10 July, 2007

2002 CNNP

Previously, Perplexd asked about timing brews, which I thought might be worth a more general answer as it's an interesting topic. As ever, I don't claim to have "The Answers", because there are no definitive answers. What I present here is merely my opinion.

On the subject of timing infusions, I have found myself tending towards the following. I find it useful to speak in terms of "tending towards" as it leaves room for flexibility and change in one's methods. I, and no doubt most readers, find it mildly distasteful when articles present the author's opinion as fact. So here's my (current) infusion method:

i. Pour water in, swiftly but smoothly. (approx 1s)

ii. Count* (and replace kettle)

iii. Pour water out, swiftly but smoothly. (approx 1-3s depending on pot, assuming it's around 10cl)

*There are as many methods of timing infusions as there are brewers of tea. I've seen some brewers use an electronic timer, some count breaths, some use intuition.

My personal opinion is that these represent gradually higher levels of attainment in making tea. Beginners tend to use stop-clocks, because they're uncertain in their abilities, and with the leaf. Intermediates tend to count breaths or count seconds because they can make decent tea without the crutch of a timer. More advanced brewers tend to go on intuition alone because they can get the best from the tea, every time, without counting. (I should add that, in my opinion, tea mastery implies that intuition is used, but that intuition being used does not necessarily imply tea mastery - it all depends on the result.)

These are woeful generalisations, and like all generalisations do not describe the full range of human experience. I'm sure there are master brewers out there that use electronic timers, and perhaps there are beginners who can make great tea, every time, using intuition.

I'm quite Japanese in my outlook about the use of intuition in producing good works: repetition and hard-earned experience are, in my eyes, the pre-requisites to truly harmonious skill - archery, calligraphy, making tea, computer programming. There are good books on the "Zen" of each of these subjects.

This movement from the initial use of measuring-devices culminating in the use of intuition seems to hold for all aspects of tea: there are many variables, and the best brewers I have encountered have an innate mastery of this highly dynamical process. They've learned it through experience and sheer dint of hard work, but the result looks almost effortless. Again, this is a well-documented process in many areas of human endeavour - perhaps even all areas.

The solution? Brew more tea. Like the archery student that misses the mark a million times before learning the Truth behind the shooting process, the way to making great tea every time is strewn with undrinkable, vile infusions.

Making bad tea should be a cause for celebration - it means one is getting closer to making good tea.

(Zen practitioners might say that it is meaningless to describe tea as "good" or "bad".)

Caledonian Springs @ 100C in 9cl gaiwan; ~7-8g leaf

Dry leaf:
Hail to the stems. Larger, more whole leaves than its cousin [the 2003 Quanji Bulang]. Even the tips are darkening. Sweet, pleasant.

4s, 10s, 30s:
Dirtier than the bulang, but sweet and green in the wenxiangbei. Very mild, not delivering much strength. The colour is richer orange, with a mintiness on the lid and in the leaves. The flavour is very quiet, with very little bitterness - even with longer infusion.

It has good chaqi, making my skin flush. It has the dried, sweet fruitiness of the 2000 Jingyehao Yiwu and the latter stages of the 2004 Changtai Yiwu, which makes me think of processing oddities (either deliberate, to make it more immediately drinkable, or unintentional).

Later infusions show some biluochun-style greenness. A touch of ku in the finish does at least show that this is, indeed, pu'er.

Even in attempting to overbrew this tea, it is never bitter and is more like warm fruit-juice.

Wet leaves:
Dan cong-style colouring. An intriguing blend of very large, tough leaves and tiny spring leaves.

A novelty, and fun to drink before Mass. Allegedly Yiwu leaves, but MarshalN (and the vendor from whom he obtained it) are skeptical. It's hard to tell, given the processing. I can't recall ever coming across a "modern" CNNP that I truly enjoyed, now that I think on it.


perpleXd said...

Great answer, thank you !!

speakfreely said...

Interesting commentary about timing. As an extension of my yoga practice, I use the breath, figuring one deliberate inhale/exhale cycle to be about 5s. My intuition says you're right about intuition being the masterful way to brew, as the whole of sensory input - taking water temperature, ambient temperature, aroma of the tea, etc. into the equation - has got to be more informed than basing the present moment on past experience. If I used intuition, though, how could I say how long the infusion was? Then again, how useful is this information, really? Pretty useful for rough timescales, especially since, when using a much lower leaf/water ratio, infusion times can be as long as several minutes. But once the rough proportions are known, fine-tuning the process possibly should be left to intuition....???Your thoughts?

Hobbes said...


I find it odd that many of the women I know practice yoga, and many of the men practice taijiquan. Is there a sweeping generalisation to be made here?!

Regarding the accuracy of timescales when using intuition: I think you make a good point when you say that it might not matter too much. Just looking back at my previous posts, most of my brewing is done sub-60s. When it gets above that, perhaps taking 1-2 minutes, and thus becomes a little trickier to "intuit" - the results seem largely insensitive to fairly large variations. The greatest sensitivity seems to occur in those sub-60s brews, which is where intuition can perhaps do the trick.

I should add for the record that, at the moment, I still count my breaths. Apart from the tea-making aspect, I find it a decent way to link my Zen/taijiquan (in which breath-counting is sometimes used) with making tea. It spreads the meditative process out into other aspects of life, which I quite like.

Is there any notion of training the mind in your yoga, along with performing the postures? I am dimly aware of Indian theories related to chakra. :)



shichangpu said...

re: men and taijiquan vs women and yoga: i (male) practice both. my primary "allegiance" is to taiji and xingyi, but yogae is quite useful as cross-training.

if you have the opportunity to see or practice the yi jin jing (muscle-tendon qigong, one of the origins of chinese martial arts) brought by ta mo (bodhidharma) from india to china, you might notice that many of the postures are quite similar to yoga poses.

but yes, we boys do tend to like to fight... :)

apologies for the digression from tea.


Hobbes said...

Master Huang Xingxian learned from Zheng Manqing (Cheng Man-ch'ing) - an interesting video recorded a few years before Huang's death is worth watching.

This video of contemporary master Chen Xiaowang is also interesting, for its fa jing.

speakfreely said...

Other than the general notion that men tend to get more enthused about exercise if there's a martial arts element to it, and the fact that women tend to be more naturally flexible, and therefore less intimidated by the practice initially, I can't venture to explain why women are more attracted to yoga in our culture. In the culture of yoga's origin, however, it was practiced primarily by men (but, for perspective, I don't think women practiced much at all outside the sphere of the domestic arts in India at that time).

I love that video of Master Huang Xingxian, and was previously pointed at it through, oddly enough, a yoga board I frequent.

There is a HUGE element of training the mind in yoga - training the mind to shut up and focus in a non-verbal way, awareness without judgement. Very difficult (at least for me, as all my other training teaches me to discern, discriminate, categorize, etc.)it is good to be able to spend more time not doing those things. When the mind is still, the continuity of self and surroundings is directly experienced.