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Dian Hong 滇红茶 -- Yunnan's simplest tea

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Shelley

Looks good, I like a good red tea well made.

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Balthazar

Dianhong is what I drink every day in the office. I use a yixing-pot, and most of the time brew gongfu style. I agree with you regarding it being a fairly forgiving tea. It's really hard to do anything wrong with it, and I find it pleasant both "grandpa" and "gongfu" style (although lower level leaf may not be all that enjoyable gongfu-style, whereas top notch stuff, in my opinion, really ought to be gongfu'd to get the most out of the leaf).

 

Because it's something I drink every day I've had the chance to try quite a few different kinds from different sources. I'm usually of the opinion that "you get what you pay for", but when it comes to Dianhong I ofte find that quite cheap teas are not all all that inferior to higher priced ones. Of course sometimes they are, but I have personally found some of the selections with a highter golden bud % to be less interesting than their supposedly inferior counterparts. Just to give one example, I definitely preferred this tea to this one. (On a side note, use this vendor with caution, especially if ordering puerh.)

 

A vendor I would reccomend, for those interested in getting into 红茶 (especially those without access to the Chinese market) is Yunnan Sourcing. They have a good selection of very affordable red/black teas.

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abcdefg

Very interesting, Balthazar. And I agree with you completely about the more expensive tea not always providing the best taste. The place I usually buy my Dianhong here in Kunming is a (small) specialty shop where the proprietor and most of their stock is from Lincang, where Fengqing is located. So the staff there is knowledgeable and they have a large selection; probably 6 or 7 fresh Dianhongs most of the year, none of it prepackaged, just bulk loose-leaf.

 

I go there often enough that they let me sample whatever I wish. They often arrange comparison tastings spontaneously. "I know you like this Dianhong best, but today let me put it up against this other one, just arrived." Then I taste them side by side. The pros can taste 4 or 5 or 6 side by side and keep them straight, but I can't. So I only do two, or maybe 3, at a single sitting. Any more and they all become a blur.

 

They have given me Dianhong made from just the buds, nothing else. Also one bud, one tiny leaf. Also some Dianhong that is found wild, not cultivated. Some fat leaf, some thin leaf, and so on. All of those are more expensive, and some are quite distinctive. But I like the balance of the "lesser" Dianhong teas with a bit more leaf. I think of it as "working-man's tea" instead of "connoisseur tea."

 

This year I took some of my favorite find to tea academy to let my teacher taste it and see what she thought. Did that after buying only a little, before buying a lot. So one day after our lectures were finished, she and I and half a dozen other students gathered round.

 

We poured some out on a white plate and teased it apart. My tea leaves contained some stem debris. Instead of just saying that straight out, she reached into her "library" collection and poured some of another Dianhong onto another plate, and the difference was obvious. My tea had not been hand cleaned quite as well.

 

She then brewed it with a gaiwan and passed cups of it around. We all critiqued it as we had been taught, analyzing color, smell, first taste, aftertaste, and so on. She didn't make a pronouncement or pass judgment. Just reached back to her "library" shelf which had a dozen other Dianhongs, selected  one and brewed it.

 

She said, "This one has the same finish as your tea. It's made in the same style with the same grade of leaf. See what you think." Her tea was superb, whereas mine was only OK. I asked her about price, and she said the two were about the same.

 

So it was back to the shop for me, with some new ideas in mind. Managed to do better on my second visit, and that's the one I bought for sharing with my friends.

 

-------------------------

 

By the way, meant to add that I really like the intelligent descriptive write ups on that "Dragon" website. Also, I had forgotten about Yunnan Sourcing. They have an excellent stock. A few years ago I helped a friend buy some tea there, and they were prompt and reliable. A good resource. Thank you for mentioning them.

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abcdefg

This morning I wanted some red tea but didn't feel like going to the trouble to brew it up with a gaiwan. Did not want to fiddle with equipment. But I also didn't want to just dump it in my "grandpa" mug, because I know this particular tea can easily become too strong.

 

Made it in a simple bowl that I had just washed up from breakfast. Thought I might as well show you how, although you might already know.

