Eastern and Western style brewing

And why would there be a difference?

Brewing Basic Black Tea

For us at Seibiant, we very much vary our style of brewing, based on the tea which we are drinking, and who we are drinking it with. For example, you will find that if you have a basic black tea like a breakfast tea, or Earl Grey, we will brew it in a teapot. We will usually give it around three minutes to brew, before pouring it into a cup, with milk if you desire, and sugar if you must. So if you ask for a takeaway tea, that’s how we prepare it for you. This is the Western style of brewing – small amount of tea, to large amount of water, and a fairly long brew. This means that in general you can only brew the tea once. Teas that require a long infusion, like the fruit teas, are also brewed in this way, in a traditional teapot.

Victorian Blackware teapot – generally used at funerals and wakes –
note the Forget me Not flowers in the decoration

As for the milk and sugar, that is a tradition in the west because the quality of tea drunk here was so poor – and needed the addition of milk and sugar to soften the bitterness and harsh astringency of the tea! This history goes back to the early days of tea being imported, and the style of teapot varied according to the context in which the tea was being drunk. Tea was originally rare, expensive, reserved for the upper classes, and the long slow brewing of a small amount of tea, meant that it went further.

Western Style brewing – Carissa Tanton

Eastern Style Brewing – Gong Fu

Eastern style brewing, or Gong Fu brewing, consists of using a small teapot or gaiwan, anything from 80ml to 150ml, rarely any bigger, and infusing whole leaf tea multiple times for short lengths of time.  Depending on the style of leaf, the tea is usually drunk in smaller cups with no added ingredients.  

A range of brewing vessels

The large teapot with willow handle is from Northern Pots – click here to go to Will’s website. The little white one came back from Japan with Iwan and Carissa, and it’s a stunning little pot – tiny, with a mesh all around the inside – perfect!

So essentially, this method uses more tea to less water, a short steeping time, and the tea can be brewed multiple times. It allows for an extended tea drinking session, and is a better method for exploring the nuances in flavour that each subsequent infusion brings to the tea. This method is called Gong Fu brewing, with Gong Fu translating roughly as ‘skilled method’. It is a way of brewing suitable for those who really want to appreciate the flavour and health benefits (no added ingredients) of premium tea.  

For our tea, we recommend using the Eastern style of brewing, and this is always the method used at our tea tastings.  Most quality teas can be steeped several times and will change in flavour and character with each infusion.  This method gives tea drinkers the time to relax in peace or spend quality time with friends and family.  If you have never experienced the tradition of Asian-style tea making before, you will be delightfully surprised at just how relaxing and pleasurable it can be.

Processed with VSCO with a9 preset – gaiwan and teacups made by Crochendy Bethesda, especially for us
Small teapot which I use exclusively for shou puerh, as the clay tends to take on the flavour of the tea

The brewing method in these photos above, feature oolong and puerh teas, both Chinese teas. In Japan, the preferred method is the kyusu, shown below, but the houhin is also used. A houhin is a flatter style of gaiwan. An open bowl is used for gyokuro, and other good quality green teas, often ridged, and with a pouring spout – this is called a Shiboridashi.

This is an excellent article with great videos on the use of various Japanese brewing vessels – just click here to watch – the website is hojotea.com

So, if you’re in the shop, don’t hesitate to ask about our different brewing styles, we are more than happy to demonstrate for you – and one day, we may feel able to start tea tastings again!

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