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At an impromptu tea-tasting session last night in a dark and smokey back room in Fuzhou (yep, seriously!), a tea master leaned over and wrote a single character on the table in front of me in water.
He looked up at me and said "This is the most important word in tea. You can use this to understand any Chinese tea". I looked down and the character was 浸 (jin)
浸 (jin) means to steep or soak. When tea is drunk normally, you brew it for an optimal time - depending on the tea, a minute or slightly more - but when evaluating teas, professional tea masters will brew a tea for up to 30 minutes, letting it stew in the water. This is called jin pao (浸泡)
The most simple purpose of stewing a tea like this is because the full flavour will come out after a long time. A bad tea brewed for a long time will be undrinkable, whereas a good tea will still be tasty.
For example, our Iron Buddha oolong tastes fantastic when it's brewed for around 40-50 seconds, and that's how I'd serve it with guests. But if I'm sourcing a new type of Iron Buddha from the farm, I'll let it steep for 5-10 minutes before tasting it. As I was taught, this lets you taste the good, the bad and the ugly of the tea openly and clearly. A bad Iron Buddha can be hidden with a light brewing technique, but only a good tea will taste strong, clear and rich after 20 minutes.
So if you're interested in really evaluating teas, try brewing yours for 20 minutes - just let it sit, and drink a small amount. It works best comparing two teas against each other, and while it might not be practical every day, it will give you a different angle from which to enjoy your teas.comments powered by Disqus