 

post-20301-0-64592200-1432461641_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-80956600-1432461656_thumb.jpg

 

Put the tea leaves in a bowl, add hot water, cover with a plate. Strain it into a coffee cup half a minute later. The brewed leaves can stand uncovered while you sip, and then you can use them a couple more times.

 

The tea itself is some I bought last year. The vendor called it "Black Rose" 黑玫瑰 because smells rather floral. (It's not actually scented or mixed with flowers.) It's still Dian Hong 滇红 -- just very aromatic on its own. A special tea; limited supply; doubt that it's exported.

 

post-20301-0-86975600-1432461666_thumb.jpg

 

The main point I'm trying to drive home is that brewing tea can be a pleasant ritual, with a measure of flourish and ceremony. It's a nice thing to do when you have time, for example to honor a guest. But it can also be extremely casual and easy. Once you understand the principles, you can modify the details of the method.

 

This morning I was lazy, and was still able to enjoy some tasty tea without being required to invest much more time than just making a cup of instant coffee (which I admit to sometimes doing instead.) 

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Shelley

Could someone clarify

"grandpa" and "gongfu" style

 

Thanks very much.

 

I am really enjoying these tea topics, thanks for putting in the effort abcdefg.

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Balthazar

Sorry about throwing such terms around without any explanation, I guess it's a habit picked up from tea forums.

 

At the risk of oversimplifying things: Grandpa style is "brewing of tea in a large cup, with no filters or teaballs or bags or anything else in it, with water constantly refilled without much regard for infusion time or temperature." Gongfu style can mean a whole bunch of things, but the essential feature (if we exclude all the ceremonial aspects the term may carry) is that you use a good amount of tea leaves and do short steeps, often < 30 seconds, at least for the first 3-5 brews.

 

You could say "western style" brewing is somewhere between these two in terms of steeping time and leaf amount.

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Shelley

Ah thank you, when you say a large cup is it like a mug? does it usually have a lid? I have some of those.

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Balthazar

It could be pretty much anything, a mug (with or without a lid), a large gaiwan (which, from a functional point of view, is basically the same thing), a thermos cup, an old-fashioned steel thermos... It doesn't really matter all that much, "grandpa style" is very much inside the "anything goes" zone.

 

You could even do like this ol' chap and drink straight from the spout of a teapot:

 

l8L5NnQ.png

 

The image that immediately springs to mind when I think about "grandpa style" is that of the vendors at the local food market in the area where I used to live in Hong Kong. Or taxi drivers. Many of these had see-through plastic bottles where you could see the floating leaves. Needless to say, they didn't pay any attention to steeping time.

 

When I worked as a cashier in a grocery store I used to just throw a few leaves of green tea into a thermos, fill it with hot water, and drink it over the next few hours, then refill it, and so on. I imagine this is similar to what they do. I rarely brew anything like that these days, but it can be quite enjoyable. For low quality teas I actually think it's a better experience than gongfu style (which will be brutally reveal the quality of the leaf you're brewing).

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Shelley

I have always drunk my tea, whatever sort, weak, I started by drinking ordinary tea as it is in the UK, but with out milk and weak, if you stew these they are awful without milk.

 

If you leave the leaves in and keep topping it up, doesn't it get bitter and tannin-y? or is it because of the type of tea that it is ok?

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Balthazar

Well, it depends on a couple of factors, but quite often the first round of grandpa style steeping does end up "bitter and tannin-y". I think the people who typically brew their tea grandpa style don't mind that too much. Of course as you drink your tea and keep adding water, the leaves will have less and less bitterness (and taste in general) to give off. Perhaps the shop keepers and taxi drivers start off with fairly short steeps and gradually increase the time, that wouldn't surprise me.

 

Another possibility is to start with a "normal" brew (either western style or gongfu), and then as your leaves are on their way to being fully "spent" throw them into a larger container and brew grandpa style. That takes away the early, potentially bitter, stage.

 

I imagine the content of a typical teabag sold on the European market wouldn't be suited for grandpa brewing, as they contain mostly chopped and lower quality stems and leaves. Some teas can be brewed for a very long time without turning bitter, though. Certain greens can be very forgiving, for instance.

