15 March 2019

Meeting a Tea Saint - Master "Big Way"

“Imagine that you are dealing with royalty, with a delicate, regal, but moody princess who has just woken up.  She’s not a morning person.  You throw boiling water on her face, do you think she would like it?  Do you think she would be pleasant to be around after that?”

Of course not, I’d actually be exceptionally grateful if she didn’t order my beheading!

We must remember to be thoughtful and gentle when we brew tea, understanding that some of them are delicate or particular.

Master “Big Way” has been brewing tea all over East Asia for over 30 years.  He has quite a collection of pots and charcoal braziers to heat water with.  One of his favorite pots was made by an old acquaintance of his, using a dark, dense type of clay that can withstand higher temperatures than a typical clay pot.  It is noticeably heavier than a “regular” teapot of the same size, and retains more heat as well. 

So maybe you’ve learned that a light oolong needs water heated to between 180-195 degrees and should only be brewed for about a minute to release the best flavor.  Or that you should not use more than 6 grams of tea in a small pot (for fear of the tea turning bitter).  Or that a lightning bolt will blast you in the forehead if you brew a pu’er in the same pot that you’ve once brewed black teas in.  

Master Big Way will tell you many of these “so-called rules” are nonsense.  He put an aged oolong of mine into his pot, filled it with boiling water, and placed it over the charcoal fire for over 5 minutes.  It tasted fantastic; smooth, rich and creamy.  I’ve brewed that tea at least 50 times and it’s never tasted anything like the cup he made.  Shiuwen was shocked by how different the tea tasted, too. 

It must be the pot, you say, or sorcery.  Master Big Way admits that the pot and the charcoal fire help improve the taste of the tea, but the amazing experience begins before the water even enters the teapot.  I jokingly told him that he cheated and added MSG to the water.  He said he added something to the water that’s even better.

What’s the magic ingredient?!  Find out in Part 2 of our story about Master Big Way’s technique.

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