Review of my new Variable temperature kettle and my fight to get a good tea set up.

Hello, I am back. Finally.

I want to thank the people that messaged me saying they missed the blog. I had no idea anyone was really paying attention. Thanks for the ego boost.

I finally have my normal tea set again. I couldn’t fit it in my suitcase when I moved so I had to get my mother to send it.

Sadly my glass teapot broke in transit so I had to order a new one. This is my third tea makers of London glass tea pot. It is hard to blame them though, the first one broke when I dropped something on it, and the second one was probably the fault of the post office.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to sell the 400ml (13.5 us fl oz) tea pots any more so I had to find one on Amazon it is a slightly older one and the spout isn’t as good as it is about half an inch shorter and trickier to pour, but it is still a serviceable tea pot that matches in with my glass jug and my glass tasting cups (which I have replaced with my Chinese porcelain carp cup for everyday use).

Another problem has been the kettle. The kettle that came with my apartment was ancient and filthy and I didn’t feel happy using it so I have been heating water on a stove. I order a klarstein goose neck kettle with temperature control. However I have been disappointed, first of all it took ages to ship (I know its coming from Germany but I have had stuff from China and Japan quicker), and when I finally got the kettle after two weeks it didn’t heat the water at all it turned on and then turned itself off after a few seconds. I have been chasing up the company for a refund but not had much luck.

Impatient I tried again and I found a thread about variable temperature kettles on the brilliant r/tea sub reddit, if you want to talk about tea r/tea is a rather friendly reddit to do so.  On an thred someone recommended the  Aicok Electric Kettle Temperature Control, Double Wall Cool Touch Stainless Steel Kettle with LED Display from 35°- 100℃ |BPA-Free| Quick Boil

I got it on Thursday, finally. What a saga to get my tea.

So is this second kettle any better than the Klarstein one? Yes, I love it.

Many variable temperature kettles have pre-set temperatures at 80. 90, 95 and 100 celsius (176, 194, 203, 212 fahrenheit) This works for most people but I tend to drink a lot of green teas from Korea which are usually drunk at 60. 70 or 75 Celsius (145. 158, 167 fahrenheit) and regular readers will know my favourite ever tea glenburn white moonshine darjeeling is an 85 degree celsius (185 fahrenheit) tea.

This kettle allows you to choose temperatures between 35- 100 celsius (95-212 fahrenheit) in increments of 5 degrees (celsius). There is also a keep warm functions, I tend to end up brewing two pots of tea using my small tea pot and this function saves me time on getting the tea to the right temperature the second time. The LED display also shows the current temperature of the water.

The kettle is also steel so no plastics to ruin the taste of the tea. I have moved from Cumbria, which has delicious tap water to London which….doesn’t. So I also invested in a filter jug to try and make the water taste better.

Sadly I was out of Glenburn Darjeeling so I tried it out with my second favourite, another 85 degree celsius (185 degree fahrenheit) tea the Rohini first flush Darjeeling.

Now I have a temperature control kettle I can stop using the tea thermometer. It still works but I’m lazy and this is easier. I will probably bring my tea thermometer to work because there is no kettle there only a tap that readily dispenses boiling water and I will want to wait for the water to cool down before adding my tea leaves in the infuser basket. I can see how a tap would save time and stop queues for the kettle, but honestly, the tea facilities at work do not match my high standards (I better be careful what I say here, I don’t think they are regular readers but I know at least two of my teammates plus my manager have seen this blog at least once and I don’t want to get fired).

Below are pictures of my new kettle in a slideshow format (I am trying to make this blog look more “professional” even though it is just me being opinionated about tea, so let me know what you think).

 

 

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Ah my set up is back. I am aware I am using a more Chinese style set up but I know very little about Indian tea culture (I am trying to learn) so lets call it cultural fusion.

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The Kettle cost me just under £43 (about $56), though I got it off Amazon and the price is variable. This isn’t cheap for a kettle but it isn’t overly expensive either. So is it worth it?

If you are going to use the features, yes. If you only drink tea made with boiled water I wouldn’t waste your money as you can get a kettle far cheaper, but if you drink a lot of green, white or oolong tea and will use the temperature control it is worth it.