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HDH

I think this looks really great! The guide you made was very interesting and helpful  :)

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Shelley

Thank you, its very interesting and enlightening. :)

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Shelley

I am off to make myself a cup of tea now, red I think, in my "Grandpa" mug with lid

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abcdefg
If you leave the leaves in and keep topping it up, doesn't it get bitter and tannin-y? or is it because of the type of tea that it is ok?

 

Good question. I think the kind of tea is important in deciding how to brew and drink it. Most Dian Hong and most Shou Pu'er 熟普洱 can be made "grandpa style" and even hours later aren't bitter. Those lidded mugs of yours, Shelley, the ones of which you showed us photos, should work well for that.

 

Doesn't work quite as well for green tea in my opinion, although 1.3 billion Chinese disagree. It's partly just a matter of personal taste. Balthazar, in #11, above, found some green teas that adapt well to this drinking style. I may just not have found the right green tea yet.

 

And you could just as well call it "grandma style" I suppose. Agree with Balthazar about it being very common in China, every shopkeeper and every taxi driver has his or her lidded mug as a constant companion.

 

More about those mugs here (posts # 16, 19, and 22) --

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/48541-how-to-make-green-tea-that-isnt-bitter/

 

If I have a real good tea that I want to fully experience, I use a gaiwan to brew it. Or if the tea is tricky to make, I also use the gaiwan. Gives much more control over the variables of the process.

 

I use less special tea for stoking the "grandpa" mug, and tea which I know to be very forgiving. Dian Hong is very forgiving.

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Bigdumogre

The glass pot with the strainer is great. I have had mine for years and a huge strainer area is a must. I usually do black and oolong in there and like it a little strong and it's perfect for it especially since you can see the color of the tea. The ceramic clay pots I use for earthen flavored teas.

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abcdefg

#9 -- Balthazar --

 

You could even do like this ol' chap and drink straight from the spout of a teapot:

 

Great photo! Some of my older Chinese friends have told me of doing this at home. I think it might still attract some funny looks when out and about.

 

A restaurant here (Kunming) will often put a thermos of hot water on your table as you order. You can use it to brew and refill your own tea during the meal.

 

In Guangzhou I sometimes have Yum Cha Brunch (aka Dim Sum) at places where they set a portable tea table 茶盘 on your dining table, along with a water pot over a small flame, gaiwan, strainer, and small cups. A designated waitress comes by at intervals to brew your tea. She fills your small pitcher and you use it to refill your cups.

 

I have snapshots from my last trip to a place like that, but they are on an external hard drive. I'll try to locate them and come back, that way you can have a look. I would imagine this is done in Hong Kong too, though I have not personally run into it.

 

---------------------------------

Edited to add some photos that show these individual gong fu tea setups on the tables. You ordered the kind of tea you wanted and it arrived in a small, pre-sealed foil pouch. The waitress dumped the entire contents into the gaiwan and brewed your first round. Then she returned from time to time to check on you and refill your pitcher. 

 

post-20301-0-38553700-1432522360_thumb.jpg post-20301-0-51471300-1432522387_thumb.jpg post-20301-0-11341900-1432522378_thumb.jpg post-20301-0-84999300-1432522396_thumb.jpg

 

The gentleman in the third photo caught me in the act. Had his head turned away two seconds before. But turned back and caught me rudely photographing his table and his mom without permission. I felt bad, got up and walked over. Politely apologized and explained I was a tourist; had no evil intent, was just interested in how local people here enjoyed their tea since it was different from where I was from.

 

Asked if he wanted me to delete the photo. He smiled and said, "Oh, that's OK. I just didn't know what you were up to.  " 来,坐下,喝一杯。“ I politely declined.

 

To the best of my recollection, the tea plus the setup and the service cost 20 Yuan. Not every waitress could do it. Only some of them. They offered Tieguanyin, red tea, green tea, and Pu'er, both kinds. (熟 and 生) Only those five kinds. I had Tieguanyin.

 

I asked the other people at my big round shared table what they were drinking, and we got into a bit of casual tea chat. When they learned I was from Yunnan, they wanted to talk Pu'er. It was a convivial place; had a "clubby" atmosphere.

