泡茶三观念The Three Concepts of Tea Brewing
(2005.10刊于《说茶》，北京燕山出版社，Published in“About Tea” ISBN 7-5402-1663-8 )
A perpetual argument on tea brewing will be: is there a standard pertaining to the ‘condition’ of an infusion in relation to how it is being brewed？Will each brewing give infusion of different conditions? Could brewing techniques change the original quality of a certain tea? And the list goes on. Besides, it is essential to define the ‘strength’ 1 of tea infusion 2, the proper attitude towards ‘brewing a good pot’ 3, and the difference between ‘savouring’ 4 and ‘appraising’ 5 tea.
1. Are there standards regarding the ‘strength’ and ‘quality’ of the tea infusion?
The term ‘strength’ is general. It refers to the ‘impact’ 6 of tea infusion in our mouth, regardless of its taste and quality. It should not be defined as the sum total of water-soluble substances 7 , for the fact that some of the components are more powerful and readily sensed – this is to say, the sum of water-soluble substances of a certain tea may not be as much as another; and yet, their impact could be the same. Meanwhile, strength is not the same as ‘stimulation’ 8 , as some teas impress with their pronounced bitterness and astringency 9 , while others capture our attention with their texture 10 or aromatic intensity 11 . As such, we will only define the ‘strength’ based on the ‘impact’ an infusion has in our mouth. We will stay with this for the convenience of discussion on issues relating to different rounds of brewing.
Quality refers to the judgement of a tea as being good or bad – a judgement made on a calm, objective and scientific stance. Besides good components, quality also implies the right combination that gives rise to a taste well-received by most people and approved by experts. It is impossible to achieve consistent quality for each brewing – we can, however, achieve more or less the same strength by way of brewing techniques.
Given the same ‘batch’ of tea leaves, is there any standard pertaining to the tea infusion concerned? Will people have very different views as to the taste of the infusion from the same ‘batch’ of tea leaves? Even if there is difference, it could only be relative. How do we prove this？If we use the same ‘batch’ of tea leaves to brew tea of different strength with water of varying temperature, and offered these brews to a considerable sample of people, their preference would fall within a certain range. If this sample of people has substantial knowledge of tea, the one or few cups with the highest preference represent what we call the standard. There may not be only one single preference, but the preferences are always within a certain range. We do not rule out individual preferences; but we must attain the standard first before we try catering to unique personal taste.
Some people may say, the quality of tea is determined by the tea leaves; tea brewing can do very little to alter its intrinsic quality. This may be true with ‘tea products’ 12 , but not with tea brewing. Take for instance ‘premium tea’ 13 brewed during a competition – it may be utterly undrinkable. Again, some may point out that given the same method of brewing, we will be able to distinguish between the good and bad among different cups of tea. This is true in the sense that tea appraisers could make still out the good from the bad with ultra strong infusion. And yet, what we are concerned here is not tea appraisal, but tea brewing.
The absence of standard pertaining to the strength and quality of tea infusion will imply that any way of brewing will do!
2. Should we go for consistent strength for each brewing?
As we mentioned in the last section, standard strength refers to the best condition of the tea infusion for each brewing. The best condition is reflected by the preference of the majority of tea drinkers, and this can be simply expressed by the standard strength; as such, we should try maintaining the same consistency in between rounds of brewing. Quality will diminish with each brewing, until the time we discard the brewed tea leaves and replace them with fresh ones.
Some may think that consistency is not essential, as infusion of different strength and style highlight various appeal of a certain tea. This may seem reasonable; but then again, is this not advocating ‘freehand’ brewing, that is, the lack of any standard practice? You may raise objection and say, should there not be more than one type of ‘strength’ or ‘style’ people prefer? This is correct, insofar as it falls within what we describe as the ‘standard strength’ – surely, it should not be a case of ‘to each his own liking’ or ‘being different for difference’s sake’.
The ‘pursuit of the best’ (not necessarily only one) is what we have been advocating and working towards. Life is multi-faceted; but it does not mean that we have to experience and realize each and every aspect. The same goes with tea brewing. What we should avoid is brewing a pot that is too strong, too weak or too bitter. What we aspire to is brewing a good pot/cup in an effortless manner.
3. What exactly does it mean by brewing a good pot?
It means that each brewing gives infusion that is of the best condition of the tea leaves at the time. In terms of quality, the fourth brewing will be inferior to the first or the second brewing; and yet, we should aim at the best condition at the time.
Often, we say that a skilful brewer could make tea worth more than its monetary value. For instance, using tea leaves of $ 100/catty, he will produce infusion that appears to be made with tea leaves of $ 150/catty. By the same token, a poor brewer will not do justice to premium tea. Even if he makes tea with tea leaves of $ 200/catty, the infusion may be inferior to that made with tea leaves of $ 50/catty. This goes to illustrate how important the brewing technique is, not that it can change the quality of tea leaves. Given the same technique, a person can brew a good pot/cup out of tea leaves worth of $ 50/catty or $ 100/catty; and yet, the infusion of the latter should be superior to the former.
The essence of brewing well is to brew the best possible tea with existing conditions, even if it is the fifth brewing, or with tea leaves that are distinctly bitter and astringent. Brewing well is also the foundation to the Way of Tea. We would not be able to appreciate the more subtle side of things, such as the artistic and spiritual aspects, if we fail to brew a good pot. It is with incessant practice that a tea aficionados could explore on a higher level and achieve more extensive realization in order to open up new fronts in pursuing the Way of Tea.
以下为文內之编码Coding in the text:
浓度1 strength 1
茶汤2 tea infusion 2
「泡好」茶3 brewing a good pot 3
品茗4 savouring tea 4
评茶5 appraising tea 5
打击6 ‘impact’ 6
水可溶物7 water-soluble substances 7
刺激性8 ‘stimulation’ 8
苦涩味9 bitterness and astringency 9
稠度10 texture 10
气味11 aromatic intensity 11
茶制品12 tea products 12
特等茶13 premium tea 13
The aesthetics, character and the state of mind created are not to be undermined in the understanding and enjoyment of tea; and yet, they are the hardest to express. Writings on the thoughts pertaining to tea, regardless of languages used, remain scarce. We have attempted to express them in Chinese, with accompanying English translation(Translator:Katherine Yip.2010.01), to elaborate our thoughts as they are. What we want is to share the knowledge of tea alongside tea drinking. This is, in our opinion, an important contemporary task in promoting the tea culture (Coding in the text is for cross-referencing of the academic terms of tea).