There is also the option for simpler variable temperature kettles that will probably be sufficient if you only drink oolong at 90 or 95 degrees celsius (194 or 203 fahrenheit) and no other teas for example. However most of them are about the same price or more expensive than this one. If you are willing to spend £40-£50 (about $52-$65) on a variable temperature kettle you may as well buy the one with more features. After all you may fall in love with Korean green tea.

Also keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming long review on Yunomi Japanese green tea, I meant to put it up in August but life got in the way.  My mum sent my tea set but not all my tea, so the fight to get a good quality tea set up continues but hopefully I will managed to finish soon (there were 12 teas in the pack I have already reviewed 9 but I want to publish them together for easy comparison).

Anyway hopefully I will be back to writing semi-regularly. I have a job now so I can’t blog as much as I used to but I hope to managed one post a week. We’ll see how it goes.

 

 

 

Gong fu brewing (Chinese tea ceremony)

Gong fu cha literally means making tea with skill or great effort. It sometimes called Kung fu instead but given that in the western mind the words Kung fu are associated with a physical martial art Gong fu is often preferred when talking about the tea ceremony.

This post should be quite a long one as I shall go into detail about gong fu cha assuming you as a reader know nothing about it.

This post is not aimed at experts or long term practitioners of gong fu cha (I am fairly new to it myself) more at demystifying the practice for those who have interest but are intimidated by all the different equipment needed and unsure what is necessary and what is optional.

I hope the below post will give a simple practical explanation of all the equipment used in gong fu cha and how to use it.

I have researched gong fu cha for a while but I only tried it for the first time last week. We shall walk through my first attempt together (interspersed with explanations) and hopefully by the end you will feel more confident about trying it yourself (and hopefully make less of a mess than I did).

Equipment

  1. Brewing vesselBasically a vessel that you put the tea leaves and hot water (or cold if cold brewing) in to brew the tea.

    The most common types are either a tea pot or a gaiwan.

    Western readers will already be familiar with how a tea pot works. The difference between normal tea pots and gong fu cha tea pots is that the tea pots for gong fu cha are tiny (usually only able to hold a volume between 100-200ml/ 3.5- 7 fl oz of water).

    The tea pot is usually made of one of the so called “four famous styles” of Chinese pottery. Yixing, Jian Shui, Rong Chang and Qin Zhou. These pots are unglazed which means that the pots absorb the aroma and the flavour of the tea placed into them. This leads to a more flavourful liquor over time but also means each pot can be used for only one kind of tea. Someone who uses these pots and drinks a lot of tea may have a pot for pu-erh, a pot for heavy roasted oolongs, a pot for light roasted oolongs and so on. It is possible to have porcelin or celadon tea pots as well.

    The other brewing vessel is something a Western reader may be less familiar with, and it is the vessel I have used for my gong fu ceremony and in the pictures below.

    A gaiwan is made up of three parts; the main body which resembles a cup, a lid, and the saucer the main body rests upon. The tea leaves are placed in the main vessel and water is added and swilled around with spilled tea being caught in the saucer, the lid can be used as a makeshift filter to keep in the tea leaves while the brewed tea is poured into a cha hai or a cup. It is also possible to drink tea directly out of the gaiwan using the vessel as a cup but there is a risk of over brewing the tea if you cannot drink fast enough (this is called grandpa style).

    The particular gaiwan I used has a volume of only 100ml/3.5 fl oz which is typical of gaiwan’s used in gong fu cha. This one is made of porcelain. Gaiwans are usually made of porcelin or glass although it possible to get gaiwans made of clay in one of the “four famous styles” I have already mentioned above. A porcelain gaiwan has two advantages over a clay tea pot; firstly, it can be used for any type of tea you can brew a pu-erh in a gaiwan and then rinse it out and brew a green tea without the previous brewing effecting the taste of the current one, secondly, price. A good quality clay tea pot can cost anywhere from £40/$50 to over £200/$250. A gaiwan of porcelain or glass costs between £8/$10- £20/$25 depending on quality, size and where you get it from.

