Tea Brewing Vocabulary

Teas and brewing practices, especially from older tea traditions, often coevolve. Newer teas and practices, such as those descended primarily from the British Empire, sometimes do as well, but they’ve had a shorter time during which to become refined, and intertwined.

Below are some steps you might find helpful in understanding and brewing Chinese and Taiwanese teas, and which might even give you a new perspective on teas from other traditions.

If you’re coming to tea from more of a large pot, single steep brewing style, or other styles developed outside the 潮州功夫茶 (Cháozhōu Gōngfūchá) tradition, you’ll probably notice these practices allow for a very different experience of the sensations, textures, and characteristics of tea, many of which emerge only over time. So, these brewing techniques might give you new insights, even into teas with which you feel very familiar.

Rather than alphabetical or arbitrary order, I’ve put these in (more or less) the order in which you’ll encounter them when brewing.

As always, I, and this page, owe deep gratitude to my partner, Casey, and her dad, 張少平; my friend, Adrian; Shiuwen Tai & her incredible network of farmers and producers; Lew Perin, and his babelcarp.org; as well as the work of 金由美 (Loretta Kim) and 張樂翔 (Lawrence Zhang), such as their article, A Quintessential Invention: Genesis of a Cultural Orthodoxy in East Asian Tea Appreciation, and his blog, marshaln.com. Definitely check them all out!

Also, please see a note on my role here: chasu.org/nb/my-role


CONCEPTS

茶道 (Chádào)
Tea Way, or The Way Of Tea. As in, tea as a Path — to understanding, to enlightenment, or through which, the nature of [all] can more clearly be seen. Obviously, 道 (Taoism) is not something I can adequately convey here (or at all : ), but it’s important at least to understand it’s the same character.

And, looking at it this way, it’s easier to understand that “cha dao” is not, for example, a particular method of brewing, or of serving tea. Rather, it’s a way of living; living through tea — tea as universal microcosm, tea as tea.

See also: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tao.

功夫茶 or 工夫茶 (Gōngfūchá)
Gōngfū, written with the characters often transliterated “Kung Fu,” does not, strictly speaking, have to refer to a particular style of tea brewing (or, for that matter, of the martial arts). Rather, it’s a phrase that means, roughly, “skill developed through dedicated practice over time.”

So, just as you could say Bruce Lee had incredible gōngfū in any number of martial arts, you could also say Jimi Hendrix had some major guitar gōngfū, or that James Hoffmann has excellent gōngfū with coffee. I, myself, am rather proud of my dishwasher-loading gōngfū. In fact, my partner has somehow convinced me it’s so superior that I basically never let her do the chore anymore. Hmm… Perhaps her gōngfū is greater than mine after all. : /

See also: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kung_fu_(term).

老人茶 (Lǎorén Chá)
Old man tea; old person tea. Not to be confused with 爺爺風格 (Yéyé Fēnggé — Grandpa-Style), lǎorén chá is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way of referring to gōngfū chá, with the implication that only retired people have time for such a pursuit.

茶藝 (Cháyì)
Tea art, as in, artfully creating an experience for participants. Often, this term is used to talk more narrowly about a tea person’s arrangement of implements and decorations; people will “take pictures” of their cháyì, which is a little like taking a picture of your birthday, but there you go. ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯


PRACTICES

泡法 (Pào Fǎ)
Brewing method.

濕泡法 (Shī Pào Fǎ)
Wet brewing method. In this practice, hot water is used liberally: to actually rinse and/or symbolically purify much of the equipage; to preheat the pot and cups; to create a seal between the pot and its lid for fragrance and heat retention; to maximize the pot’s heat during each steep; etc.

幹泡法 (Gàn Pào Fǎ)
Dry brewing method. This is not a way to literally dry-steep tea; rather, it’s the practice of brewing with less (or no) wastewater. For example, one might heat the pot with steam from the boiling kettle, rather than by pouring hot water over it.

幹看茶 (Gàn Kàn Chá)
Dry tea evaluation.

醒茶 (Xǐng Chá)
Awakening the tea.

幹醒 (Gàn Xǐng)
Dry awakening. This can be thought of as somewhat comparable to allowing a bottle of wine to breathe. You might find that portioning your leaves, then setting them out overnight prior to brewing, will allow you to access more of the depth and quality, especially of aged and/or deeply roasted teas.

