A Short Guide to World Tea Brewing
What is the best way to make tea? A simple question, but one with a myriad of answers. The traditional American experience, of course, requires a tea bag and a steaming mug of hot water. Steep until you can taste it, and it’s ready to sip. But throughout the ages, the art of making tea has transformed from one process into another, splintering with custom to give us multitudes of ways. In much of China, the method prevalent is called gongfu. It involves placing a large clump of loose leaves into a small pot made of porous clay, called yixing, and steeping quickly and several times. In this way, Gongfu produces progressive steepings, each a little different from the last.
In Japan, there is a tradition of using a powdered tea called matcha. Matcha powder is made by finely grinding very fresh and high quality Japanese green tea leaves. In preparation, water is heated in a cast iron pot called a tetsubin, then frothed into a small bowl by a server using a bamboo whisk. A Japanese tea ceremony consists of several other steps, one of which is turning the cup several times to pay homage to the provider of the cup and the tea, a custom as functional as it is honorable, as matcha tends to settle quickly if the cup is not kept moving.
Chai is known by Americans for the latte syrup used at many coffee houses, which is most commonly combined with frothed milk. The term chai comes from India, where chai means, literally, tea. It has come to be understood in a wider sense as the preparation method of Indian black tea with cinnamon, clove, ginger, black peppercorn, and cardamom. Traditionally, this tea blend is prepared over a stove with slowly stirred milk and honey, then poured through a strainer.
From the preparation of Russia Kombucha, a fermented beverage with a small alcoholic content, to the multiple pots of Turkish tea, to Tibetan tea thickened with yak butter, we live in a world of many beverages, many tastes and customs, of one simple leaf.