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    My gaiwan has a poem written in calligraphy on the back of it.

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    If anyone else is interested I asked a friend of mine who is from Hong Kong to translate the poem for me. He explained it as follows (his words in italics);

    So, this poem was written by a prolific poet, painter, and politician in the Qing period. (In china, you tend to be all three together, or none of them at all) He is especially famous for paining pictures of bamboos, and this poem seems to be his comment on his trade.

    The first lines talked about how he have drew bamboos in 40 years (probably an exaggeration, we liked to do this quite a lot, but he is probably quite experienced when he wrote this poem)
    The second lines talked about how he drew: he drew in the day, but think about what how he draws during the night
    The third talked about the style: he tried to keep it simple, by removing the un-necessary part to keep it all beautiful and clean
    And the fourth line is probably the most philosophical: the basically said that he have drawn bamboos from youth, but he is probably talking more about him transforming from drawing bamboos in a realistic, and un-necessary way to drawing them to its most simple, clean, but powerful form.
    Literal translation is;I have drawn bamboos for forty years; Where I drew everyday and think about them every night; I eliminated all the unwieldy parts and kept it clean, slim, and beautiful; This is what I do when I starts to know my trade.

     

  2. Cha hai (jug)After brewing the tea is poured into this vessel to prevent over brewing of the liquor. The cha hai is then used to serve the tea by pouring it into the tea cups.

    This particular Cha hai is made of bluestone and has a volume of 175ml/6 fl oz. Due to the shape I find it quite easy to hold.

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  3. Strainer.Usually placed on top of the cha hai in order to filter out any loose tea leaves not caught by the lid of the gaiwan.

    This particular strainer is made of Celadon pottery and comes with a stand (see picture). To use I simply remove the strainer from the stand, rest it on top of the cha hai and pour the tea from the gaiwan into the cha hai through the strainer. Metal strainers are also common.

    If you use the lid of a gaiwan to catch most of the tea leaves a strainer is not mandatory but I find it makes the drinking experience more pleasant as it prevents little pieces of tea leaves from getting into the drink.

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  4. Tea cupUsed to drink the tea out of (obviously). Gong fu cha cups are often 50ml in volume as the idea is to savour the flavour of the tea rather than drink large amounts from any one brewing.

    The cup pictured is a tea cup with a porcelain emerald glaze. It is slightly larger at 75 ml/2.6 fl oz in volume but I used this one as it is my favourite. I love the little fish.

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    Fish in a pond of tea.

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  5. Cha he (presentation vessel)Essentially this is a dish to keep tea leaves in before they are used. Not always necessary but useful. I like to use it to photograph my tea leaves in for this blog before I use the leaves to make tea.

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  6. Tea pet (not mandatory)A small figure usually made of Yixing clay that is placed on the tea tray. Popular tea pets include Buddhas, pigs, toads and lotus pods. I have also seen rabbits, fish and pandas. My tea pet is a Jin Chan, a mythological creature also called a money toad.

    In Chinese mythology a Jin Chan would appear outside houses and business that would soon be blessed with wealth (note: the old style Chinese coins on the back of the Jin Chan, Chinese money used to have a hole in the middle and be kept on ropes as on the Jin Chan’s back) as such it is seen a charm to bring prosperity and riches (spoiler alert: it hasn’t worked yet).

    The tea pet “drinks” tea drops if you pour a few over the figure. Overtime it absorbs the aroma of tea and becomes glossier in appearance. This process can take months or years.

    Doing this is called “raising” a tea pet.

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  7. Tea tray or a bowlGong fu often involves a certain amount of spillage, some by design, some because many people (myself included) are clumsy, as gong fu involves moving the tea between several vessels. Traditionally the tea ware is placed on a gong fu tray which has small holes often in the shape of a picture or Chinese characters that the tea fall down into the deep tray beneath.

