-worthy proportions. I fear that I may be becoming “dirty mug gal” at my current job, though I doubt anyone else has noticed. It’s gotten to the point that I think I need to give my infuser a bit of a scrubdown with baking soda to remove the old stains. But being as lazy as I often am, and as forgetful, I keep forgetting to bring baking soda to work and get to that.

So I’ve been drinking my tea grandpa-style. Grandpa-style tea is a fairly traditional way of drinking tea in China, where the leaves are dumped into a mug, topped off with hot water, and sipped throughout the day, refilling with water as desired. You can filter the leaves through your teeth, or wait for them to settle out. I generally do some combination of the two.

This is not a method for strong black teas, at least for me, because the tea gets too strong. It is also not a method for very nuanced teas, as the delicacy can be lost in the rather open-ended steeping time. But I love it for a nice green or light oolong that is tasty without being fancy. It is also a rather frugal method, as the way to prevent your first tea from being undrinkably oversteeps is to use a smaller portion of tea leaves.

I generally toss a teaspoon or so of leaves into my mug, top with just enough water to cover the leaves and let the leaves sit in the water for a minute to soak up some water. Then, I fill the mug the rest of the way. This gives the leaves a bit of a head start at saturating and falling to the bottom of the mug. Then, I can sip for a bit, leaving maybe an inch in the bottom to act as a kind of concentrate to start the next cup.

It is a very relaxed and unfussy way of drinking tea, and one that appeals to me on a busy day when I can’t be bothered to deal with multiple pieces of an infuser mug. And perhaps one of these days, I’ll get around to scrubbing up.