Friday, May 27, 2016

Gongfoolery: Green Tea, Clay vs Porcelain

One of the most common myths in the tea world is that you never brew green tea in clay, it will burn it, ruin the taste, or just make things unpleasant. However I have also seen others say you never really know a green tea until you have brewed it in clay...also, look at Japan for just a moment, their tea is rather sensitive to heat but the most loved brewing vessels are unglazed clay teapots. Being me I saw the rules of  not brewing in a clay pot as a challenge, I wanted to see how it was different and why some tea cultures were perfectly ok with it while others were not.

So for today's test I am pitting pots against each other, using a vintage rice pattern porcelain teapot and a Taiwanese clay pot. Hilariously this is also a blind test, I brewed the tea and poured them into Chahais, Ben then poured the tea into cups and I have no idea which is which...he will then tell me after I try to guess. (He also tried it to see if the Tea Barbarian could taste a difference, turns out yeah he could) As for the rest of the tools I am using, for cups I am using the red and blue lined hat cups from, the Chaihais are both porcelain and have come from various places. The tea in question is Teavivre's Premium Dragonwell, fresh from this year, a tea which I have had each harvest of for the past four years.

Steep one, I used 175 degree water and steeped them for thirty seconds each, after Ben did his pour I took a sniff, the aroma of the tea itself was pretty light, cup A being slightly nuttier and sweet, where cup B was more vegetal. Tasting them, cup A was sweeter, almost oily in its mouthfeel, and rich with the taste of nuts and sweet snap peas. Cup B was a touch bitter, strongly vegetal with a more slippery mouthfeel, at the finish was a great sweetness though. If you are playing the guessing game, cup A is the porcelain and cup B the clay, so far it seems the myth holds up.

So this blind sipping really confused me, I have no problem admitting the tea scientist was befuddled. The aroma of both teas was really light, I could barely discern a difference between them from smell, and taste was the same, I actually asked Ben if he was trolling me, but there at the aftertaste of cup B I noticed the difference and said never mind. Cup B had a tinge of bitterness at the end of the sip and then boom sweetness that was intense, where Cup A was a bit watery and flat at its aftertaste. Cup A was the porcelain and Cup B was the clay....though amusingly they are not in the same order on my tea tray, I just seem to go after the porcelain first without knowing!

This one I nailed immediately, because one of them was more bitter, meaning it was the clay pot, with the porcelain being sweet but starting to fade. Both versions are delicious, the bitterness is never off putting, it is the bitterness of vegetal, which I enjoy. The mouthfeel and lingering sweet aftertaste of the clay beats the overall sweetness of the porcelain, but with the bitter edge I can see one being favored over the other.

Here is my little theory, the reason that people say not to brew in clay is because of heat, and there is truth to that, it will just retain heat better than porcelain, however brewing green tea in a clay pot using the same parameters as the porcelain is where things go wrong. I have found that to get the best results with green tea in a clay pot (or gaiwan) is to use shorter steeps and depending on the tea cooler water. Not quite flash steeping, but certainly at least half the time I would in porcelain. Plus there are some greens that I think perform so much better in clay than in any other material, Bi Luo Chun and most Vietnamese greens in particular...where Dragonwell I almost always prefer grandpa/bowl steeped! Green tea is probably the tea I see brewed in the most different ways, and with the most heated debate about which is correct! One of these weeks I am going to have to do a long winded test of the different methods for green brewing, but not next week, next week I am testing different waters!

And for anyone who was curious, I have decided the Tea Carno's name is Huigan, the Gongfoolery mascot, because every series needs a mascot.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent test! I came to the same conclusion of, "Well if you want to avoid bitterness, watch how much leaf you use and steep for shorter times." I think it just comes from experience and experimenting with tea preparation!

    Also, awesome Carno, Huigan looks like the Carnos from Ark!