I’m not talking of things which are called Chinese in India and are unheard of in China: like the gobi machurian. This post is about Chinese tea from China: three which I like, and use regularly are Tie Guan Yin (a sweet green Oolong), Da Hong Pao (a smoky red tea) and Yun Wu (an exquisitely aromatic green tea). The names are evocative. Guan Yin is named after the Buddhist goddess of mercy, derived from the male bodhisattva Avalokiteshwara. Da Hong Pao means big red cloak, after an emperor who cloaked the tree whose leaves cured his ailing mother. Yun Wu is the name I like best; it means mist and rain, and you can almost smell it in the brew.
When I first encountered them in tea markets in China, they were all brewed in boiling water for very short times: sometimes less than a minute. This is enough to release the flavour of the leaves, as I could tell on sipping the scalding brew. I learnt a lot about Chinese tea habits from these expeditions. But I’m an Indian tea drinker: not necessarily of the milk and masala variety, but I definitely like the brew to tickle my tongue as well as my nose. So I’ve had to experiment with not losing flavour while adapting the brew to my taste.
A blog by Gingko Bay assured me that good leaves are ones which are good in many ways. I usually make Yun Wu by steeping the leaves in absolutely boiling water for about two minutes, covered to preserve the aroma. The resulting brew is a golden yellow in colour: deeper than most Darjeelings and wonderfully aromatic. When I treat the leaves this way I get only one brew from the leaves. This has become my favourite post-lunch tea at work.
I adapted the traditional recipe when making Tie Guan Yin. I pour cold water into the leaves, and immediately pour it out into the drinking cups to remove any other aroma which they might have had. This preparatory process is called face washing in China. Then I pour the boiling water into the pot again to brew the tea. In China the tea is steeped for 30 seconds. I leave it in the pot for thrice as long. The resulting tea has a pale yellow colour, like Darjeeling, and an aroma to die for. The brew is strong enough for me, and it tastes sweet! The dried tea leaves are shaped like little balls which open up into wide leaves after the steep. If I start this brew in the morning, then about 10 grams of leaves gives me tea for the whole day. That’s why I use this on weekends when I’m home.
Da Hong Pao is a red tea, which I have come to brew slightly against tradition. The amount of water I use is somewhat less than what the traditional Chinese recipe calls for, and I’ve increased the brewing time from 45 seconds to about twice as long. The tea comes out dark red in colour, with the tannins which I like in an Indian tea, but with the smoky taste of the original intact.
As you can see, I’ve Indianised the recipes by brewing the tea a little longer than the Chinese would, and by covering the tea while it steeps. I wonder whether there are other techniques for Indianizing these lovely aromatic teas, while still staying true to the flavour of the Chinese.