I’ve been meaning to write a post about infusing tea Grampa Style for several months now. It so happens that Floating Leaves beat me to it. Ah, but it’s too good to pass up! I think that every new full-leaf tea drinker should learn about this technique because it’s so eminently useful.
The term was coined by MarshalN as a way to refer to the steeping technique used by a huge percentage of the population of China to make their every-day tea. Really huge. You see it all over the place in the tea belt, and if you visit teahouses in Sichuan, Yunnan, or as far east as Anhui it’s likely that you’ll be served green tea this way as well. It’s how I brewed traveling tea during my trips through Asia and I’ve used it extensively in many other trips since.
The basic idea is to put a few leaves directly into a cup and pour on some hot water, straining the resulting infusion through your teeth as you sip. The brew will get stronger as it rests, so you add more hot water periodically until there’s no flavor left (if you’re in China, just walk up to any shop or dumpling stand and ask for Kāishuǐ, 开水, or boiled water). Using a small thermos as your cup works really well if you’re moving around.
The key to success with this method (as becomes obvious very quickly) is to use very few leaves. Probably 2 grams of leaf where you’d normally use 4 or 6. Rolled oolongs make this particularly confusing, because it looks like you just put in a tiny amount of tea, but remember that as the leaves unfurl, they can get quite large. By using a small amount of leaf, you prevent the tea from becoming too strong before you can drink it. Of course, you want to get flavor from the infusion as well, so you don’t want to use too few (remember my tea mantra: Experiment!).
Another important factor is to use medium to large leaf tea. Very small or broken leaves, like Sencha or most lower-grade black tea will make it very difficult to sip the infusion without slurping up a mouthful of plant matter. Rolled oolongs and full leaf green tea usually work very well with this method. I’ve successfully brewed large-leaf black tea using Grampa style as well.
It’s also worth mentioning that making tea like this will not bring out the finer flavors of any high grade tea. There’s too little control to find the balance of time and temperature that can be crucial for some leaves. That’s why I usually use this technique for traveling: it’s easy and requires no equipment other than a cup, mug, or thermos.
I think that the simplicity and convenience of Grampa style can make the world a more tea-accessible place. It’s economical (since it uses less tea) and can lower the bar when introducing others to brewing loose-leaf tea (since it requires fewer tools). Of course, there’s a time for the practice of meditatively steeping a pot, and listening to the waterfall flowing from a gaiwan, but when out in the world that time isn’t always upon us. Those are the moments for infusing tea Grampa style.
I first saw it in China amongst the laborers who used massive jars. Hence I call it builders tea. It’s sorta the main way I brew now, even at home.. so easy!
I often drink my tea grandpa style at work since I manage a tea house. Yellow tea is probably my favorite to drink this way but I also enjoy Bi Luo Chun and Mao Feng. It makes for far less dishes to do at the end of the day :)
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It’s funny that you mention in the last paragraph that this is a good method for introducing newbies to loose-leaf tea, because this is exactly how I first started! I had no idea it was an actual “style” — it was just how a friend at work started me on some Chinese greens many years ago because she never bothered to bring any tools to work for straining tea! Definitely going to be my new plan for travelling. Thanks for the idea!!