    Sadly I do not own a tea tray yet but if you are interested in what they look like here are some of my favourite tea ware sites linked to the tea tray sections;

    Tea Tables

    Handmade Tea Tray (ChaBan)

    Yunnan sourcing is a China based site (though there is a US based site if you are in the US as the majority of my readers seem to be according to the blogs stats page). The teaware on this site is comparatively cheap although some of the silver and clay teawares are still quite expensive.

    Path of Cha has my dream tea tray it has such a beautiful design while still being practical, sadly I can’t afford it but I may be asking for it for Christmas.

    If you do not own a proper gong fu tray you can still gong fu. A large bowl that the tea can be discarded into works almost as well. The tray I placed my gong fu equipment on is a tea tray that came with a glass tea set I own (which you may have seen on this blog) the tea set is designed for Western style brewing so I had cereal bowl at the side which I used to discard water when necessary. I still spilled water on the tray but it was deep enough not to matter too much.

    My set up

    So here is my final set up. It is not perfect as I have no tea tray but I have all the essentials, the gaiwan for a brewing vessel, the cha hai to serve the tea, the strainer to catch the leaves and the cup to drink from.

    Not pictured, the cha he presentation vessel and the bowl I used to discard water into.

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As gong fu cha is a Chinese discipline I chose a Chinese tea for my first attempt. Bi Lo Chun Snowflower is a white Chinese tea from Yunnan sourcing (see picture below). With gong fu it is common to use more tea than in Western brewing. While it may be usual when western brewing a white tea to use around 2g/0.07 oz of tea for a single cup of tea (generally using around 200-250ml/7-8.7 fl oz of water) Gongfu Cha you should use 5-6g /0.18-0.2 oz  even though the gaiwan often holds only 100ml/ 3.5 fl oz of water.

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Instructions for gong fu cha

This is one of the things it is easier to see than to do. I tried taking stationary pictures for a step by step guide (and made a mess and scorched my fingers) so video is a better medium.

The tea shop Path of Cha has an excellent video on this and they were generous enough to grant me permission to post it here.

This is my favourite video on the subject as it shows how to brew gong fu style in a simple way. You may want to watch the video slightly slowed down it is very fast paced.

Path of Cha also has one of my favourite tea blogs (if there is interest I may do a future post about my favourite 5 or 10 tea blogs) and goes into a lot of detail about different tea cultures especially Japanese and Chinese tea cultures.

https://pathofcha.com/blogs/all-about-tea

The different infusions of tea

This is my personal experience of the aroma and taste of the tea used in my gong fu attempt using one particular type of tea. Your experience will be different depending on what tea you choose.

The whole point of multiple infusions is to get as much flavour as you can out of a small amount of tea leaves by brewing multiple infusions with short intervals you really get the full profile of the tea in a way you do not with Western style brewing.

I noted down my impressions of each infusion.

10s- light and sweet

15s-light and sweet, slightly more floral than the first infusion

20s-slightly woody in profile

25s-very light, slight peach aroma

30s-lighter woody profile with a sweet fruity aftertaste

35s-sweet aftertaste after a rather bland initial flavour

40s-juicy and fruity with a peach after taste

45s-sweet, fruity, smooth

50s- sweet, fruity, smooth

To make a fair comparison I also brewed some of the Bi lo chun snowflower tea Western style at 80 degrees celsius/ 176 degrees fahrenheit for 4 minutes.

Western style the tea was smooth, initially it tasted a little woody but there was a peach aftertaste. I enjoyed the Western style liquor but I can see how I missed out on a lot of flavour profile when I compare my tasting notes for the western style tea to the tasting notes for my gong fu style tea.

What I learned/Tips

If using a porcelain or glass gaiwan do not overfill it. Make sure to only fill up to the flared part of the vessel that way you can hold the top of the vessel without burning your fingers on the hot porcelain or glass.

Don’t rush to pour the tea from the gaiwan into the cha hai or you will burn your fingers (ask me how I know).

If you are doing the gong fu cha alone (as I did) No one can drink that much tea (and I tried). Instead try filling the gaiwan half the way up so you get one cup per brewing instead of two (remember to adjust the amount of tea leaves used if you use half the water use half the tea leaves when you fill the gaiwan or the tea will over brew).

 

 

For my US readers.

