Tippy’s Tea of the Month: Longjing

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Dearies I know we’ve talked about Green Teas quite a bit, but there is one in particular that is a Chinese staple with an interesting story, Longjing. This tea’s name translates to ‘dragon well’, and is grown only in China’s Zhejiang province. Why is this well-loved tea called Dragon Well? It all goes back to the legend! There are actually a few different versions of the legend, but in my favorite version, a Taoist monk discovered a dragon hiding in an old well. The season had been in drought, and once the villagers learned of the Monk’s discovery they prayed to this dragon to bring the rain and fill the well to capacity. After the prayers, it started to rain! This water flowed from the well and nourished the surrounding tea is grown.

 The tea itself has a flat needle-like shape with a lovely jade green color. This tea is pan-fired which gives it a nutty taste (it often reminds me of chestnuts) with a fresh vegetal aroma. It also has a cooked veggie flavor which we often associate with green beans. The tea is nutty, vegetal and sweet.

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 The quality of longjing depends on when it was harvested. The earlier in the spring, the more expensive the tea will be. For the highest quality, one leaf and one bud is picked. These young leaves and buds create a very gentle, fresh and tender flavor for the tea.

The highest grade leaves are pan fried in small batches in a wok. They  needed to be heated as soon as possible to prevent oxidation. The pan-firing technique creates the lovely nutty flavor you taste in the tea. The leaves are pressed to the sides of the wok to make sure they are properly dried. This also creates the flat needle-like shape of the finished leaves. If your tea leaves have an even color to them, you know they were dried very well, to make sure the heat was even for the whole batch. Lower grades of longjing are also pan heated but usually in large revolving drums. The teas that are machine roasted are still quite delicious and more affordable.

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As with many coveted teas, longjing can be ‘faked’. You may not be getting spring harvested tea, or tea grown in Zhejiang. The best way to tell is use your eyes and mouth. Does it look like a vibrant green tea? Does it smell and taste like early spring? Veggies and chestnut? It is smooth and gentle or is it bitter? If you taste enough good quality longjing you will know what to look for. As always dearies, it’s about tasting, tasting, tasting!

To brew your longjing you can use a gaiwan, or a small teapot. My favorite way is to just add the leaves right in the water using either a bowl style cup or tall glass. Just keep filling up your vessel with hot water as you finish it, re-steeping those beautiful leaves. This is the way it’s commonly consumed in China.  Dearies no matter how you steep it, it’s a beautiful tea. If you try it you’ll understand why it’s so revered in China. Happy Steeping!

Tippy Interviews Li Juan the Gaiwan

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Hello Dearies! A little while back I did my very first interview. It went so well, that I decided it was time for another! Today you’re going to learn about Li Juan, a very beautiful Chinese Gaiwan. Li Juan now lives with Kat’s friend Sansan, who brought her back from a trip to China a few years ago. The gaiwan is used to steep tea in the gong fu style. You can learn a little more about this method and see another picture of Li Juan right here. But I’ll let you learn more about this beautiful vessel in our interview below!

How are you used? I hold a large amount of tea leaves with a small amount of water. You can use the highest quality leaves you can find, because I extract as much flavor as possible from those beautiful leaves. I steep the leaves very quickly, only a few seconds for the first couple of steepings. I can be tricky to use, as you have to balance my lid and often my saucer in one hand while pouring out the tea.

What’s your favorite thing about steeping tea in the gong fu style? I love how I get to give the tea taster a full flavored brew. I give you a true taste for the tea. I also love that with each steep you can watch the leaves start to unfurl while they change in flavor. Using a gaiwan helps you get more interactive with your tea. It is also quite meditative.

Are you usually used with any other teaware? You could pour the tea I steep right into little tasting cups, but it’s best to first pour the tea liquor into a fairness pitcher, or cha hai. This is a small pitcher used to make sure everyone’s tea is steeped exactly the same. It’s easier to distribute and pour into the cups using a pitcher, and it even lowers the temperature of the tea a little bit, which makes it a bit more comfortable to drink.

