Updated: Oct 19, 2018
When it comes to tea, it seems we can have unlimited topics and conversations. This is true. The world of tea is not limited by tea itself. It comes with tools, techniques, history, arts and so on. That’s why tea doesn’t always mean tea leaves. Tea culture is actually a big part of tea-drinking, and it truly has an unlimited boundary. So, if you’re curious whether we’d run out of topics one day, you can rest assure. We often find one or two more topics for future updates while writing the current one. For example, in our last blog, we briefly mentioned a method in Gaiwan use called “Sitting the Cup” or by its Chinese pronunciation “Zuo Bei” (坐杯). It , literally means tea leaves sitting in the cup. We find this topic so interesting and deserves its own blog. Today, let’s talk about what is “sitting the cup”.
Just as its name implies, “sitting the cup” is to keep tea leaves staying in Gaiwan with water for a longer time. Sitting the cup aims to provide extra time to extract flavors and aromas out of tea leaves that have been heavily infused, and it also allows the substances of a tea to evenly spread out.
In practice, sitting the cup is often used after a couple infusions. Depends on the quality of your tea, the intensity of flavors and aromas of a tea would fade gradually. Higher quality tea can last longer and endure more infusions, and vice versa. For authentic high quality tea, the first couple infusions usually don’t require steeping time for more than 3-5 seconds. After the 6th infusion, flavors start to diminish, but tea leaves are still vibrant. Do we throw away a full Gaiwan of tea leaves at this point? No, we start to “sitting the cup”. The duration of the “sitting” depends on how heavy you want your tea to be.
Let’s take Wu-Yi oolong (Yancha) as an example. A normal Wu-Yi oolong’s flavor would fade a little after the 4th infusion, and it usually has a noticeable decrease in flavor after the 6th infusion. To prolong a tea’s lifespan, we now need to “sit” the tea for 10 second (depending on your preference, it can also be 20, 30 seconds, etc) until we reach a point that no matter how we “sit the cup”, a tea doesn’t produce desirable flavors anymore.
Even though “sitting the cup” helps intensify a tea’s flavor, it doesn’t mean you should “sit the cup” from the beginning. Many tea lovers often confuse “sitting the cup/坐杯” with “suffocative steeping/闷泡”, which is an extreme practice to steep a tea (covered with a lid) for at least 3 minutes. The purpose of the “suffocative steeping” is to expose flaws in a tea, and it’s used in a professional tea tasting/contest. “Sitting the cup” is significantly different than “suffocative steeping”. While both of these two practice can be seen as steeping tea for a longer time, “sitting the cup” aims to extend and preserve the good tastes and aromas of a tea.
Imagine a tea as a person. When a person is young, he/she runs faster, thinks faster and expresses himself/herself better. Just like a young person, when a tea is young, it produces flavors and fragrances instantly. When a person gets older, his/her reaction time also gets longer. It might take more time for an elder person to get ready. A heavily infused tea also needs a longer time to fully prepare itself to release its essence.
I hope you enjoyed today’s blog about “sitting the cup”. In our next blog (coming next Monday), we’ll continue our journey with Gaiwan use and discuss more about “suffocative steeping/闷泡” and another practice called “root saving/留根”.
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