Zi Sha Tea Pot
Zi Sha tea pots are a common sight on many tea lover's tea trays. All of the items in this picture are made with Zi Sha clay, though the Gong Dao Bei 'fair cup' and the cups have a glazed white interior to ensure the tea's colour stands out. With black tea's such as pu er, it is popular to use zi sha or glass cups. Often these cups are of a larger size than those used for preparing Oolong's such as Tie Guan Yin.
First, when preparing we should ensure that all the tea cups, jug (Gong Dao bei) and tea pot have been warmed using boiling water, so that when the main infusion is made the boiling water is not cooled excessively. This step also ensures that they are all sterilised and the tea set is in the optimum brewing condition.
Commonly this clay, especially this shade of colour, is more popular for making Pu Er or black teas, though Oolong can be make using such teapots. We can see here that the Rou Dou, bamboo funnel, is used to help adding the tea into the tea pot (Cha Hu) and to prevent any wastage or mess. Here we can also see that the tea strainer has been placed in the Gong Dao Bei, this as we have seen in the other styles is to ensure a clean, leafless liquor.
It is customary and deemed a fundamental courtesy to allow guests to view and smell the tea cake. The tea cake is then broken using a knife and crumbled in to the teapot.
The inside of the tea pot is not glazed like that of the tea cups or Gong Dao bei. Due to the nature of the Zi Sha clay it is slightly porous. This characteristic means that tea and it's flavour is slowly absorbed. Collectors agree that an old pot that has only had quality tea of one kind prepared in it will form a unique favour over time. Because of this antique tea pots are hugely collectable, often commanding extremely high prices.
The Cha Lou or Rou Dou is removed prior to adding the hot water. We can see that there is a small ornate cord that connects the lid with the teapot. This is both for decoration but also to reduce the likelihood of damage if the lid is accidentally dropped.
As we have seen before the water is poured onto the leaves from as high as possible without splashing. This is yet another skill that the refined and seasoned host does with ease. Beginners beware! When adding the water to the Pu Er tea leaves it should be as near to boiling as possible, especially when using brick or Pu Er cakes. The water should be filled to the top of the pot's mouth. Any bubbles that form should be skimmed off using the teapots lid, which is then rinsed clean using fresh boiling water from the kettle.
After the tea pot is filled we replace the lid and then cover with hot water. Covering the whole pot with boiling water ensure that the inside and outside are of equal temperatures.
The number of infusions that is possible to make varies tremendously between different black teas. 'Younger' teas can, depending on personal preferences be infused a similar number of times as with Oolong, for example 6-8 times. Older, more mature teas can easily be infused between 10-15 times.
A very useful rule of thumb for the first 1-4 preparations is that when the exterior of the pot has become almost dry, the tea liquor can be poured. Another benefit is that you can look at the quality of the Zi Sha. Covering the pot brings out the colour in the clay, but also a good Zi Sha clay will hold water more evenly on the surface until the water evaporates from the heat. Tea pots made with poor quality Zi Sha will often cause the run off in a similar fashion as it would with glass.
The first infusion is used to clean the cups, but also to release the flavour from the tea. This is particularly important for brick teas or Oolongs where the tea leaves are more tightly formed. Normally you find that with green teas this step is not performed as it is neither necessary; nor beneficial to the delicate nature and flavour of the tea leaves. In fact, anything more than a very brief rinsing of green tea will result in a loss of flavour.
Cleaning the cups takes some skill. Normally the individual cups are carefully rotated within one another using the tea clippers. When done professionally is very elegant, however when first learning is sometimes very unnerving and can end up with lots of dropped cups!
With the second infusion we prepare for drinking. We must pour all the tea liquor out and ensure that none is left inside. If the water is kept inside it will cause the tea leaves and the remaining liquid to become bitter and reduce the quality of the remaining infusions. As with the traditional style the tea pot and the jug should be kept as close as possible to prevent air becoming mixed with the tea and bubbles forming on the surface.
The tea again should be poured as closely as possible into the cups. Not only does this prevent bubbles forming it prevents any splashing of the liquid. Ideally all the tea liquor will be poured from the gong dao bei, as tea is best appreciated hot. This is why in many places you will see the cha shi, pour away any remaining tea. You will note from the picture that it is normally customary for the tea to pour toward the Pao Cha Shi (host). The manner in which this is done is a critical factor in the skill of the host. It is something that is learnt though experience but often is a reflection of the person's natural character.
There is a Chinese saying that goes, "Cha man qi ren jiu man jing ren", which means if you pour the tea too full for the guest, it is not polite, but if you fill the wine glass, that is highly respectful!
Once all the cups for the guests have been poured, the hosts can be served. This follows the rule that the oldest are served first, followed by ladies, then in order from the host (hostess's) left to right (some places it is right to left!).
Qing he cha...!