If gongfu-cha is a road trip where you enjoy a long journey and stop to see all of the roadside attractions, western brewing is taking a nonstop flight to your final destination. There is no right or wrong way–both ways will get you to your final destination, but you will have different experiences. Similarly, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy tea. There is an appropriate time for each method of brewing, as well as appropriate teas that are better suited to one method over another.
The western style brew involves less leaf with more water steeped for a long period of time. This is the more common way that most people brew tea. Put a few teaspoons in a teapot, add 12oz of water, wait a few minutes, and tea is ready. Almost every morning involves a big mug of western style black tea to get me going in the morning. It is quick, I can do other things while the tea is brewing, and in the end, I have a strong cup of tea that will definitely wake me up. While working, I always brew tea western style because it’s easy, doesn’t make a mess, and doesn’t require much focus. I then have a good mug of tea that I can sip on while working.
Western brewing brings out a combination of all of the flavors of the leaf and combines them into one cup. A session of gongfu-cha, by comparison, changes with each steep. This means that Western style brewings can make for a bold cup of tea! Sometimes I want to drink a black tea that is strong, especially on a cold day.
Some teas are much better suited to a Western brew as well. Indian teas, especially Darjeelings I find are much more interesting when brewed Western. I find the muscatel and honey flavors work better in the same cup. Flavored teas like Earl Grey also taste much better when brewed Western Style. Tisanes like rooibos or mint teas are not even practical to brew gongfu, and they need a long infusion to release their flavor.
The Western brew is comforting, simple, and quick. It takes everything a tea has to give and puts it in one mug. Usually you can re-infuse a Western brew one or two extra times, but nowhere near as many as Gongfu. There are teas I wouldn’t think to brew Western like Sheng Puerh or Yancha. For part 2 of this post, I’ll be talking more in depth about gongfu-cha.