brewing fine oolong tea

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Brewing tea is an art and can determine the actual quality of the tea experience. If you buy expensive teas, as I do, you will want to refine your skills to be sure you are getting the most out of your tea.  This morning I treated myself to a wonderful Fu Shou Shan-- fresh from the Lishan mountain range in Taiwan. As I prepared to brew the tea, I took some time to think about the tea and what it might take to brew it to the finest liquor possible.

First, the water has to be good -- at least filtered, if not spring water. Second, the water has to be heated to the right temperature for the tea--not too hot to injure the complexity of the leaf's offerings, but hot enough to excite the leaves properly.  I decided to heat my tea water to near boiling (around 200°F) but not quite boiling (212°F). Third, I had to gauge how long to steep the tea in relation to how much tea was being steeped. I used about one tablespoon of tea, which when steeped, would expand generously to perhaps six times the volume.

For a Formosa (Taiwanese) oolong, which is rolled, I wanted the first steeping to only partially unroll the tea leaves. This process of the tea leaf unfurling is referred to as "the agony of the leaf". In this case, it didn't take too long, around 25-30 seconds for it to open to the degree I wanted (about 2/3). I also checked the aroma off the lid of the gaiwan to see if it still had a water smell (under-steeped) or a round, complex bouquet (correct-o). I hit it just right. The second steeping opened the leaf fully, and this took only about 15 seconds with the same water temperature (around 200°F). Again, spot on. The third steeping allows the full expression of the open leaf to avail itself to the water.  Ahhhhh, perfection. "It's liquor like the sweetest dew of heaven...." (Lu Yu).

Try playing with the above variables yourself--with any tea--and see how many wonderful (and not so fabulous) tastes you come up with.  See what you can do to refine your brewing technique, and along with it, your palate.
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How funny, I was just drinking and twittering about the same tea this morning! It is indeed a very fine oolong; quite magical, really. I usually go by "feel" when steeping teas, but reading your article I realize that I've subconsciously picked up a lot throughout the years that adds to the "feel" for brewing. I've still much to learn though; I guess I'd better keep drinking fine teas.

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