What teas do you work best with? I urge you to try and steep all different types of tea in your gaiwan and see what the results are like. Play around with the amount of leaves and see what you like best. But I am mostly used for oolong, puerh, and Chinese white and yellow teas. But as I said, have fun experimenting!

What is your favorite tea to steep? I love many types of teas but my most favorite to steep are raw puerh teas. I just love that you can steep these aged teas for many, many infusions. Sometimes you can enjoy them all day long! The flavors greatly change over a period of steepings. Some of my favorite raw puerh teas have surprising flavors such as sweet fruit and woodsy notes.

Is there anything important you’d like to tell my readers about using a gaiwan? well I’d ask that you please make sure to practice on a sturdier gaiwan before trying a more delicate vessel like mine. It takes bit of practice to pour the water into the fairness pitcher. Don’t forget that if you’re using black teas or roasted oolongs, the temperature of the water can be quite hot, and it takes practice not to burn your fingers! Don’t be ashamed in quite a bit of practice before trying a fancier gaiwan!

Oh thank you so much Li Juan for taking the time for this interview! Dearies, I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about being a gaiwan as much as I did.

Drinking Tea In Bowls

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Dearies, it seems everywhere I look these days, people are posting pictures of food in bowls. Noodle bowls, rice bowls, breakfast bowls with all sorts of healthy ingredients. Dearies, I’m proud to be a cup that is of the larger variety- you can wrap your hands around me as you sip, just like a bowl! Kat loves using both hands while she drinks, she says she is comforted by cradling the warmth of the tea in both hands.

Did you know that drinking tea from bowls dates all the way back to Lu Yu’s The Classic of Tea, written during the Tang dynasty? Lu Yu actually lists a few different styles of tea bowl and prefers the beautiful celadon glazed bowls best. Tea cups did not get handles until the 1700s!

For all you matcha lovers out there, do you have a chawan? A chawan is a Japanese tea bowl. It’s used in the Japanese tea ceremony, and is essential in making a traditional matcha. Chawan are wide, with enough room to whisk up your matcha. Matcha bowls can range in design and be quite minimal, or have beautiful artisanal pottery glazes. Kat and I often get lost in online searches for handmade tea bowls. I often have to stop her from purchasing every one she sees! If you study the art of the Japanese tea ceremony, you’ll learn all the proper ways to handle the tea bowl, and how to present it to the drinker. It’s quite beautiful. You can learn a little bit more about the tea ceremony in my previous post here.

Kat thought it would be funny to have an ‘all bowl’ brunch for her friends. Perhaps a yogurt and granola bowl, fruit bowl, and of course a bowl of tea! A bowl of fruity tea-infused sorbet would be a lovely ending to the meal. Have you tried making any of the ice creams or sorbets in my post about DIY tea ice cream?

Dearies, isn’t it comforting to have a large, satisfying bowl of tea? Please don’t tell anyone I said that, the other teacups in the kitchen might start to ignore me! Don’t get me wrong, I do love my handle. But sometimes it’s nice to just have that warm bowl nestled in your hands.

Know Your Teaware: Gaiwan

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Dearies we’ve talked a little bit about different teaware, and today I’m featuring a vessel that helps you brew your tea carefully, with attention and reverence for the tea leaves. One of the ways to get the full flavor out of full leaf tea is to use a gaiwan. If you are a tea enthusiast you’ve probably seen one of these vessels, and perhaps you own one yourself!

 A gaiwan is a bowl-shaped vessel with a lid and saucer. You put a large amount of leaves inside, and use short steeps of tea. You use the lid to carefully hold back the leaves as you pour out the tea into a pitcher, and then pour into cups. It’s a simple way to prepare tea, and extract the full flavor of the leaves. Kat likes using a gaiwan because it helps her get to really know the tea. You brew small batches with quick steeps, and re-steep many times over. By brewing this way you can see how the flavor of the tea changes with each steep, and watch the leaves open up and release all of their unique flavors.

