The Northern Teaist is a brilliant tea blogger, and he has kindly written a guest post on bowl brewing in Taiwan. Here it is:
I first encountered the bowl tea technique whilst doing some research into the ancient links between tea and Zen.
Intrigued by the elegant simplicity of this way of tea preparation, I did some further reading.
It seems as though bowl tea can trace its origins back to Taiwan’s rural past. In the days when nearly all journeys were undertaken on foot, farmers would often leave tea making provisions in small shelters by the roadside to assist weary travellers.
In modern times the tradition of serving bowl tea still exists, but these days it is most often used as a way of showing guests respect and hospitality.
As with the somewhat similar “Grandpa” style, bowl tea reduces tea infusion down to its absolute basics – tea leaves, hot water, and a receptacle in which the two may meet.
There is a subtle difference, however – whereas Grandpa style is great for an on-going, casual tea session in the middle of a busy day whilst attending to other matters, bowl tea is at its best when used to create an oasis of calm, with the focus on just the tea itself.
I like to think of the bowl tea approach as Grandpa style with the ceremonial and meditative aspects of gong-fu methodology layered on top of it. Although the idea is the same – to treat the leaves with reverence and by doing so extract the best out of them, without the more complex details of gong-fu sitting between the tea and those drinking it, I find myself able to concentrate more on the tea,
rather than how it is made.
Most aspects of bowl tea are open to individual interpretations and preferences.
The water temperature depends of course of the class of tea being used. I find that this method works best with strip Oolongs and loose-leaf sheng Pu-erhs, so that means water close to or at 100 degrees C.
I like to use a bowl with a capacity of about 300 ml. After warming / rinsing the bowl with a little hot water, I then drop in about a pinch and a bit’s worth of tea leaves, which is usually in the vicinity of 1 – 1½ grams. Generally speaking, the leaves will probably be in contact with the water for longer than they would when steeping gong-fu style, so it’s best to err on the light side to avoid over-steeping.
Don’t overthink the correct way to hold the bowl when it’s holding hot tea liquor. Your hands will soon fall into the right position for that bowl, although thumb and index finger from each hand along the rim of the bowl, and the middle finger of the right hand supporting the bowl on its underside works well for me.
Because tea in a bowl has a larger surface area, I find it a great way to experience the full-on aroma of a tea. I love to hold the bowl close to my face for a few seconds and inhale deeply before tasting the tea.
Short of using glass teaware, this is one of the best infusion methods you can use if you want to see the leaves stretch and unfurl.
As far as steeping times go, it’s ready when you think it is.
Top up the water level in the bowl as and when.
So grab a bowl, a few fine leaves, and some hot water, disconnect from the everyday, and lose yourself for a while..