16 September 2008

My Pi Lo Chum

After my last post on Pi Lo Chun, I recently found the bag not-so-subtly buried underneath all those of my senchas and Uji Gyokuro, all the Japanese greens I love.

There's something about Chinese versus Japanese green teas, an earthiness rather than a vegetal greeness that always makes me hesitate a second before swallowing and ask myself: Do I like this?

Chinese green teas are usually processed via sun- or oven-drying, or basket- or pan-frying; Japanese greens by steaming. The steaming typically lasts no longer than a minute, but this is enough to preserve the chlorophyll in the leaves, producing Japanese greens' characteristic vibrant emerald color and fresh, grassy taste.

Perhaps this is why I have trouble with Chinese green tea- the complexities of all those centuries-old processing techniques add range of subtle flavors that sometimes seem to just get in the way of the leaf's natural taste.

Still, I've been trying new Chinese teas to expand my reach here, and also to acknowledge that perhaps my tastes aren't exactly everyone else's cup of tea. The horror. But it's a bit of a challenge to not revert to my old sencha standbys, which is why I'm not allowing myself to drink anything but Pi Lo Chun until I finish my supply or die of dehydration.

And surprisingly, I've been enjoying it more each day.

Keeping the water cooler (around 170°F) and brewing it for no more than 2 minutes really allows this tea to shine. The color may be an uninspiring pale greenish brown, but there's a round, full flavor with a slight astringency that manages to come off as clean, not bitter.

The second brew is still assertive, but with a bit of the edge blunted. That's fine with me. There's more than enough sharpness out there this morning.


Camille said...

I have never made Japanese green tea. We love the Chinese green tea, cold. I brew it myself, add some berries and it is wonderful over ice, but now I'll have to look into these Japanese greens.

amy said...

i never pondered the difference, but i will have to pay closer attention next time!

Anonymous said...

Surfing by, leaving a tag...Pi Loh Chun..I got it too! Certainly you are right about time and temperature. I seems as being the difference between a bitter hell or a tasty paradise for green teas...I am not a master of the green teas (yet), but I can come with one more educated suggestion...sugar! Even if you dont put sugar in your teas...sweetening your Pi Loh Chun, will open gates for you to Lands you have never dreamed of with this tea..its totally different, after just a pinch...experiment yourself...bye bye

thoward37 said...

Regarding Chinese teas not being very exciting...

Quality and freshness is a big deal here. A lot of Chinese green teas sold in the US are quite old, and stale. Many of them are very low quality teas to begin with, and after a few years sitting on a shelf at a dingy ethic grocery store, they lose all their flavour.

Another thing to consider is the method of brewing. You're right on about using slightly cooler water for green teas. However, I noticed you said "no more than 2 minutes"... That in itself, kind of scared me. Green tea should be brewed for *only a few seconds* at a time, with subsequent brewings lasting longer than the earlier ones, but none of them longer than say 30 seconds.

My process goes like this:

1. Fill tea making device with plain hot water, and let it warm until hot to the touch.
2. Dump out the water, add dry leaves in appropriate quantity.
3. *Very quickly* fill brewing vessel with water, and then dump out the water, retaining the leaves. This is known as "washing" the leaves. It cleans off dust, and wets them. This should be done as fast as possible, because we're not trying to brew the leaves here, just clean and wet them.
4. Fill with hot water again, brew to the count of 5.
5. Pour off brewed tea to retaining vessel.
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5, each time, extending the count by 1.5 (ie, 5, 7, 10, 15, ~25).

The brewing vessel should be small, so that when expanded, the tea leaves mostly fill it.

When pouring off the the retaining vessel, the tea should be filtered through a screen. You could pour directly into a cup, if you're just serving yourself and a friend. If serving a lot of people, pour int a pot, and keep the pot warm.

All vessels should be pre-heated with hot water.

The brewing vessel should be thin walled porcelain. We don't want things made from materials that will retain a high heat, as that could over-brew the tea.

If you don't follow a process similar to this, you won't be getting the right flavour out of the Chinese green teas.

Japanese teas are more forgiving of the Western style of preparation, however, I still advise following this method with Japanese tea.

If you're interested in Chinese teas, I'd be glad to give you more information. I lived in China for a while, and learned a lot about tea while I was there. After coming back to the US, I started and ran a small tea importing company that dealt only in high quality Chinese teas. That lasted for a while, but since then I've moved on to more lucrative ways of making money.. But I still love tea. ;)

I also happen to have a pretty big inventory of tea left. Most of the green tea is a little old now, but much of it is still quite good, and all the oolongs, blacks, and pu-er teas are great. If you'd be interested in getting some samples for your own enjoyment and blogging fodder, I'd be glad to send some to you. I couldn't possibly drink all of this myself.

Send me an email at thoward37 at gmail dot com.