Updated: Oct 18, 2018
Experiencing a Chinese tea presentation for the first time can be overwhelming. Normally, a presenter/specialist(茶艺师) would dress up in late-19th-century or early-20th-century style clothing and present a tea in a very slow, elegant and artistic way. The tea presentation itself is more like a performing art rather than a study of tea. As a Chinese born and raised in China, I sometimes find this type of Chinese tea presentation a little bit over-theatrical. Drinking is a normal and daily routine for us. We do not dress up and decorate a special environment every time we drink tea. However, after hosting many tea tasting events, I realized that for people who have been to a Chinese tea presentation, most of them mistakenly believe that the techniques for performing are the standard techniques for making tea. Thus, many tea lovers tend to make their own tea using what they’ve learned from a tea presentation. Among many techniques designed for performing, “high infusion” is probably one of the most recognized but misunderstood technique. Today, let’s discuss how not to use wrong infusion techniques.
“High infusion” (pic below), or 悬壶高冲, means to intentionally raise the water kettle higher above the tea pot and pour in a circle along the edge of a Gaiwan. High infusion is a derivative of green tea presentation. In green tea, high infusion has both practical and artistic purpose. However, when it comes to most other teas, high infusion is a technique aimed to create a more aesthetic atmosphere. While many tea presenter/specialist prefer using it, this practice can actually be detrimental to your tea. Specifically, high infusion has two major drawbacks.
The first drawback of high infusion is that not all tea leaves can be infused. The very first purpose of high infusion is to make every leaf immerse in water better. When giving water a certain momentum, the water flow is strong enough to make tea leaves flip and turn in a cup. But to make this practical for teas beside green tea, the Gaiwan we use must be larger than normal. A standard Gaiwan is called an “8-gram Cup” (Chinese: 八克杯), and a serving of tea like Rou-Gui usually takes up to 2/3 of the cup. To make high infusion work, a Gaiwan needs to be at least 25% larger than 8-Gram cups. If we force a high infusion into a normal Gaiwan, we can only spill water and tea leaves everywhere. Moreover, high infusion also leads to imbalanced infusions that make some leaves wet and some still dry (see pic below). Eventually, a tea would taste either too plain or too bitter. The second drawback is that high infusion cannot infuse the right amount of water. People often lose control of the water kettle and pour too much water. It’s quite embarrassing and messy when hot water spills everywhere.
Since the inception of this blog, I’ve addressed many times that the correct use of water is the most important thing in tea. Over the years, I’ve seen too many tea lovers waste good teas by not infusing water correctly. The BEST way to infuse water is also the easiest way: slowly infuse water counter-clockwise into the edge of a Gaiwan, then finish up by infusing a little more in the center.
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