It has come to my attention that my readership is overwhelmingly American. In fact my American readers equal more than my readers from every other country combined.

I was surprised at this but I welcome American tea nerds (or tea nerds of any other nationality for that matter).

As my goal is to make getting into tea easy I include clear instructions including temperatures. However Britain and America use different systems for not only temperature but many types of measurement.

I could keep doing things the way I have been so if you want to make a tea I have written should be brewed at 80 degrees Celsius you would have to look up what that is in Fahrenheit yourself, but I will do the work for you. Aren’t I nice? (80 degrees Celsius is 176 degrees Fahrenheit by the way).

Therefore from now on I shall be doing the following;

  • Giving recommended brewing temperature in Fahrenheit as well as Celsius
  • When writing about the volume of liquid required I shall use oz as well as ml.
  • Where I am aware of a difference I shall use imperial measurements as well as metric.
  • When mentioning price I shall give the price in dollars as well as pounds sterling (Note: Prices are correct rounded to the nearest dollar as of time of writing, you may not be able to find items mentioned at the prices mentioned in the US the equivalent price is merely to aid your understanding).

I shall be using online converters to do all of this so I cannot be 100 per cent sure the imperial system measurements/price in dollars/temperature in Fahrenheit are correct online converters are usually pretty good but not infallible so if you notice something that doesn’t sound right do please let me know.

When I have time I will probably go back and add imperial measurements and Fahrenheit to the posts in my archives but this will not happen immediately. Though the above rules to apply to every post going forward.

 

 

Why loose leaf?

Loose leaf is considerably more expensive than most bagged teas. It is also less convenient, you have to measure out the required amount with a spoon and place it in a strainer of some kind, then you have to wait several minutes to wait for the tea to brew and remove the strainer from the tea and clean it out. Whereas if you use a tea bag you can just put it in your cup and the tea will be brewed in seconds.

So why do some many people prefer loose leaf?

I imagine due to the nature of this blog it will attract an audience of tea lovers who are already loose leaf converts but for the benefit of those newer to tea I shall explain why I prefer loose leaf.

So here is my list of reasons why loose leaf teas are worth the extra cost.

Better quality

Bagged tea is often low grade tea dust and fannings from broken tea leaves. Broken leaves loose most of their aroma and most of their essential oils. They also release more tannin than whole leaf tea, this results in the tea being more bitter (and is also the reason very few people in the UK drink black tea as the black tea in tea bags has a bitter taste).  Loose leaf leaves have a larger surface area which not only improve the aroma and taste of the drink but also means they have more antioxidants.

The size and shape of tea bags also gives the leaves little room to expand meaning the full flavour of the tea cannot be released (this is also a problem with loose leaf tea if you use an infuser ball, loose leaf tea should be made using a “basket” infuser to allow the leaves to fully expand).

More variety

Today in the West there is a wider variety in teas than ever before. However this still pales  in comparison to the variety of loose leaf teas available. The tea bag industry is run on a large industrial scale so teas that sell easily are the priority whereas if you drink loose leaf you will have tea produced in smaller batches and in some cases teas that are only produced on one small farm in China or India for small scale operations they can never match the scale or compete on price with large companies  so they must compete on quality and the quality of loose leaf is far superior.

For an experiment I went on the website of a large supermarket and looked for the teas available I have not counted fruit or herbal teas, I have only counted tea made from Camellia sinensis (the tea plant) with or without flavouring added, these are the options available; Non-specific “black tea” which is normally found in the tea bag industry of the UK,  Earl Grey, Green tea (with no more specific information),  Green tea with lemon, non specific white tea, Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Masala chai, Lady Grey, matcha in teabags, Jasmine tea, Green tea and mint,  salted caramel flavoured green tea, mao feng green tea, ginseng matcha, cherry Bakewell flavoured green tea, chocolate tea bags, variations of the above in decaffeinated form.

