How We Make Tea: Oolong

While the world of green teas, including matcha, is rich and varied – it is nothing compared to the world of oolongs. The processing that makes an oolong an oolong makes room for so many styles and variations, it can be dizzying.

Oolong is a traditionally Chinese style of tea (though now also heavily produced in Taiwan as well), and is produced by combinations of drying, oxidizing, and rolling or twisting the tea leaves. Some of the teas are even oxidized by allowing a small insect to bite the leaves, and enzymes secreted by the insect start the oxidation process.

Because of this varied processing, as well as differences in growing region, elevation, and weather, the characteristics of oolongs can be exceptionally varied. Good quality oolongs can also be steeped multiple times, and the characteristics can change with each steeping. Some are very floral, sweet, and light-flavored. Some are nutty, rich and warm-flavored. Some are very toasty, even almost char-flavored. Some are nearly green, and taste very vegetal. The one in the photos here is an aged oolong, and begins with very deep fruity tones like prune, gets more smoky after 3-4 steepings, and then ends by becoming more sweet and floral after 6-8 steepings.

Oolong tea is often brewed in the Gongfu style, in which the unglazed clay pot and cups are first warmed with hot water. The tea is then added to the pot, and hot water is poured on the tea from a pot held well above the tea pot. This water is immediately poured into a pitcher – this is just in order to rinse the tea. The tea pot is then filled back up with fresh hot water, and the water used to rinse the tea is poured over the outside of the tea pot. The tea is steeped for around thirty seconds to a minute. Sometimes it is poured evenly into the drinking cups after steeping, and sometimes into a pitcher. Sometimes a sniffer cup which holds the same volume as the drinking cup is used, and filled first with the tea, which is then transferred to the drinking cup, and the aroma of the tea can be smelled in the sniffer cup.

In terms of typical home preparation, a small clay pot unglazed on at least the inside, or else a gaiwan are typically used. The water is heated to just a few degrees below boiling, and a relatively large amount of tea is used for the size of the pot. Many oolongs can be steeped 3-8 times with steepings of 30-60 seconds. We still usually rinse the tea as in the Gongfu style by pouring hot water onto the dry tea and then immediately pouring it off, though we usually just discard this water. If you are drinking it by yourself, either use a large drinking cup and pour off all the tea into the cup, or pour the tea into a pitcher first, and then refill your drinking cup from that. In any case, don’t leave water sitting on the tea, or it will over-steep. After each steeping, tilt the lid of the pot or gaiwan so that the tea can breathe and doesn’t steam itself inside the pot.

Most of all, drink consciously and enjoy what you’re tasting!

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How We Make Tea: Matcha

There is quite a lot to the world of tea. It’s one of those areas where, until you really dig in and explore it, you can kind of feel like black tea is black tea, green tea is green tea, and that’s about all there is to it. However, the breadth and diversity even between, for instance, a Japanese and Chinese green tea, can be astounding, not to mention all the variations between different categories of tea, and the individual characteristics of each plucking and production batch.

One very specific type of tea is a primarily ceremonial tea used in Japan, called matcha. The production of this tea is special in and of itself. It is a green tea, but some time before the harvest of the tea leaves, the tea plants are covered. Removing them from direct sunlight stops growth and forces chlorophyll into the leaves, producing a dark green color. The best leaves are then picked, laid out flat, dried, de-veined and de-stemmed. They are then very slowly ground (so as to prevent heating the tea leaves at all) into a fine powder.

The preparation of the tea involves at least three things: a tea bowl, a bamboo scoop, and a bamboo whisk. Firstly, the tea is sifted through a sieve to break up any clumps that may have formed. A small amount of hot water is poured into the tea bowl to warm the bowl, and the whisk is lightly swished around in it to warm and soften the whisk. The tea bowl is dried out, and the dry tea is scooped into the bowl. Hot water (slightly below boiling) is poured over the tea. The whisk is then used first to gently mix the water and the tea together, and then to vigorously whisk the tea until foamy. The tea is then drunk from the bowl.

This differs from most tea, in that you are not just drinking an infusion from the tea leaves, but you are actually ingesting the entire leaf (ground into a fine powder), which you are whisking into a suspension in the hot water. Because of this, matcha has quite a strong flavor, and also a high caffeine content. It also has higher content of the nutrients of tea, such as anti-oxidants.

Matcha is delicious, is very cozy to prepare and drink, smells wonderful, and the beautiful bright green color, along with a beautiful, hand-made tea bowl is visually pleasing, and feels wonderful to hold in your hands. It really is a very immersive way to enjoy tea.

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How We Do Coffee

Coffee

As it gets toward Autumn and Winter, our coffee consumption definitely kicks up a notch, and to that end, we just got a really nice hand-crank burr grinder from Zassenhaus. So, I thought I’d do a quick post on how we make coffee. As we just got the grinder, I ended up grinding the coffee a bit too coarsely, but it is fully adjustable from extremely coarse to powder-fine, so it’s just a matter of finding the sweet spot. Anyway, we brew coffee using a Chemex pot, so all you need is hot water, and you’re good to go.

First, grind the coffee. You definitely want to buy whole beans if you can, and just grind them right before you use them, as the coffee will taste much fresher this way – similarly to buying whole spices, and just grinding them up before you cook with them.

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Get the filter into the Chemex pot, and then douse it with hot water, to remove any of the paper flavor. Then dump the water out of the pot.

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Dump the coffee grounds into the filter. Heat up water until it is just under boiling.

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Pour water carefully, just enough to wet the grounds, but not to float them in water, make sure you get them all. Let the water drain out of the filter.

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After this, pour water in so that all the grounds get wet, and then fill up the Chemex to about an inch below the top edge. Let most of the water drain through the filter, and then repeat until you have as much coffee as you want.

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Remove the filter with the grounds and dispose of it. You can keep the spent grounds to use as fertilizer or compost if you like.

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Pour into your favorite cup.

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Add cream skimmed off the top of your fresh milk :)

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Enjoy!