 

99% locals, lots of whom were "regulars." And it was obvious that many of them knew each other. I would overhear snatches of a "How are the grandkids doing in school?" conversation. Or "Did you finish remodeling the bedroom yet?"

 

Nobody was in a hurry. A waitress told me they had two main groups of morning patrons; younger ones who stopped on their way to work, and the older retirees, for whom this was a social occasion.

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abcdefg

#10 -- Shelley -- 

 

I have always drunk my tea, whatever sort, weak, I started by drinking ordinary tea as it is in the UK, but with out milk and weak, if you stew these they are awful without milk.

 

Shelley, another comment just now came to mind. The best way to get tea that's weak, but still with a good taste, is to brew it a short time. The three major variables, as you remember, are:

 

1. Amount of tea leaves

2. Water temperature

3. Brewing time

 

A couple days ago I tasted a newly-arrived "needle" tea 香针茶  in a tea shop. The lady asked how I wanted it. I told her I'd first like to try it weak. She used the same amount of leaves that she would have used for strong tea and used the same water temperature. But she was using a gaiwan, and only brewed it for a few seconds. With a gaiwan it's easy to control brewing time. (But of course it's not the only way.)

 

It's common to ask your guests or friends about strength preference when sitting down to drink tea 品茶。 You will usually hear something along the lines of: 你喜欢淡一点,还是浓一点的吗? Some tea I like strong, other tea I prefer weak. Sometimes I start with it weak, and then try it strong. Also, if I'm having tea in the evening, I always ask for it weak so it won't keep me awake when I go to bed. 

 

If you vary the water temperature instead of steeping time, it's easy to wind up with tea which has a "bite." Unpleasant in the mouth. That's especially true if your water is too hot. If you vary the amount of tea leaves, reducing them a lot, it's easy to wind up with tea which is insipid and boring, barely worth the trouble.

 

But if you just reduce the brewing time, you still capture the special flavor, 味道,口感,and 后感 of the tea, just a bit less of it per sip. It still tastes like what it should and you could easily identify it as Longjing or Maofeng or Dian Hong or Pu'er or whatever. And it's still enjoyable.

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reitia

Hello, my tea-time friends! I'm in a dreamy poetic mood this evening, and so I say with rapture:

 

Ah, delightful goddess Tea! What would this world be without you to soothe us? Oh, wonderful, immortal golden nectar...I wish to build a shrine in your honour. :D

 

In a more prosaic vein: Can anyone tell me how many varieties of tea are known? Which was the first to be cultivated?

 

I've read that originally, many many centuries ago in China, tea leaves were ground into powder, mixed with fat and other unsavoury ingredients, then shaped into compact little rectangles...And finally boiled, if anyone cared to drink the resulting mess...Tea has come a long way since those remote beginnings! Well, today we also have such atrocious inventions like squeeze-tea bags and tasteless pale commercial concoctions which are hardly allowed to brew at all...Not to speak of our modern iced teas, bitter and metallic to the taste, which are sold in plastic bottles...I'd say that this is hardly better than the original ancient tea blocks, sticky and foul with grease.

 

Thank heavens that tea drinking today, at its best, still represents a pleasurable, gratifying experience. I am speaking of tea drinking as an AESTHETIC ART. Tea must be savoured and cherished, as a liquid jewel.

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abcdefg

@Reitia -- #19

 

I've read that originally, many many centuries ago in China, tea leaves were ground into powder, mixed with fat and other unsavoury ingredients, then shaped into compact little rectangles...And finally boiled, if anyone cared to drink the resulting mess...Tea has come a long way since those remote beginnings!

 

Spend between a couple hours listening to the "History Of Chinese Tea" podcasts previously recommended, and you will understand how the process evolved. Much of it took place during the Tang and the Song. It's actually fascinating to trace the evolution of tea from a medicinal bitter leaf, through its use in brick form with sophisticated whisks, into its modern cured and processed loose-leaf form.

 

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/49617-laszlo-montgomery-on-the-history-of-chinese-tea-%E2%80%93-a-listening-guide/

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