 You can use just about any loose leaf tea with nice big leaves. Kat uses her gaiwan for everything from Chinese green and black teas, to puerh, and oolongs. It takes a little bit of practice to get used to brewing and pouring with a gaiwan. So be sure to use one that is inexpensive and sturdy for your first experience. Kat picked up an inexpensive thick ceramic gaiwan in her local Asian market for just a few dollars. It worked nicely as a practice vessel. She’s now graduated to one that’s slightly more delicate but she hasn’t purchased an expensive one as she still feels a bit clumsy with it. She also has a glass gaiwan that gets used all the time. It’s sturdy and you can watch the tea leaves change with each steep.

 The best way to learn how to use a gaiwan is practice. A visual aid is handy, and this video is a great introduction. Since the vessel is usually ceramic or glass, you don’t need to worry about using it for one particular tea, like a yixing teapot. You can simply clean it out and use with a different tea. Kat has started using a gaiwan to prepare small cups of tea for friends because it makes a delicious cup of tea but also is fun to watch! You get a little table side theatrics with your tea tasting.

 Kat likes to set up her tea table with flowers and a favorite tea pet (dearies, learn more about tea pets here!)This makes the gaiwan brewing process a bit more personal. Do you have a favorite gaiwan? What teas do you enjoy preparing with it?

Know Your Teaware: The Brown Betty Teapot

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Teaware comes in all shapes and sizes, so I thought it would be fun to do a little series on it. We’ll learn about the various types of tea are, what teas they are best for, and of course drool over pictures! Dearies, I take no responsibility for enabling your teaware buying habits!

Today we are going to take a look at the Brown Betty teapot. This pot may look ordinary, but it actually has a long history. The brown betty was born in England during the end of the 17th century. It’s made out of red clay and is still sometimes referred to as redware. This clay holds heat extremely well, making it a perfect teapot for serving a bunch of people. It has a round shape that allows the tea leaves to fully expand. A ‘rockingham’ glaze was added in later versions of the teapot and is brushed on the sides and allowed to drip down. This glaze further enhances the brown hue. If you look at some vintage Brown Betty pots, you may see the subtle drippy glaze.

Of course it’s brown, so that’s part of the name. But where does ‘Betty’ come from? Well, it’s not known for sure, but in the 17th century many households had female servants. Elizabeth was a very common name, and so when she served the tea, the name somehow became associated with the teapot. As I mentioned, this is more folklore than fact. But I do like that the origin of the name is steeped in mystery! I tried asking all of the vintage teaware in Kat’s kitchen, and not one of them knew if the story was true or not.

The size, shape, and heat retention of this teapot makes it perfect for a conventional black tea blend. Be sure to either use a strainer inside, or better yet put a strainer on your cup to filter out the leaves as you
pour. If you’re not going to pour out the whole pot after brewing you should pour the remaining brew into another pot, so the leaves don’t keep steeping and make the brew bitter.

A few companies manufacture Brown Betty type teapots, but Cauldon Ceramics holds the rights to the name. They make the authentic pots. If you want the authentic thing, make sure Cauldon is on the label and there is a sticker of the British flag on the pot. If you purchase one of these, you know you’re getting the clay that will retain the heat.

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There are a few variations in design of the Brown Betty, but they, all have the round shape and distinctive brown color. Kat picked up her adorable brown betty in a little thrift shop in town. She definitely has a weakness for British tea ware and could not resist it. She’s quite a sweet pot- she loves telling stories of her past life in Stoke-on-Trent where she was created, and lived with a nice family on a quiet bit of land. She served tea a few times a day back then, but nowadays she gets to relax a bit more and usually gets called for duty on the weekends.

A brown betty is a lovely pot to have in your cupboard for everyday use of black teas. Do you have one? I’d love to hear about it, and how often you use it.