濕醒 (Shī Xǐng) or 潤茶 (Rùn Chá)
Wet awakening. As an intermediate stage, a sort of dry-wet awakening, fill your pot with boiling water long enough that it heats through, pour off the water, immediately place the portion of leaves in the hot, steaming pot, then replace the lid. This will warm the tea, and begin the process of rehydrating it, using the pot’s residual moisture. (Don’t forget to enjoy the aroma at this stage!)

Next, you’ll want to do a very, very fast pour: pour freshly boiled water in, enough to fully cover the leaves, then pour it off immediately1. In English, people often refer to this as “rinsing” the tea, but that can give a false impression of the actual purpose. In certain cases, you will want to rinse the leaves, in the sense of cleaning them. But, more often, you simply want to heat and rehydrate them. If you are brewing for only a few seconds, as is usually the case, this will allow the first steeps to be much more effective.

For comparison, think of how hard it is to get a hard, dry sponge to absorb a small amount of water quickly; usually, it will just push the water around. But, if you pre-moisten the sponge, it will be much more readily absorbent. Wet awakening accomplishes a similar function.

洗茶 (Xǐ Chá) or 溫潤泡 (Wēnrùn Pào)
Wash tea, or gentle steep. Again, sometimes done to rinse away unwanted dust, tea fragments, or early, unpleasant flavors. However, see entry for 濕醒 (Shī Xǐng) or 潤茶 (Rùn Chá).

溫杯 (Wēn Bēi)
Warm cup. Usually done for guests, as a courtesy, prior to serving the tea. Sometimes done with hot water, sometimes with the water from wet awakening. The latter also allows the guest to get an early glimpse of the tea’s fragrance in the cup, as well as of the cup bottom fragrance.

泡 (Pào)
Steep, or infuse.

淋壺 (Lín Hú)
Drench pot.

刮沫淋盖 () or 颳沫淋蓋 ()
Scrape foam with lid.

高衝低斟 or 高沖低斟 (Gāo Chōng Dī Zhēn)
Pour high, decant low. Pour into the pot from high over the pot; pour into the cups from low over the cups.

出湯 (Chūtāng)
Pour [tea] soup; as from cháhú to chábēi.

韓信點兵 (Hán Xìn Diǎn Bīng) or 關公巡城 (guāngōng xún chéng)
Hán Xìn Pointing To/Inspecting His Troops, or Guān Gōng Patrolling The City Walls.

See also: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_Xin, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guan_Yu.

 


OBJECTS

泡茶桌 (Pào Chá Zhuō)
Tea brewing table.

橄欖炭 (Gǎnlǎn Tàn)
Charcoal made from the pits of Chinese olives (Canarium album).

砂銚 (Shā Yáo)
Sand pan; an unglazed clay kettle for boiling water.

茶海 (Chá Hǎi)
Tea sea; tea ocean. (Also used to refer to a pitcher or fair cup.)

茶盤 (Chápán)
Tea tray.

茶船 (Chá Chuán)
Tea boat.

茶盂 (Chá Yú) or 水盂 (Shuǐ yú)
Receptacle for wastewater from brewing.

茶罐 (Chá Guàn)
Tea jar; tea container.

茶荷 (Chá Hé)
Tea lotus: small, usually tapered dish, used to display, then pour desired quantity of leaves into cháhú. (Additionally, holding the chá guàn directly over the pot, and transferring tea directly, can allow steam to dampen your whole supply. Using a chá hé helps prevent this.)

茶壺 (Cháhú)
Teapot.

宜興 (Yíxìng)
A region in 江蘇 (Jiāngsū Province), the clay mined there, or the wares made from that clay, all of which are famous for excellence in connection with tea brewing.

水平 (Shuǐpíng)
Water level. One of the most common, and classic, shapes for an Yíxìng pot.

公道杯 or 勻杯 (Gōngdào Bēi or Yún Bēi)
Justice cup, or evenness/uniformity cup.

茶巾 (Chájīn)
Tea towel.

茶筆 (Chá Bǐ)
Tea brush.

茶夾 (Chá Jiā)
Tea clip, or tongs.

茶匙 (Cháchí)
Literally, tea spoon. Not a “teaspoon,” as in the volumetric measuring device; rather, a spoon for moving leaves of tea from one vessel to another.

茶漏鬥 (Chá Lòu Dòu)
Tea funnel (strainer). I recommend against using one in most cases. : )

渣匙 (Zhā Shi)
Dregs spoon. Tool used to clean brewed leaves from tea pot.

杯墊 (Bēi Diàn)
Coaster.

茶杯 (Chábēi)
Tea cup.