Imagine standing on a high cliff edge, looking at beautiful, lush green valleys. Slowly inch forward until your toes are dangling over the edge. Now wiggle them! Embrace the exhilarating feeling of living a little over the edge.
A few weekends ago, I attended Kulov’s Tea Bus Tour – two days spent traveling around San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. On Saturday, I sampled about 15 teas, mostly oolongs. On Sunday, I sampled around 10 teas and attended a lecture by James Norwood Pratt. The tour provided a rich perspective in the philosophy and practice of Chinese tea-brewing styles. My favorite lecture was at the Tranquil Resonance Studio in Chinatown.
At the Tranquil Resonance Studio, the tea master taught us about gong fu- and Chajing-style tea brewing. The gong fu tea ceremony focuses on the skill to brew the perfect cup of tea every time. Our tea master at Tranquil presented the toes-dangling-off-a-cliff image, illustrating the philosophy behind the Chajing tea-brewing style. The Chajing style extends the brewing time, pushing as many flavors as possible from the leaf.
First, our tea master presented a formal gong fu tea-brewing service. Next, we experienced Chajing, the informal service, during which people chat, sip tea, and enjoy a happy tune. To put us in the mood, a musician played a Chinese string instrument as the tea master and his student brewed us Phoenix oolong tea.
Phoenix oolong teas are harvested in the famous 200-year-old tree forest in northern Guangdong province. The teas are grown around and in the vicinity of the famous Fenghuang (Phoenix Mountain). The tea variety is called Fenhuang Dan Cong. Large leaves grow on tall single-trunk trees. Pickers climb on ladders to reach the leaves. Usually manufactured into oolongs, these teas have a unique flavor profile and can handle multiple infusions. It is hard to find this tea in the Western world. It was an honor to have the Tranquil Resonance tea master brew this special tea for us.
Because most in the group were tea beginners, the tea master decided to test the limits lightly. The first infusion lasted about two minutes. Usually, you brew this tea for 30-45 seconds in a small yixing tea pot. It was full bodied and floral. The second infusion lasted a little over two minutes. This time I tasted more of the fruity notes. The third infusion lasted about three minutes. More of the fruity notes came through. It smelled heavenly.
I was one of the few that stuck around for the fourth infusion. This time the tea master brewed the leaves for about five minutes. Surprisingly, the tea still tasted sweet, full bodied with strong floral notes.
I have stood at the cliff edge with my toes dangling off the side. It is a delicious feeling. In my next post, I will talk more about the procedure and philosophy of the gong fu tea-brewing style.