This looks like a lot. But compared to the selection of loose leaf available on specialist sites it is a tiny amount. There is no oolong, pu-erh or yellow tea on this list at all. Themselves all huge category’s with massive variations (especially the first two). There is only one white tea and while there is more of a variety in green tea with the exception of the mao feng green tea and matcha most of those offered are mass produced with the idea of adding flavourings to the tea rather than bringing out the natural aromas of the green tea leaves and being vague about “green tea” leaves no room for choosing a Chinese, Japanese or Indian green tea (or Thai, Indonesian or Vietnamese for that matter there are many other countries that have green tea) based on their different characteristics.

Infusions 

Loose leaf tea can be used many times over and each infusion tastes slightly different to the one before it. By infusing the same leaves multiple times you get a full profile of different flavours from a few teaspoons of leaves. In some cases the taste of subsequent infusions of tea is very different from the first infusion. This can also help to offset the fact the cost of loose leaf is higher than bagged teas as each tea bag can only be used.

Conclusion

If you are used to tea bags getting loose leaf brewing right can seen complicated but all you need is a teaspoon to measure out the amount of tea, a mug or cup and a brewing basket to hold the tea leaves. It is really worth trying loose leaf for yourself.

 

How to drink tea correctly.

Make the tea how you like it. And then drink it.

That’s it.

Many teas come with instructions that tell you what temperature to heat the water to and how long to steep the tea. These can be very useful, when I am trying a new tea for the first time I always follow the instructions because it gives me a good starting point to go from, and in general tea vendors want you to like their tea so you will buy more of it in future so following the instructions, especially if it is a tea you have never tried before is a good way to get the best out of the leaves. Then if I like the tea I will keep following the instructions whereas if the tea doesn’t quite meet my personal flavour preferences I will mess around with the temperature and brewing time and experiment until it does (for example I tend to brew white teas for several minutes longer than I am “supposed to” because I enjoy the stronger taste).

You will also find people saying you should never use teabags or you should never put anything in your tea except water. I have my own opinions on this and will be publishing another post later about why I prefer loose leaf but at the end of the day as the person drinking the tea it is completely up to you.

Tea is the most commonly drunk beverage in the world (after water) and many cultures have completely different ideas what “tea” is. If you ask for “tea” with no further specification in Great Britain (where I come from) you will get black tea in a tea bag (most commonly Assam or Ceylon) and the offer of milk or sugar. Whereas when I lived in Japan the request for “tea” would instead result in being given a cup of a green tea (most commonly Sencha) with no offer of milk or sugar (because green tea doesn’t tend to taste good with milk or sugar). These two countries have completely different ideas of what “tea” is. Yet even within cultures there is a huge variety of preferences, I have known British people who drink tea with no milk, with sugar, with no sugar, with cream, with lemon. Or Japanese people who steep the leaves (or tea bag no everyone in Japan does the tea ceremony all the time or even uses loose leaf tea) for far longer than I personally would to make a stronger liquor, and I have only gone into the most common two types of tea in two countries I have spent most time in.

When you factor in the other 193 countries in the world and all the other thousands of teas (excluding blends which would make the number a lot higher) the different ways of having tea become almost infinite.

The simple fact is if you like the taste of the tea you are drinking you are making it correctly.

 

浮世のお茶

“It (Teaism) inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.”  Okakura Kakuzō (author of the Book of tea).

Cha or 茶 is the word for tea in both Chinese and Japanese and also in certain parts of India.

浮世 or the floating world is a Japanese concept popular in the Edo period (1600-1857) to describe the impermanence of life and the idea of seeking pleasure.

No two cups of tea are exactly identical and no harvest of tea is exactly the same as that of previous years. But as with the Japanese floating world aesthetic this variety and the fact it does not last forever makes tea, in my opinion even more fascinating.

Thus came the name for my blog floating world of tea.

Although blog is mainly for personal pleasure for me to review and record the tea and tea related items that I use I also hope it will be helpful for fellow tea addicts and those looking to learn more about the world of tea.

If it is not already obvious from the above explanation I know far more about Japan (and Korea) than I do about other tea drinking countries. Although my focus is mainly on tea from China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea other teas will be featured. I am a Darjeeling addict so expect Darjeeling to feature prominently as well as any other teas that catch my interest.