As Summer approaches and the temperatures warm, many will say it is too hot for tea. For me, it is one of my favorite times of the year to drink tea. One of my favorite ways of drinking tea is outdoors while enjoying nature. While it is possible to fill a thermos with tea and take it outside, I like to brew my tea outdoors gongfu style. One of nature’s greatest gifts is the tea leaf, so it is fitting to enjoy the tea in nature as well.
To brew gongfu outdoors is not as difficult as it sounds. On the contrary, it is best to simplify the process as much as possible. Leave the tea pets at home; your tea pets will be the birds and other animals around you. Bring a cup that is larger than your brewing vessel. This way you can leave the cha hai at home as well. I also like to bring a ‘cheaper’ gaiwan that I will not be heartbroken over if it gets broken in transit. Leave the fancy yixing wares at home as well! I also like to bring a dish towel or, ideally, a microfiber dish mat with me to lay everything down on.
Bringing hot water is the trickiest part. I bought a vacuum seal travel thermos that keeps water scalding hot for hours. Zojirushi makes a 20-ounce thermos that is perfect for keeping water near boiling for a long time. Right as I am leaving the house, I will boil water in my kettle, give the thermos a hot rinse to get it hot, then add the boiling water. I like to preheat the thermos so that the water that I will use for tea will be as hot as possible when I arrive at my destination.
What teas are best for outdoor drinking? This is where some thought needs to be put in. You do not have precise temperature control outside, so a tea that can withstand near boiling water is best, but also one that will still taste good when brewed with cooler water as the session nears its end. It’s also best to pick a tea that has whole leaves and does not have dust. I don’t want to worry about bringing a strainer with me, so I prefer to bring larger leaf teas with me. Lastly, look for a tea that will be good for 5-6 steeps. I also don’t want to bring an expensive sheng puerh with me that normally gets over 10 steeps because I will only have 20oz of water with me. I have had the most success with brewing oolongs such as Taiwanese Oolongs or roasted tieguanyins. They seem to be very forgiving teas that are refreshing as well. The floral notes in oolongs also pair perfectly with the surrounding trees and flowers outside.
Listening to the trees in the wind, waves crashing against the shore, and the birds singing is one of the most relaxing ways to enjoy tea. Away from TV, Facebook, and work, sitting outside and enjoying tea in the outdoors really lets you stop and focus on the beauty of the tea.
“Let us have a sip of tea. The Afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle.” – Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea.
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Originally posted in May 2016 by James Rubly